Thanksgiving No. 5

I just finished my fifth Thanksgiving dinner at the Alz center. It wasn’t easy. Mom was restless. I had to have help from a staff member to get her into a chair. And then she wanted to get up. I essentially held her down in her seat for about 10 minutes while we waited for the food to arrive. I thought the meal would occupy her, but Mom wasn’t really all that interested in eating. She took a few initial bites with her fingers. I put her silverware on her plate to see if she’d give it a try, but she didn’t. She worked on it long enough for me to eat most of my food on this first round. She got up and wandered over to a table of six and just stood there looking at them. I got up to retrieve her – I was afraid she might try to take someone’s food. I led her back to our table and sat her down again. I fed her a few bites of corn and mashed potatoes, and buttered a roll and fed part of it to her. I took a few more bites of my food. And then she got up again.

This time she sat in an easy chair for a bit. I went to sit next to her. She got up. I followed her around, held her hand, walked with her. A staff member brought pies around and I got a piece of pumpkin pie for Mom. We visited another table and I fed her pieces of the pie. Another staff member came by and squirted some whipped cream on what I had left. I was using my fingers, just like Mom does. And after she finished hers, I quickly ate most of a piece of pecan pie (with a spoon). I can’t resist pecan pie.

I cleaned up our table as well as I could and hung out with Mom on short walks in different directions. As we walked to a couch, a woman at a neighboring table walked by and put her hand on my shoulder. “She’s keeping you busy tonight,” she said. “She’s a busy lady.” I said, “I imagine it’s what it’s like to have a small kid.” I then joined Mom on the couch. She had reclined on her side with her legs curled up. I sat by her head and stroked her hair, hoping she’d be able to relax. This entire time, she had been muttering constantly. I couldn’t make out many actual words, but when the social worker came up to say hello to us, Mom very clearly said, “I’m ready. Who’s going?” While she was lying on the couch, though, she remained pretty quiet. For a few minutes.

Another family member I had never met before stopped to say hi, telling me her son had lived at the center for about a year. He is 58. She lives in Florida and doesn’t see him too often. I wonder if that is even worse than having a spouse with Alzheimer’s – to have a child with Alzheimer’s. Seems hard to imagine.

And then Mom got up, and I decided to let her strike out on her own. I worry that my presence sometimes is not welcome – and of course it’s not personal. There was a big crowd there and I do think that bothers her. And I was in her face a lot trying to convince her to do things my way, and I suspect that was stressful for her. So I went to pick up my jacket, and the mother from Florida waved me over and introduced me to her son, and I recognized him but haven’t really ever talked to him. She introduced me to her granddaughter, and she offered her hand. “I have pie on my hand,” I said, reaching toward her tentatively. She shook anyway. Relatives of Alzheimer’s patients understand these things. We chatted. And then I said I oughta get going, and the mother from Florida stood up and hugged me, and she was very matter-of-fact about it, as if we had been friends for years. And yet there’s a good chance I’ll never see her again. But relatives of Alzheimer’s patients understand that other patients’ family members can always use a hug.

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5 comments so far

  1. Jeff on

    Pecan pie IS the best. And almost everyone can always use a hug. Here’s a long distance one. I’ll see you in a month!!

  2. patwhite67 on

    Emily,
    Your reflection of the Thanksgiving Dinner visit was tender for me, and, I would say probably for most caregivers. We want so very much to connect with our loved ones and we do the best we can. That’s what you have been doing all these years for and with your mom. She may not be able to show it, but your loving heart means everything for her.

  3. momsbrain on

    Thanks, Jeff! Look forward to your visit!

    Hi, Pat – Great to hear from you. And thank you for your kindness. I do think Mom can enjoy some of the time I spend with her. We definitely still connect through laughter.

  4. Betty Schuldt on

    Wow! That was such a great post, and such a great insight of what being a caregiver to a parent with Alzheimer’s is like! I wanted to share with you a great book that I just finished reading to help me understand my aging mother better- “Rich in Years” by Johann Christoph Arnold (http://www.richinyears.com). The book is full of stories of real people who have overcome loneliness, dementia, and disability. It makes you feel good being able to relate to other people, like the people at your Thanksgiving dinner!

  5. Lance on

    Very enlightening post, and I hope this is one thing my family will never have to face. Thanks, Betty, for your book recommend. I will put that on my list.


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