Archive for January, 2015|Monthly archive page

Losing a friend-of Mom’s, and mine

Almost a year ago, I wrote about how Mom had accompanied friends on their honeymoon to Spain. One of my lunch lady friends, as I call them, had found some old pictures of Mom and gave them to me. I called her JW at the time, not sure if she’d want to be identified. Now, I think it is OK. Her name was Joanne Wisemiller. She passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, on Jan. 24. It is just unbelievable to think that she is gone. And of course, it stirs up all sorts of thoughts about her and her husband and daughters, who are close to my age, and memories associated with Mom.

Joanne and her husband were Mom’s friends for as long as I can remember, having bonded first over their love of bridge. For years and years, Joanne and Gerry hosted July 4 parties at their house along the Upper Arlington parade route. I’m pretty sure I drank my first bloody mary at one of those parties, sneaking sips when no adults were looking. As I got older, I especially appreciated Gerry and Joanne for their humor, and I always thought they were such fun friends for Mom to have. They also took good care of her.

The last time Mom got drunk (as far as I am aware) was at a party at their house in celebration of a mutual friend’s wedding. Mom wanted to leave before the party broke up, but her keys had been taken away. So she started walking home, but pooped out about a mile into her trip. She called me from a pay phone at a gas station on a busy street corner – but not busy at this time, which was about 1 a.m. Lucky for Mom, I was home from college for the summer and was able to pick her up. I found her sitting in the grass at this corner. When she got in the car, she asked me for a cigarette, though I didn’t even know that she knew that I smoked. I gave her one. And after turning on the lights inside the car, I discovered that someone had used eyeliner to draw a mustache on Mom’s face. It must have been some party, and Mom had obviously had a good time. And the hosts didn’t let her drive drunk.

All this time that I knew Joanne as a kid and young adult, I was not at all aware of her professional life. After I had been at Ohio State for awhile, I discovered that she was a high-level administrator in our agriculture college – but I still didn’t know her history. I learned years later, when I was invited to join the lunch ladies, that her past included communications work at Ohio State – which is what I do. The lunch ladies all worked together years ago in the medical center or in university communications. After I left the medical center communications office, a friend still working there introduced me to the lunch ladies, and I became part of a longtime weekly lunch tradition. I have always felt fortunate that they brought me into their fold. And it was a bonus to see Joanne so frequently, and to be her friend. Since I joined the group about seven years ago, we’ve been a party of six. And now, five.

Joanne and I would occasionally talk about Mom at our lunches. Often, we recalled something funny, or I would give brief updates on her health status. We had that shared history, but we had just as much in common as friends who appreciate good writing and reading, some therapeutic girl time and a cathartic rant. She and Gerry were such excellent partners in life and have always led an incredibly active social life. The lunch ladies and I corresponded over email all day today, worrying about Gerry and mourning our friend. I find myself thinking, as terrible as it sounds, that it’s not fair that Joanne has died and that Mom still lives on with this terrible disease. There is nothing sadder than the gradual and painfully lengthy loss of my mother. The jolt of losing Joanne intensifies the sadness. Mom is not dead, but the Bonnie we all knew is long gone. And now a significant part of her life, and mine, is gone, too.

Six years and counting

These anniversaries sneak up on me. Today marks six years since I started writing this blog about Mom. And later this year, assuming Mom is still with us – and there is no reason to assume otherwise – we will hit the 10-year mark since her diagnosis. These numbers seem staggering to me, and yet I know of many people whose loved ones had or have had Alzheimer’s for just as long, or even much longer. It is just such a long time to live a very compromised life. The only bright spot is that Mom has no idea how compromised it is – at least as far as any of us can know.

I saw her last week after a quarterly care conference. I had a miserable cold, so I didn’t want to spend much time with her and I tried not to touch her. She looked completely healed from her fall before Christmas. She was her usual pleasant self, sitting alone at a table. I was surprised to find that I could convince her to look at the camera and smile.

There is still a hint of a bruise on her cheek. But she looks so much better.

There is still a hint of a bruise on her cheek. But she looks so much better.

I met three new people at the care conference, which is rare: a new social worker, program area nurse manager and dietary director. They were all very kind and the nurse manager told me I could call him anytime if I had a concern about Mom. I like the staff quite a bit, but that was a first and I appreciated it. Mom was on Tylenol as needed after her fall, but all signs were that she had completely recovered. The activities director feeds Mom sometimes, and she said that Mom has lost the ability to reach for the food in front of her and feed herself. Once something is in her hand, she can get it to her mouth. So that is definitely a decline. I had always planned to visit more frequently when Mom needed to be fed, to take some pressure off of staff. So it’s time for me to think about working a routine of some kind into my schedule. I’m both surprised to find myself at this point and also bewildered that it took so long to get here.

Mom is also napping quite frequently, according to the activities director. Another change, though she has been more and more sedentary as time has passed. It doesn’t bother me to know she sleeps a lot. Frankly, I think it’s better than just sitting alone, not doing anything, which she also does with some frequency. Though that’s just a judgment on my part, that sitting quietly alone is somehow sad or a problem. It’s part of the stigma of a nursing home, I guess, to think that residents are lonely. But in Mom’s case, there has just been a gradual decline in social activity and increasing withdrawal. And I am guessing that it’s fine with her.