Couple Hair

I took Mama to church this morning. It was a good service and it was good for her to see old friends. She and I were a few minutes late because she got very upset about not having pantyhose to wear to church. We almost didn’t go due to that issue. I tried to tell her the Lord doesn’t mind but she insisted it was improper. 

We slipped in the second to last row and joined right in with the worship music. When the pastor began to preach, I noticed an elderly couple a few rows ahead of us. The woman had on earrings and a sweater with sparkling threads running through it. Other than those rather differentiating qualities, their heads looked alike. Hers looked slightly more coiffed but the color, the cut and the length were the same.

You know you are getting older when your head is interchangeable with your husbands. Thankfully, for now at least, my hair is long and dark. Mike’s is salt and pepper with a great George Clooney cut. I keep asking my hairdresser if she thinks I am too old to wear my hair long. She promises that she will tell me when that day comes. I definitely do not want to be one of those 75 year-old women with long, stringy hair clinging tightly to it as one last youthful hurrah. On the other hand, I do not want look-alike hair. 

Ironically, the pastor today was talking about how we worship. He mentioned how easily we can become distracted at church. For example, it seems so holy to have the Bible app on your smart phone and use it to look up scripture rather than carrying the old-fashioned ten pound family bible. However, is everyone really staying on task with 2 Chronicles or are some swiping over to Facebook to check the number of likes on their new boat pic. It’s a social issue. 

Needless to say, I felt a tinge of guilt during prayer when I covertly got out my iPhone and took a snap of this look-alike-hair couple, especially in light of the sermon topic. I asked the Lord to forgive me. For the last 11 months I see so many things through the eyes of my blog. 

It is 9:39 PM and Mama is in bed. We are both worn to a frazzle. But we made it. We had struggles for sure but we had joys, too. We walked hand in hand up and down the driveway and picked up sticks and those annoying spiked round balls that fall from the sweet gum tree. Mama thinks they are beautiful and collects them every time she visits. 

Life ends up being a series of inconsistencies; a concert of dissonance. Yet, there is not a more lovely sound than those discordant notes coming together at just the right moment. 

The push and pull is how we find that beautiful middle.

Dog Days of Summer

For the record, Mama was not a cute little scottie today. She was a cantankerous, difficult, ready to nip at my ankles, beady-eyed Chihuahua. 

A recent study found that among the most aggressive breeds of dogs are the dachshund and the Chihuahua. Researchers discovered that one in five have bit or attempted to bite a stranger, and one in twelve have lashed out at their owners. 

Surprisingly, even the honey-haired ‘sweet’ little cocker spaniel, a very popular companion animal, having spent decades as one of the most popular breeds in the United States, has its moments. Its popularity has led to overbreeding issues, including a problem called “rage syndrome”.

A cocker prone to “rage syndrome” can become suddenly aggressive toward strangers, people she knows, or even her own family. And just as suddenly become calm again. 

I thought it might be an adventure to head out this morning with our coffee in hand and explore some garage sales. A friend had told me that her entire neighborhood of condominiums was hosting a huge sale today. I imagined that Mama and I could park and easily walk to five or seven of them and browse for books or glassware or other treasure.

That did not go well. Something triggered in her brain that I “did this to her last year” and it was all some kind of game to fool her; that it was a big conspiracy. I tried to assure her otherwise, to no avail. We did not stay long. On the way home she asked why I am being so cruel to her. She threatened to open the car door and find the police in order to have me arrested. Cocker spaniel alert. 

Oy vey. The best laid plans…

These times have to be okay. They do not feel okay but they have to be okay. It is part of the process of dementia. As my brother said “We lost our mom a year or two ago.” 

Today I wanted to ask a priest to call out this person living in her body and have my old mama return to me. But that feels like praying to idols; empty words to hollow figures. 

The difficult day melted into a long evening of confused questions and allegations. It was one of the worst times I have ever had with Mama. She was so fierce and yet so pitiful. She cried several times. So did I. Today felt like a step down deeper into the darkness. I felt the loss of her as she succumbed to the gnarled faulty wiring in her brain. 

Mama fell into the cocker spaniel “rage syndrome” today, but by bedtime she was a droopy-eared, red-eyed sad little hound, and I was her lost pup.

Message in the Clouds

It is Friday afternoon and my weekend to be with Mama. She has had a rough week. I cannot deny my slight dread of these three long days of explaining and re-explaining and literally and figuratively nudging her along. It is full-court press during these extended stays with her. Simply taking a shower and being away from her for 20 minutes is a daunting task. 

This afternoon as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready to go, I looked out my bedroom window and saw a parting of the clouds with this funny little shape in the middle. I immediately thought it looked like a small shaggy dog, maybe a Scottish terrier with its little nose sticking out and its tail curled up.

Perhaps this was to remind me of how Mama is, or at least used to be.

Scotties are fast, alert, sporty and playful dogs. They can be fearless and feisty. They are gentle and loving and make excellent watchdogs. They are sensitive to harsh discipline. They are very calm, though consistent instruction is necessary.

Yep, there are definitely Mama qualities in there; fast, alert, excellent watchdog. She is 90 years old and may not be able to remember what we ate for dinner as soon as we leave the table, but she sure knows how to count money and lock doors and pick out a suspicious-looking character. 

Mama has what is called agitated dementia. She is able to deliver some harsh words but certainly incapable of receiving them. And consistent instruction? Well, that one is a stone cold truth. 

Just like any cute doggie, Mama simply wants to be loved and cared for and petted a little. I am thankful for this cloud reminder and will be looking for that cloud all day tomorrow and the next day and the next.

National Root Beer Float Day

I had “a day”. Had a morning of meetings then scrambled home to do a couple quick chores; wash and dry a load of towels, pay a few bills, then back out to be with Mama.

I had asked my dear cousin, JK, to meet me at an exit off of the highway on her way home and bring Mama to me. The screen on Mama’s cell phone (old fashioned flip phone) had become completely blank.  She was able to receive calls, though it was impossible to identify the caller, and it was very difficult for her to make a call. We needed a visit to the phone store. 

On the way to meet them, I (wrongly) assumed I could quickly swing by the bank drive-thru and make a deposit. I waited at the drive-thru for 11 minutes. I considered backing out and pulling back around the front to just run inside. As Murphy’s law normally flows, I felt sure that the moment I backed out, the car ahead of me would have completed her transaction. Nevertheless, I did it.

I went inside only to discover three people in line ahead of me. There was one, ONE man serving the drive-thru window, the inside counter and a telephone that would not stop ringing. Through a glass pane I could see a woman sitting at her desk poking around on her computer. Another man was tapping his fingers on his desk as if he were bored. I waited and waited and debated. My neck was beginning to feel hot. I calmly but firmly said out loud “Is there anyone else who can help here?”  Finally, the tapping man came out and said “Oh, Jerry (chicken-with-head-cut-off man) will be with you soon. I was losing my cool. I knew that dear JK and Mama were waiting for me.

When you are 60 years old and in these situations, you begin to question yourself. Am I just crabby today or is something seriously wrong here? Do I say something and look like a cranky “older” woman or do I continue to sweat into the collar of my Gap pink gingham shirt? Am I simply saying what everyone else is thinking? I’m sure I got a few eye-rolls after I finally got my deposit made and quietly announced that this was the most inefficient bank visit I have ever had. When do you speak truth and when do you just roll with it and accept the injustice?

Well, since it is National Root Beer Float Day, Mama and I had to indulge. My hot neck and sassy mouth most definitely needed a cool down and the deliciously decadent root beer float did the trick.



Drawers and Treasures

Mama is still living but I feel like she has died. My sisters and I were at her house today (without her) sorting through closets and shelves and boxes deciding what to keep and what to let go in the upcoming estate sale.

About six weeks ago we moved Mama (kicking and screaming) to a lovely independent living apartment. She still has the same care as always; one of her children with her every evening and overnight and her wonderful weekday caregiver and dear alternating weekend caregiver.

The house had become too much for her; too much room, large full basement, yard that needs continual upkeep, A/C problems, plumbing issues, property taxes, on and on. 

Added to that, she had become afraid, though she was never alone. She would stare into the dark woods behind her house every evening. By bedtime she was stacking up chairs and pots and planters against the back sliding doors, though it was double-locked. She tried to eliminate every sliver of light that may escape through the plantation blinds on the front windows. “People can see right in” she would say. I tried to convince her that no one was out there peeking in the windows but she fiercely disagreed. There were times I nearly believed her.

However, Mama is not an apartment person. She is accustomed to front door access to a porch and a front yard with a tree, complete with magenta impatiens circled perfectly around. She watches the birds and talks to neighbors who stroll down the sidewalk.

She has struggled to adjust. Understandable. Though I am not sure the struggle to adjust is as much about the apartment as it is about adjusting to this new life, this new life that is actually a death.

I pulled out small drawers in an antique dresser. In the drawers were pieces of a necklace, a tiny locket, bobby pins, safety pins, two pretty marbles and a pearl tie tack. In another drawer I found four $2 bills, a few small pine cones and a little leather pouch with her initials burned into the side. 

These intimate things that have meant something to her. It feels like such an intrusion, such an uncovering of her interior life, laid bare for us to see, laid bare for strangers. 

I ran across a beautiful cameo with a gray/blue background, hanging from a dainty silver chain. I do not remember seeing Mama wear it. I will ask my sisters if they mind if I take it. This journey is about seeing an item here and there that we feel a sentiment about or just something we love. 

It has caused me great reflection, not so much about Mama, as myself. What will my children find? Scraps of notes and saved birthday cards. An earring who lost its mate. A drawer full of ribbons and shoelaces. Receipts and Chapsticks and headbands. Postcards and subway cards and ticket stubs.

The day caused me to want to go home and look through my own things and discard. However, I realized that there is healing in the purging. I’m glad to have found things that Mama thought were important. Every item has a story and most of those stories I will never know. 

It is enough to know that they mattered to her. 

Christmas in July

Being with Mama is a bit like living out A Christmas Carol. She wants to understand and have explained the ghosts of her past, her present, and her future.

From my “Good morning” greeting to her until I give her one last drink of water at bedtime, I feel like Jacob Marley, showing her all events of her life before this moment, in this moment and in the moments yet to come.

Mama has an enormous capability to recall the past, which is, for some, a very typical characteristic of dementia. So we talk about the past. We walk through darkened halls of sorrow and then back into the light of sweet memories. 

The ghost of the present is a real challenge. For Mama, the present truly is the moment at hand. The present as recent as last night’s phone call from my sister, or breakfast this morning, or even watering flowers an hour ago is gone. 

The biggest challenge is the ghost of the future. These questions can only be answered loosely, as all future plans must be held. 

Ghosts of the past, present, and future haunt all of us to some degree; what we did or didn’t do, what we should or shouldn’t do, what we hope or fear for the days/years to come. 

The past is unalterable. The future is uncertain. And the present can feel elusive. These realizations are driven home each time I am with Mama. As if that needs to be any huger, combine that with being 60 and well…the royal blues can set in. 

God bless us, every one. 

Endless Questions

I spent the afternoon, evening and now overnight with Mama. 

We have made a change in her living situation and moved her into a lovely apartment in a retirement village. She is not in assisted living or a memory unit. She is living independently but with full-time care from one of her children, a dear niece, JK, and her faithful daytime caregiver, Sherry. We’ve got a pretty good schedule going and it is working. At least it is working for us. 

Mama is definitely not happy. I arrived at 3:45 today. We chatted then took a short walk outside. That did not go well. Once we were outside, she looked at the building and asked if we had to go back inside that ‘big building’. “Yes, Mama.”

We saw a couple of other residents who were friendly and asked Mama how things are going. She looked befuddled and said “I don’t know what I am doing.” I took her arm, smiled it off and mumbled something about taking a while to adapt. They nodded, understandingly. 

Later we made dinner together. Well, I made it and she sat and asked me questions. “How long have I been here?” “Where is my family?” “Do I have to sleep here tonight?” “What is happening to my head?” “Who is paying for this?” “Don’t you think your pants are a little tight?” She has to throw in a couple of personal jabs once in a while. And those questions are on a continual loop for three, four, five hours at a time. 

After we cleaned up the kitchen, we chatted a bit more. I then suggested we dip some ice-cream into bowls and eat it on her balcony, she is on the second floor. And that is this photo ~ Mama enjoying her favorite, butter pecan ice-cream, with a side of scowl. 

Mama has a large flowering planter on her balcony. After I finished my ice-cream, I began to ‘deadhead’ the flower, pull off brown leaves and in general, give it a cleanup. Of course, that made a bit of a mess on the porch so I asked Mama if she would like to sweep it up. Bingo! Give her a job to do and there is, at least momentarily, a reprieve. 

We came back inside and the loop of questions began to play again.

I so wish she could understand that everything we do for her is FOR her. We want her to feel safe, secure, content. It, however, does not shake out that way.

At 8:30, I got out the church hymnal and asked her to sing with me. She usually loves that. Tonight I was singing solos. Every time I ended a song and flipped the page, she began with the loop of questions. I kept singing and sang till my throat ached. 

At bedtime, she was mad at me because I did not want her to sleep on the loveseat in her living room. I asked her to put on her pajamas. She said “I guess I have to. I don’t have a say about anything.”

Mama is at the heart-wrenching in-between stage. She is confused and has nearly no short term memory. Yet, she is sharp enough to know us and blame us for…everything. 

She is so very lost. Once this evening, she told me that her mind is floating away and she does not know how to catch it. I bit my lip to keep from crying and assured her that no matter what she feels, she will never be alone.

And now she sleeps. I hear her heavy, burdened, weary, bewildered breathing and I pray that she is at least dreaming in peace. 

And I pray I do the same. 

Ninety going on Three

The last time Mama was at my house, I got out my bow, which was a Christmas gift from my husband. I shot it a few times right after Christmas, but it was a cold and snowy winter so I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to utilize it.

A June evening seemed like a fitting time for all of us have a little archery practice. I purchased a large target at Cabela’s a few weeks ago, knowing it soon would be perfect weather to shoot. And it was.

Mama has always been somewhat competitive so when I asked her if she would like to shoot the bow, she got a bit of a sheepish grin and said “Oh, I probably can’t do it.” Right. She was simply waiting for me to ask a second time and encourage her to try. Which I did and she did.

Mama is, in many ways, not unlike a three year-old. She occasionally pouts. She can be a bit manipulative. She often asks for several drinks of water before bed, a typical toddler move to avoid going to sleep. She also has a tendency to, in her words and actions, state “I can do it myself!”

Such was the case with the shooting of the bow and arrow, until one of her grandsons offered to help. She was more open to his assistance than mine. I snapped this photo which captures Mama to a tee, or to an arrow, I should say. She has the stance. She is eyeing the target and she is full on ready to shoot.

Days like these with Mama are good. She is distracted. There are others around. And she is ready to prove her worth. These days are not necessarily easier, just different. During this season of life with her, changing it up is entirely welcomed by both of us. 

We kind of roll with it. We occasionally fly by the seat of our pants. It is new territory almost every day. I am considering taking her fishing. This could work out well because her truculence could come in handy when I do not want to put the slimy worm on the hook. Sometimes her feisty spirit comes in handy.

I also got her into the go-cart but that is a story for another day.

An evening of Pondering

I zipped through a resale store today to look for some sturdy bar stools that may need a coat of paint. For fun, I breezed through the home decor section, as I am always on the lookout for a glass bird or a China tea cup or some other unique treasure.

This little vase caught my eye. “Life whispers, listen closely.”  This seemed like a secret message meant just for me. Perhaps the other 100 or so people who meandered through this store today thought the same thing.

I am with Mama tonight. Her confusion and hopelessness bring a sadness to me. There are several reasons.

First, I am sad for her. She does not smile. She is not lighthearted. She does not verbally express trust in her Lord, though I know in her heart, she trusts. 

She has no confidence. She worries that others know her business and are out to get her. She is afraid. 

Dementia is like a devious snake that winds its way through her mind, hissing and slithering into areas of inherent darkness.

Second, I am sad for me. Am I looking into a mirror at my future self? How many healthy years do I have left? Will my children become frustrated with me? Feel pity for me? Will I be alone and afraid?

If life is whispering to me, am I listening?

Family Reunion, Ben Carson, and Chemistry

I had a tough day with Mama. We have discovered that following a large family gathering, there is much confusion. Everyone means well and loves her so much but it is a simple case of over-stimulation. In kindness, nieces and nephews come to her with hugs and kisses and pure motives of explanation to connect her with themselves. It is sweet and lovely and unraveling.

We spent much of this morning going over names and faces, trying to connect which one of her eight brothers and sisters to whom this one or that one belong. I patiently explain but it does not permeate the concrete parts of her brain. 

Quite often, Mama confuses generations. She believers that children of her siblings are actually her siblings, still living and young. She occasionally thinks I am her younger sister, which, of course, makes it impossible that I could be her daughter.

The morning melted into noon and both of us ended up in (soft) tears as we talked about what to make for lunch. 

By early afternoon, I was able to keep her busy with some outside chores. She pulled weeds out of my brick-paved sidewalks and swept my front porch till every piece of dirt and flower petal and pebble were gone. 

She then talked on the phone with both of my sisters and by dinner, she was a bit more cheery. 

In the evening, there was some family tension in the house with my youngest son, Noah, struggling though chemistry summer school. It’s a bear. He has been working very hard, yet it still brings great frustration.

Mama loves my boys, for which I am so grateful. She saw (and heard) Noah’s struggle, which hurt her. In God’s kingdom, He is able to turn something difficult into something good. Mama forgot about her own troubles for a while. She focused on someone else. 

Though, it was momentary. A few minutes later, we were sitting on the front porch, eating a bowl of chocolate salted caramel ice-cream (hey, she likes it) and she stated that she was very worried about her plastic Adirondack chairs sitting on her fenced in, canopy-covered back deck. I said: “Mama, forget about those chairs! No one will steal them while you are with me.” She looked at me defensively. “Let’s pray for Noah tonight and not worry about those chairs, for goodness sake!” 

I snapped her back to reality.

After helping her put on pajamas and brush her teeth, with her own toothbrush, not one of the boys this time, we sat on the edge of her bed and prayed. I held her hand and listened while she smoothly and beautifully and flawlessly called out to the Lord for help and strength for Noah and for all of her grandchildren. It was as if she were 70 years old again. 

I then prayed and first, thanked God for the blessing to sit and pray with my 90 year-old mama. What a gift it truly is. 

I tucked her into bed and told her I loved her. She (mostly) smiled and said she would read a bit of her Dr. Ben Carson biography (on whom she has a mad crush) but would then fall asleep in continued prayer mode.

Fair enough.