Monday, July 26, 2010

i can't fix it

My Mother's broke and I can't fix it.

All the things we do to help our elders to live independently in their own home; it's all just a big bandage.

Mom called my cell phone Sunday afternoon, that was a surprise, she hardly ever calls me, and never to my cell. "When is someone going to pick me up?" she yells into the phone. (No Hi, no Hello, no greeting.)

Oh %#+!! I'm thinking. I know exactly what's going on. She has been sitting by the back door, all day, with her suitcase packed. She has been waiting for me to pick her up and drive her to meet up with teacher friends for their two day vacation. Mom has been looking forward to this mini-vacation since May. These women taught with Mom for many years, they truly are a team, a gang, a bunch of great women who loved teaching elementary school together. They are going to Maine to meet up with M__, the first of them to retire.
If I can trust anyone to take care of Mom, it's this bunch of elementary school teachers. If they can handle 7 year old kids every day for 30 years, they can handle Mom. Well, I hope she doesn't loose a front tooth or skin her knees, but she may wet her pants.

I try to explain to Mom that today is Sunday, and I will pick her up at breakfast time on Monday. Yesterday was Saturday, you went out to breakfast with L__, right? Today is Sunday. We're meeting G_ and M_ and J_ on Monday, I will pick you up at breakfast time, and I'll drive you to meet them, tomorrow. The conversation goes round and round. I know she is confused. She is angry with me because she's been waiting for me all day. She is broken and I can't fix it.

Last Thursday she and I wrote up a large paper with "the plan" for this two day vacation. The paper is still on her kitchen table. I had written on her calendar (a huge 24" x 12" grid that permanently resides at the head of the kitchen table) that I would be there at 8 am, in the Monday square. Mom wrote MAINE, with smiley faces, in the Monday and Tuesday squares. In the center of her kitchen table is a digital clock with the time, day, and date. But, but, but all this wasn't enough. All her anxiety about the trip overwhelmed her. She is lost with respect to days and dates. She is lost as to the time of day.

Again I repeat, "Mom, I will be there tomorrow morning to pick you up, I will take you to meet up with the teachers, I will be there at breakfast time, we'll have breakfast together."
"Oh." click - she hung up on me. (No "good bye", no "ok", no "see you tomorrow".)

I look at my husband and start to cry.
"When we get home there are going to be 100 calls on our answering machine" I say. If she actually called my cell, she gave up on our house phone.
"No, just 50 missed calls, she never leaves a message."
She did indeed leave a few messages on the house answering machine, that Sunday afternoon.
"This is your Mother! Where are you?! This is Tuesday! I'm waiting for you to come so we can go... (big pause) to our trip!"
"This is your Mother!!! I'm leaving a message!!! Where are you?!"

I hope the teachers don't leave her at the rest area on the Maine turnpike after hearing the same story over and over and over for 600 miles .

Friday, July 16, 2010

Noah Calhoun

Two friends recommended "The Notebook" to me in the same week, so I finally gave in. I listened to the audio book, while driving up and back to Mom's house, and I also watched the movie. Oh my goodness, bring a box of tissues.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book, if I read it 14 years ago, when it was first published and was a hot best seller. I remember my niece going on and on about this great love story. But, I never put it on my list of books to read.

I have been blessed to marry the love of my life. My best friend. So listening to a great love story is a sweet experience. A reaffirmation of what I have.

But this novel has a different message to teach me, as I listen to it now, something I never would have learned if I read it in 1996.

It is how Noah, the elder man, speaks with his wife, Allie. Allie has Alzheimer's disease. Most of the time she doesn't know who he is.

He speaks with love and compassion, giving her answers and words that will make her happy and calm. He doesn't blurt out "I'm your husband, d*&%-it, remember me." He doesn't shake her up with words, relations, and emotions that will only bring up feelings of being confused, lost, and upset. He is a calm breeze blowing through her stormy mind.

Sometimes she catches him giving her half-answers. "You didn't answer my question." she'll say. This is the sin of omission that nibbles at us care-givers. The half-truths we tell. The fiblets we give that keep our loved ones from becoming angry, agitated, or sad.

"Where is J__?" my Mom asks.
He's gone out, we'll see him later.
He's out, he's gone from us and this life, we will see him later, but not yet, not yet.


My Mother's morning aide called me, Mom was in a panic and crying because she had no money in her purse. From what I can gather, Mom had been frantic and worried, perhaps up half the night, because she had little or no cash on hand. I knew Mom was down to her last few dollars, but I would be with her tomorrow, running errands and going to the bank, so I wasn't worried, but I guess she was.

Apparently Mom had been scouring the house, looking for all the loose change, her old coin collections, commemorative coins, and whatever she could find to put into her purse.
The aide said that she had calmed Mom down, rubbed her back, and told her that I was coming tomorrow and would take her to the bank.

Great - now the aide knows where Mom hides her stuff, and what stuff she hides.

Then the aide told me that Mom had called her "Mummu".
"What does that mean?"
It means my Mother called you "Grammy". It means, while you were comforting her, she thought of you as a grandmother she hasn't seen since she was 15 years old. I know you are my age, her daughter's age, not her grandmother's age. You are providing comfort and care that echos back to her relationship with her Mummu, you are taking care of her in a way that only Mummu did. Mummu doted on her, as do you.

I was happy last week when she finally started calling you by your name, not "that woman" or "one of those women". I hope she remembers your name again.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

yes mother

"Yes mother" she replies with snide sarcasm.
"You're not my mother" she yells at me.

I try, I really do try, to be calm and respectful when talking to my Mother.
I try not to ask her questions that leave her frustrated - looking for an answer that will never come. I try, I really do. But, she is so confused and angry.

We go to the ATM to withdraw cash to use at the grocery store. She stuffs the wad of twenties into her purse, her open purse that she won't zip up, her purse that she leave in the baby seat of the grocery cart.
Mom, please zip you purse.
"Yes mother" she whines.

Where does this attitude come from? Was this my reply to her when I was a kid? I don't think so. We didn't have an adversarial relationship when I was growing up.
Who is this 'mother' that she is angry with?
Why does she have to be so mad and angry with me?