Weepy week

Mom was a source of cheer this past week. I’ve been blue about an imminent move at work – though I long to be an adult about it, I mostly have been full of dread, for a variety of reasons. Now that it is about to actually happen, I know it will be fine. And then, in a much worse turn of events, when we took our dog Spencer in to Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center to be evaluated for surgery to repair his torn ACL, the doctors discovered in pre-op X-rays that he probably has bone cancer. I had a good half-hour cry the night we learned this. So when I finally visited Mom the next day, it was great to find her in a sparkling good mood.

I had officially gone on the longest hiatus ever from visiting her – in the entire history of her illness. I last saw her on her birthday on June 6 and then visited her again on July 3, so I was closing in on a month. I might have made the effort a week earlier, but I knew my sister Laura was coming to Ohio for a visit and that meant I would be seeing Mom. And Laura sticks to her genius plan of getting Mom a Starbucks frappuccino, which seems to be very helpful with regard to Mom’s mood.

Laura and I sat at a table across from Mom at the nursing home and listened to her chatter on for almost an hour. She was so peppy and full of stories.

Before Mom started talking, we convinced her to sit - and then I slid her chair into place.

Before Mom started talking, we convinced her to sit – and then I slid her chair into place.

I can honestly say it had a healing effect on me to see her so cheerful, and to know that Laura was having a good experience. The last time Laura visited, Mom became grumpy and I believe it ended on a sour note. And that can stick with Laura, understandably. Even when we know it’s not personal, we want Mom to be nice to us, and want to be able to trust that Mom is as content as she can be.

We returned on July 4 with our cousin Barry. He has very fond memories of Mom, but he hasn’t seen her since she got sick. He lived in Arizona for all of his adult life, and recently returned to Ohio. This time, Mom was not as pleasant, at least at first. Mr. R was hovering around her, much to my and Laura’s chagrin. He didn’t say anything, but he just stuck around. His disease has progressed, so he doesn’t have the power he once had over Mom. She ignored him as we coaxed her to drink her frappuccino. Poor thing got ice cream headaches twice. She doesn’t understand what causes it, and because she likes the flavor so much, she drinks with abandon. When the brain freeze came on, she would put her palm against her head and fret. “I can’t wait,” she said at one point. Thankfully, they passed quickly. In the course of our conversation, she said, “There’s an attractive man.” And Barry decided that was a compliment. A little while later, she said, “Ugly,” with no context. We all got a chuckle out of that.

We decided to try to escape Mr. R’s watchful eye, and I held onto Mom’s hands and gently pulled her out of her chair. She cooperated. Sometimes I’m afraid to try that, but I see aides successfully bring her to a standing position all the time. But Mom was obviously feeling a little touchy. She blew a giant raspberry in my face and then growled and hissed at me. We all laughed, and I think she laughed, too. I said to Laura and Barry that it’s easier to absorb Mom’s anger when there are others around to help me realize it’s OK for her to behave like this in my direction. She didn’t seem to be holding onto the anger, really. Pretty soon, we all walked in circles for a bit before sitting again at a table to have a chat.

Barry, Mom and Laura at the Alz center.

Barry, Mom and Laura at the Alz center.

Eventually, it became clear that Mom had had enough. She wasn’t unkind. She said, “Well, let’s go.” She stood up and we walked a little bit again, but she eventually wandered back toward Mr. R, and we decided to let her be and not even say goodbye. Her attention was elsewhere, and in the only way she knows how, she had indicated she was ready for us to leave. But it was OK. No hurt feelings this time.

10 comments so far

  1. Garth Lough on

    As always Emily I enjoy seeing these pictures. I notice Bonnie; Laura and Barry have on the right shirts for the holiday – red, white and blue. 🙂

  2. becky honeywell on

    Just want you to know, as I have said before, your blog means the world to me. My mom is declining slowly, but I know these days – as you experience them – are coming for me, my mom, and my siblings. Thanks for sharing.

  3. momsbrain on

    Hi, Garth! That’s funny about the clothes. I didn’t even notice. Thanks for commenting. I hope you’re enjoying your new car!

  4. momsbrain on

    Becky, thanks so much for reading. I hope your family is hanging in there. The whole process can be tough. Even though I’m very used to this by now, it still helps to reflect on the experience by writing. I’m glad it is helpful – really glad.

  5. Joy Ray Walker on

    I’m so sorry about your dog! Our furry family members are so important and we depend on them to give us comfort and joy. To have his illness on top of your mom’s can be really tough.

  6. momsbrain on

    Joy – So sorry for the delay in responding. I am happy to report that Spencer appears to NOT have cancer. The vet wants to do one more test, a CT scan, to be sure, and if it’s clear, she will repair his torn ACL. This was a result was did not expect! Thanks for commenting!

  7. Charles on

    I lost my mom in November 2008 and around a year later I found your blog. It has been a great source of comfort for me and even provided me with some great moments of memories of my beloved mother. I am not big on commenting but I could no longer avoid thanking you for such incredible posts after reading this one. Please keep up the good work and you are an awesome daughter!

  8. momsbrain on

    Charles, this made my day. Thank you so much. I’m sorry to hear about your mother. I’m so glad this blog can help rekindle some memories. There can be good memories, even during the illness. I get so much joy out of a positive visit with my mom even as I miss what she used to be. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

  9. Jenniferjayhawk on

    Hi Emily,

    I have a question for you and I know it would just be your opinion. Do you think it is harder on the person with dementia to remove them from their surrounds? For example to take them to lunch or to get their hair done. If you have the best of intentions does this cause the person more stress?

  10. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jennifer-
    In my experience with Mom, this has been the case. My sister and I had her all cleaned up, put shoes on her and were ready to take her out for ice cream last summer. Before we could get to the door to go outside, she sat down on a couch in the lobby and wouldn’t budge. We didn’t force the issue because once Mom gets grumpy, it’s hard to snap her out of it. She would have loved the ice cream and possibly the car ride, but she has not been interested in venturing outdoors for some time. And I do think there is potential to cause stress despite very good intentions. Even if the person with dementia might enjoy the destination, getting there – or leaving their current ‘home’ – might be so stressful that they never get the chance to feel the pleasure of the rest of the outing. I am one who doesn’t want to take the chance. Keeping Mom’s mood stable, and on the upswing, is my primary goal. Sometimes that means I leave because I can tell she is stressed just by my presence.

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