Wednesday, June 30, 2010

at the vets

Mom and I took her two cats to their annual vet visit.
Mom no longer knows which name goes with which cat, she knows the two names, and recites them like a song or poem, she will tell you a story about why she named them what she did, but can't tell you which one is which. Last year, I asked the vet to note on the cats' records their markings and temperament, so we could identify them without names: larger cat with black circles and smaller gray-striped skittish cat.

She watched the vet-tech weigh the cats and cut their toenails. The vet-tech went out to get their vaccinations. I told Mom to come pat the skittish cat, to help calm him down. Mom did so, leaning over him, patting him, and crying into his fur.
"Mom, he's ok, nothing's wrong with him, he's just scared. "
He's always this way, even at your house. He's just a antisocial skittish cat. He hates riding in cars. He hates being out of the closet, yes, he spends most of his day hiding in the closet.
"Mom, please wipe your nose. Your tissue is in your pocket." It's running all over the cat, she can't stop crying.
"I don't have to wipe my nose, you're not my mother."
The vet and the vet-tech come back into the room. Mom wipes her nose on the sleeve of her turtleneck jersey. (It was 86' out today and Mom would not change out of her turtleneck jersey, but that's a different battle.)

Over the next fifteen minutes she asked the vet-tech and the vet, five times if they are going to cut the cats' nails. The fifth time Mom asks, the vet smiles and asks the tech, did you cut their nails? They always answered the question politely, each time, never showing exasperation or frustration.

I watch as Mom write out a check to pay her bill. What's the name again? How much is it? I point to the price on the receipt. What's the date? I quickly say "2-0-1-0". I watch her fumble, trying to write out the dollar amount, how to make the numbers into words. The words run off the line and spill down like water. She goes to make this entry into the checkbook register, she writes the check number in the wrong column, she puts down the dollar amount but not the cents, she gets frustrated and wants to write the check number down, again, I tell her it's already there. "But it's in the wrong place." she yells at me.

This trip to the vets has exhausted her, she doesn't want to go out for lunch, she doesn't want to go pick up the mail or groceries. She is spent. "Drive safely" she says, this is her rote good-bye saying. I haven't even got the cats back into her house. She rushes me out of her house as fast as she can, she can't wait for me to be gone.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

not alone

Did you know, if you Google "horrible dementia", you get 2.5 million page hits.
I guess I'm not alone.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


There are two trashcans in my Mother's kitchen: one for trash and the other for commingled recyclables.

(Why does commingle have two m's? We don't say com-min-gull?)

Mom can no longer separate her trash from her recycling. Both trashcans are a mixture of everything. Last week I put a little "for recycling" note on the top edge of the barrel, that doesn't seem to help.
Sorting through her sticky garbage to find the recyclables is not a fun job.

Once upon a time, my parents kept their bags of trash in a large galvanized trash can, in the garage. Then once a week my Dad would go to the transfer station. Two winters ago, my Mom started piling her bags of garbage in the back porch. The walk to the garage was too far. It's dark and cold and through the snow, I could understand, so I put the big galvanized trash can in the back porch, better to contain the lovely sights and smells. I didn't want the loose garbage to tempt any mice or bears into the porch.

Then the four steps from the back door to the big can was too far, she would just open the back door and drop the trash bags on her backdoor mat. This was during the time when Mom was still driving and doing her own errands. So when I visited once a week, and had to step over bags of garbage to get to the door, I was amazed that she could have made so much trash that the big can was over full. But it wasn't full, it was empty.
Mom, this is disgusting, please put your trash in the big can.
"Well, we're going to the dump today, so who's going to see it."
An excuse, always an excuse, that's what dementia is about, some excuse, an explanation that does not really explain the behavior, but covers it.
"I can do whatever I want."
Yes, you can, you can do whatever you want. You have become this very stubborn person. You are my Mother and I use to listen to you, respect your wishes, and do what you wanted.
But no longer. Now you have to listen to me, but you don't. Now you have to do what I think is best, but you don't want to, you fight my decisions, you dismiss my authority. Mom, YOU gave me the authority to make decisions for you, you gave me this job, but you don't understand. To you I am just a meddlesome woman. I'm not even sure if you know that I am your daughter.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Today is one of those days where I spend hours, not actually with her, but behind the scenes, taking care of Mom: making phone calls, talking to doctors, paying her bills, and arranging for services.
I am sorting through another armful of "important papers" when I find a stack of bank statements from 2008 to now.

Something must have happened to Mom in April 2008, as her check writing and her banking, her financial ledger all go to pieces. The handwriting on her checks is a mess.

I remember that spring, seeing a notice from the bank for bounced checks. I remember asking if she was all right, did she need any help with her checkbook. I remember her telling me she was fine and to keep my nose out of her business. If I had only known.

Now I have before me, bank statements from the past three years. They are a testament to my Mother's dementia. This bank still sends an image of the canceled checks, so I can see her handwriting, and other things she writes on her checks.

The year is wrong on most checks. 20009, 200, 2000, 200 (with the 1 squeezed between the zeros or as a superscript above them.)
She signs her nickname not her full name.
She writes little notes on the edge, "I lost my envelop."
She wrote on one memo line
MEMO: I think --- ???

You've gotta laugh or you're gonna cry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

who died

Eve called my Mom last month, I was there at the time. From the other room I did not hear the conversation, I did not know who called. They were chatting for a long time.
Later that day she shares with me that Eve called, I know she has a few friends named Eve.
How is she? I asked.
"She's still living in Florida. She's fine." Mom relates. Now I'm pretty sure which Eve this is.
Is Eve still living with her son and his family?
"I don't know, she didn't say."
What's new with her?
"I don't know, she didn't say."
So, I don't ask any more questions.

A week later, Mom tells me that Eve's brother has died, he was Mom's friend too.
When I ask Mom how she found out, she told me that Eve called and told her.
Yes, she told her that day I was there. But, Mom couldn't keep that very important piece of information in the front of her thoughts. She didn't remember what was said on the phone once she started telling her stories. She probably did not say she was sorry about his death, or ask how his wife was doing, or inquire about the wake or funeral. Did she even acknowledge his death? Her conversations have become very ones-sided, very self centered, I know it's part of her dementia. Everything now is her, everything is all about her. This is so different from how Mom use to be.

I checked the obituary, we missed his wake and funeral.
When I told Mom it was too late, she said of course we missed them, he died in Florida.
No, Mom, he and his wife live up here, he died at home, we could have gone to his funeral, I would have driven you, if only I had known, if only you could have told me. Eve, her brother, and his wife were very good to you after Dad died, when you were alone.

Should I apologize for my Mother's uncaring, crass, non-compassionate, mindless behavior? It is mindless, thoughtless. These words have a sharpness to them, as I type them tonight. She is thoughtless in a way she can't recognize, the kind of behavior she can't apologize for; actions and behavior she would have never tolerated from her own children.

Monday, June 7, 2010


She is disappearing, large clumps of her are falling away, not in the physical but in the cerebral.

When my sons were little and they would come home from school having learned something new, they were so excited. They were little knowledge sponges. "I know all 50 state capitals, want to hear me?" "Did you know that there use to be snow a mile deep right here over our house?" "I learned this new song on my guitar, listen."

It is like the opposite is happening with my Mother. Her knowledge sponge is drying out. Clumps of knowledge are no longer there. Two years ago it was buttons, phones, and remote controls. Last year it was driving. This spring it was the time of day and dates.

Now, it is jigsaw puzzles. I know you may think it's a small thing, to not be able to put a jigsaw puzzle together. I think it is really telling. I remember my little boys, very little boys, learning to put together puzzles. You could see their brains working, their eyes jumping around, taking in everything: the color, the size, the shape of the piece, the relationship to others around it; the joy when one piece connected with another.

It is the opposite with my Mother. We went from 1000 piece puzzles, to 750, to 500, to 100. She no longer can methodically do a puzzle: put the flat sided edge pieces together, take out the red pieces that make up the "barn", gather the purple "flowers" together, put together these pieces with the letters and words. She makes up excuses: the pieces are too small, they are all shaped alike, there is too much sky, they fall off the table...

Mom is a puzzle, she is Humpty Dumpty, and no one can put her back together again.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

memorial day

Yesterday, in the US, was Memorial Day or, as my great aunt use to call it, Decoration Day. A day to remember, remember our soldiers, remember our ancestors. What an impossible day for someone with dementia.

I took Mom to the three family cemeteries within an hour of her home. Something we have been doing together all my life. Usually we do it mid-May, planting red geraniums in front of family grave stones. But this year, with the ICU visit and everything else, Memorial Day was the first available day.

The first cemetery has my father's family. The six grave sites are scattered all over, most all marked with my mother's last name, her married name. We get out of the car, she knows in which direction to walk, years and years of visiting tell her that, but she does not know which headstone we should be looking for. I kneel down in front of my paternal grandfather's stone, clear away weeds and start to plant. My mother asks who these people are. Are we at the right stone? I cringe.

Something inside her tells her that we should look for a stone with "Mother" on it, I point out my great-grandmother's grave. Mom tells me that these are her relatives in this cemetery and not mine. How do I respond to that? I don't, I just cry, I plant and cry. Who does she think I am? Have I just become one of those nameless ladies who come everyday to take care of her?

Next on our trip is the cemetery where her parents, aunts, uncles, her maternal grandparents, and my Father are buried; the family plot. She watches me plant, resting herself on a neighbor's headstone. She yells at me because I have forgotten the grass clippers. She sets off my car alarm because she's yanking the door handles, trying to find the clippers. The peace and quiet of the cemetery is shattered.

I wander over to visit Richard. He came to stay beside our family when I was just ten years old and he was 21. He is my first memory of the War in Vietnam. I always thought he was so old, now I know he was so, so young. His mother and father's remains have recently joined him here. Richard is like an old friend, though I never knew him. His stone has been here longer than his mortal body was on earth.

"Look" Mom says "my name is here. My name is on this stone."
I can't talk to my Mother now, I can't remind her that she put her name with Dad's, that they'll be interred together. I know she is wondering why, why is he here, why is he in my family's plot. Her recent mumblings about my Dad have not been nice, memories surfacing of their stormy marriage.

This is her family's plot, where she will be someday. Now I know, I feel it deep inside me. This is the last time I will ever come here with my Mother to plant flowers. It is the last time we will do this together. The next time I bring my Mother to this cemetery, it will be to plant her.