Sunday, January 29, 2016
This time away from Mom is a bit of a test for us both. Can she maintain comfort and safety living independently in the home she has shared with Dad for many years…with the help as needed from neighbor/assistant Kevin? Can I engage in a meaningful life here in Columbia where I have family, friends and identity…and not be worrying about her or feeling guilty?
It’s a challenge.
Mom and I speak by phone just about every day. Sometimes it’s 7 or 8 times a day…depending on if she’s stuck on some question or issue.
Sometimes we have chatty conversations about the weather, meals, or what we are doing. Unfortunately, she is dangerously isolated. It is not good for her mental or physical health. I, on the other hand, engage with friends and family, and have become more politically involved after Donald’s election.
In addition, I’ve adopted an 11-year-old Cocker spaniel/poodle mix who is almost completely blind. He and my 10-year-old cat get along well.
So my life is busy and full. Hers is unfulfilling…boring…and still filled with grief. I’m told she will go next door to ask Kevin if Victor has died. It seems as if her purpose and identity died when Dad died. At 90, how does a person with dementia reinvent herself? The only thing she keeps telling me is that she doesn’t want to get married again. I don’t either.
As a result, she cries a lot during our phone calls. It wasn’t that way when I first got back to Missouri. We had gal pal chats and she laughed a lot; but in recent weeks, despair, loneliness and confusion have their grip on her.
A few times Mom has called me to tell me she didn’t know whether to make dinner for us or to take us out. Then I have to remind her that I’m 400 miles away. Sometimes she pauses and then changes the subject. One time she said, “Okay, then!” and slammed the phone down.
When she talks about being bored looking at four walls, I take those opportunities to plant “senior living community seeds.” “Yeah…it can be tough just being home alone, Mom. I know that when I get into my 80s…maybe sooner…I’ll probably move to a senior community. There will be plenty of activities and company there, plus I won’t have to bother with grocery shopping and meal prep.” She usually has a positive reaction to such seed planting, something like, “Yes, I should think about that…maybe sell this place sometime…..but I’m not ready.”
Of course, she isn’t ready. I’m not sure she ever will be ready to relocate to a senior community. She enjoys being in the space she shared with Dad. Even though it’s quiet and she gets lonely and bored there, she also feels “comfortable.” She doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Since her youth she has convinced herself that she has to learn to take care of herself and just “make do” when needed. That’s still a strong thread in her thinking, and I respect that.
So there are no changes in her living arrangements for now. She takes care of her personal needs and she can easily state and justify her preferences. I believe it’s important for her to continue making her own decisions as much as possible, and I agree with the many suggestions on discussion boards that it is preferable to keep our seniors at home as long as possible.
Of course, with Mom home she’s also in and out of neighbor Kevin’s house multiple times each day. He has an open door policy…so in she comes with various matters and questions. It takes its toll, but he has been there for my folks for over 25 years and they are like grandparents to him. In addition, he agreed to be on “the team” made up of me, Mom, and Kevin. We assist Mom with her wishes to live independently.
It drives Kevin nuts that she has the house so quiet sometimes. “I tell her to turn on the TV…or put on those old records of hers. I always have the TV or stereo on; I can’t function without it. It’s like a mausoleum over there!”
This past week Kevin told Mom that she’s going to Bingo and he made her do it. Two benefits: Mom gets out of the house and socializes; Kevin gets some quiet down time. She enjoyed herself and a few ladies remembered her from before. “I’m taking her every Tuesday,” Kevin told me. “That’s wonderful, Kevin. Thank you,” I said. Too bad the senior center doesn’t have Bingo every day.
Kevin has also taken on the role of car cop. “She’s no longer driving. I took the keys away from her,” he announced.
“Yeah, she had another neighbor pull the car out of the garage when I was gone one day. I was just getting home and saw what was happening and told her ‘Oh no you don’t. You drive too slowly and you don’t see well. Give me the keys.’”
Wow. I’m impressed. I’m also glad Kevin played bad cop on that one. I’m not sure she remembers that he took her car keys away because she hasn’t said anything to me about it and recently said she’d have to take another driving test this summer…but for now it looks like she’s not driving.
This morning Mom called before 8 a.m. “I just want to let you know I need my hair curlers and could you bring them over.”
This is the kind of moment when I’m reminded of images of dying brains…the ever increasing gaps…the shrinking solid blotches.
“Oh, you can’t find your curlers? I don’t have them here in Missouri, Mom.”
“Well, I don’t know who took them.”
“Maybe you put them away in a new place the last time you used them…a drawer maybe.
“Maybe. I’ll look later. Sorry to bother you.”
It’s no bother to ask me about your curlers, Mom. It’s no bother for me to remind you for the five thousandth time that you can afford to buy new shoes whenever you want. It’s no bother to assure you every time you get a utility statement that the bills are automatically paid.
And it’s just fine to cry whenever you need to.