I stayed up too late reading last night. I had hoped lie down again for a few minutes after getting Mother settled with her meds and coffee. Instead, after letting the dogs out, I hear her muffled voice calling my name. I open her bedroom door to find her sitting on the floor beside her bed, her walker just out of reach, a package of briefs balanced across the attached basket.
“MOM! WHAT HAPPENED?”
“I was getting my Depends out of the closet and fell down. I didn’t hit my head, but I hit my butt! Can you help me up?”
I bend her knees up a little bit, hoping she might be able to get her feet under herself a little easier, but her knees don’t bend that much and she was no help to me trying to pull her up by holding under her one arm I could reach. I’d need help.
I wake Vickie. Thank goodness she’s back. If this had happened with Mom last week, all I could have done was call 911 for the firemen to come pick her up.
With one of us on each side, we’re able to pull her upright, and while I’m trying to get her balanced on her feet, I realize she’s shifting her weight in order to sit down on the bed. I move aside and she plops on the edge of the bed to rest a moment after her ordeal. I take the package of briefs into the bathroom and refill the drawer. Vickie stands beside her a moment, and then heads back to her room to try to get some more sleep.
Mom positions her walker, stands up, and moves toward the bathroom. I go back to the kitchen to get her meds and coffee ready, and add two items to today’s mental to-do list: call her nurse at PACE to let him know about her fall, and swap out the remaining briefs packages on the closet floor with all the Bingo prizes on her dresser.
My alarm goes off at 6:30 am. I don’t hear Mom’s alarm going off – this means she woke up early, turned it off, and is already up. Not always a good thing.
I go outside with the dogs because the new fence our neighbor is putting up is not quite finished. The mosquitoes are happy to see me. The dogs do their doggie business and we all come back in. Gracie bounces back and forth between her kennel and the fireplace, willing me to walk faster so she can have her breakfast. Sophie stays safely back so as not to get bounced on.
Mom is already sitting at the dining table, getting fresh paper napkins to crumble her oatmeal cookie on. I go to Mom’s bathroom to check to see if her sink is wet, which tells me she’s washed her hands, which in turn tells me that she changed her Depends before coming to the table, unlike Tuesday when she was up before me and I had to refuse to give her her coffee until she went back to pee and change her Depends. The sink is wet this morning – all is well.
I get Mom a new glass of water and her meds. I stand beside her to make sure she takes one pill at a time, as she is less likely to drop them on the floor than when she tries to shove three or four pills in together. If I’m watching, it’s one pill at a time. If I turn away, I find pills on the floor later. At least the dogs don’t eat them.
I pour our cups of coffee, give Mom hers, and walk mine to my desk (really my sewing machine case, closed, with a desk pad on top – it actually works quite well).
Sophie barks to let me know she’s finished eating, so I step back outside with the dogs for additional doggie business. Gracie takes care of hers right away. Sophie stares at me, wondering why I’m standing out there. I wait a couple more minutes, wave away a couple more mosquitoes, then call the dogs in. Gracie runs through the door, but Sophie realizes her window is closing and heads for the far corner of the yard. I wait just inside the slightly open door, hoping I’m successfully hiding from the mosquitoes. Sophie disappears around the corner where the fence is unfinished. I go look for her and I think interrupt her looking for good sand to eat. She finally comes inside with me.
I move toward me desk and see my to-do list from yesterday and remember Mom’s laundry. I go to the laundry room, pull her clothes from the washer to put in the dryer with her pants that I forgot about yesterday and which are now all wrinkled. That’s okay – the wrinkles will come out with the addition of the other wet clothes. I hope I don’t forget them again today. I put the towels from the Bath Lady visit last night into the washer, along with the spider I surprised as I gathered them up.
I go back to the living room to pull the two pairs of socks from under her little pillow. “You can put these in your hamper yourself, you know.” She says, “Okay”, but it’s not the ‘I understand and will do what you ask’ Okay. It’s the ‘If I say Okay maybe she’ll go on and let me watch my TV’ Okay. I take the socks and put them in hamper.
I ask Mom to trim her fingernails (another item on my to-do list). She says, “Not now,” which is what she always says. It usually take two or three requests before she does it.
I finally move back to my desk, sit down for morning journaling, and have my first sip of coffee. As I’m writing, the phone starts singing a calypso song to remind me that it is now 7:05 and I need to tell Mom to get dressed, as she has, as near always, fallen asleep sitting up on the couch. I move to the couch, touch her arm, and say “Time to get dressed!” She gathers up several napkins and tissues to stash under her pillow, but I take them to throw them away. She puts the nail trimmers back in the little glass dish on the end table. I move them back to the arm of the couch and remind her she needs to trim her nails. “I don’t want to do it now!”
She leans back against the couch cushion, and I have to say, again, “Time to get dressed!” because she’s forgotten in our exchange with the napkins and nail clippers.
I come back to my desk, have my second sip of coffee, and resume journaling. I absentmindedly scratch at a mosquito bite on my leg. A few minutes later, I notice Mom come out of her bedroom, move toward the couch, then turn around and head back to the bedroom. For socks. She remembered that I had just cleared out her cache. She returns to the couch, and I hear her whistling, wheezing breaths as she works to get her socks and shoes on. I know if I offer to help, she will forever relinquish the task to me, and that will be one less thing she does for herself. One less thing she does at all.
The dogs start barking as the Wheelchair Transport car rounds the corner and approaches our house. Over their noise, Mom yells, “Kay! Kay! My ride is here.” I walk into the living room to check her shoes. Today, unlike most mornings, she has succeeded in getting both shoes on properly. Hooray! I take the pop-clip from the glass dish she has returned the nail clippers to, and clip her hair back out of her eyes. She keeps refusing a trip to the salon, even though a couple of weeks ago she asked Vickie to trim her hair with the kitchen shears. Vickie politely refused, reminding her grandmother that she is a nurse, and hasn’t been a hairdresser for almost 30 years. Mom still doesn’t understand why Vickie won’t just whack her hair off with those scissors in the kitchen drawer.
I corral the dogs into the studio and open the front door. “Will you be home at regular time?” she asks. I nod. “Tell Steve hello for me. Have a good day and I’ll see y’all tonight!”
She steps out the door, and I watch as she approaches the edge of the porch, heaves her walker up into the air and then down the one step. I want her to continue to have the strength to do things like this. I worry about her toppling over. Today she is fine. I wave to the transport driver and close the door behind her.
I finish up my journaling by writing out three affirmations, five times each. This morning’s affirmations are:
I envision my life as I want it to be.
All is well, and even better things are coming.
I attract positive people and great opportunities.
Sometimes I find myself repeating them in my head later in the day, which I guess is the whole point.
The dryer buzzes. Back to the laundry room. I dump all the clothes from the dryer into the ‘Clean Clothes Only’ basket and take it into Mom’s room to put everything away: 8 shirts, 8 pairs of pants, 2 nightgowns, 2 housecoats – and 2-1/2 pairs of socks.
My niece, Vickie, has been with us for several weeks, and her presence has made such a difference. She has taken over after-supper clean-up and Mom’s laundry, and she’s here in the afternoon to meet Mom’s van so I don’t have to leave work early every day.
My employers have been very flexible and understanding with my schedule, but it was still very hard juggling everything. Trying to complete my work day from home was nearly impossible with Mom always forgetting or never really understanding that I was still “on the clock” and calling from the other room just to ask me random questions or tell me what the wind speed was in a town 30 miles away from us.
Thursday evening, I pulled out Mom’s white board and wrote:
Vickie and I are going for a walk. We will be gone about an hour.
Mom carefully read the message and looked a little alarmed.
“You’re going to go for a walk for an hour?”
I nodded. Her brow furrowed.
“That’s a long walk! Y’all be careful.”
I nodded again, we set out, and I carefully locked the front door behind us, as Steve was in the back of the house watching TV.
It was a very nice walk. The little downtown area was lively. There were so many beautiful cloud formations. Vickie and I got to talk without interruptions. We got our heart rates up!
We were gone for about 40 minutes. The door was unlocked when we got back, which meant that Mom had, at least once, gotten up to look out the door for us. Or maybe she just didn’t want us to be locked out.
My husband and I are currently watching American Gods, a new TV show based on a Neil Gaiman book. One of the characters (my apologies for the early-on spoiler), is the deceased wife of the main character, who has been accidentally and magically reanimated. She is told that even though she’s up walking around, she is still dead, and will decompose, albeit at a slightly delayed rate, all the while being fully aware of the process.
Since it’s been raining here for over a week, and we have seen very little of the sun, and my emotional batteries of resilience are almost totally solar-powered, my thoughts are currently set to less-than-cheerful.
My morning coffee facilitates my daily resurrection process. This morning it dawned on me (get it? dawned? ha!) through the lens of tending to my elderly mother, and living in my own middle-aged body, that we are all enchantedly animated meat, experiencing our gradual decay through the (thankfully) additional magical element of time dilation, so that we can, for the most part, ignore it in our day-to-day lives. For the most part.
This morning was the second morning in a row that I heard Mom up early and her walker scooting into the kitchen before I had heard the bathroom door opening. I hurried to let the dogs out and get in there before she’d settled into her chair at the table (it’s almost impossible to get her up once she’s sat down).
One of the things I have to remember in the morning is to remove yesterday’s socks from the couch and affirm with Mom that she get clean socks every day. Sometimes our weekend routine is lax, which is why I’m guessing this photo shows three pairs of socks, but hey, at least the message of “clean socks every day” seems to be getting through. Mostly.
This morning, I go to the couch, move Mother’s purse aside (she tries to hide them from me), and see–no socks! I look around to find that she’s got them on the seat right beside her and as I move toward them, she covers them with her hand and gives me a look. I take them from under her hand, and once again, affirm, “Clean socks every day!”
Mom sometimes peers down the table to make sure that what is on her plate matches what is on our plates. She doesn’t want to miss out on anything, especially not anything food-related.
A few weeks ago, I noticed her looking back and forth, trying to see around the napkin holder and salt shaker and down the table. Since ‘We’ve got the exact same things on our plates as you have on your plate’ is too long and complicated a sentence to try without using the whiteboard, and it was across the kitchen, I made a point of noticing she was looking, and said, “What?”
“Nothing–I’m just counting rabbits. One-two-three-four. Five! Betcha didn’t know I could count that high!” And then she laughed.
Our Easter tablecloth is very busy (part of the reason for the new medication strategy I mentioned yesterday), and it is well past Easter, but I still see her counting rabbits at dinnertime. I guess it can stay on the table awhile longer.
In an attempt to keep Mother’s pills off her lap, off the floor, and for them to actually reach her mouth, I’ve switched from the small Dipping-Cup-As-Med-Cup, which worked fairly well for the past year or so, to Meds-On-A-Black-Napkin.
With the dipping cup, she would feel for the pills and get two or three at a time, and they didn’t all always get to her mouth. She couldn’t see if/where they dropped and didn’t much worry about it, either. I would try to stand by and monitor, insisting she pick up one pill at a time, but then the dogs would bark to come inside, or the phone would ring or who knows what. She would also swirl her finger around the bowl to check how many were left, and end up swirling one or more out onto the tablecloth without realizing it.
So, a new strategy. Pills spread out across a high-contrast background so that only one comes easily to hand at a time. I still have to stand there, but at least one of us can better see what’s going on.
Most days, after Mom has her morning coffee and cookie, she moves to the couch and manages to fall asleep for the 10-15 minutes she has before it’s time to get dressed. I’m doing stuff around the house, the time slips by me, and suddenly it’s almost time for her ride to arrive, and she’s still sitting on the couch in her gown, dozing to the morning’s news.
It’s only taken me a year to figure out how to fix this.
We go grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon. Every week, Mother looks forward to it and I dread it. Recently, I talked myself into trying to reframe it from “my weekly grocery shopping trip that I have to take Mom along on” to “Mom’s weekly outing wherein I also get to buy groceries”. And I really tried yesterday. I really did.
Around 4 pm, I hear Mom move from the couch to her bedroom, and I know she is getting ready for our grocery outing. After dressing, she goes into the bathroom to comb her hair and apply her lipstick. I remind her that she needs to change her briefs. When she strongly protests that she just did, just before she got dressed, I allow the look on her face to convince me that, even though I didn’t hear her go into the bathroom, perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention at that particular time. I don’t really believe her, but I don’t want to argue with her, just in case she’s telling the truth.
When it’s time to go, I check the back of her pants to make sure they’re not wet, and we head out to the car. When we arrive at Publix, I don’t think to check her pants when she gets out of the car, so I don’t see the saucer-sized wet spot beginning to spread across the back of her legs until she’s maneuvering to sit on the bench just inside the front door. I briefly consider ignoring it and getting on with the grocery shopping, but I know it will just be that much worse later. I bend over to say loudly into her ear, but at least not yell out to the entire supermarket, “You need to get up. We need to go back home.”
“Your pants are wet.”
“They’ll be fine.”
“No, we need to go back to the car. Your pants are wet.”
“I don’t have any pants in the car.”
“No, we have to go home.”
She realizes I’m not going to let it go, and slowly stands to move toward the door. I pull aside a young bagger to let her know that someone should wipe down the middle cushion of the bench.
When we get to the car and are pulling out of the parking lot, I say, “I WANT TO TELL YOU THAT I’M ANGRY.”
“DID YOU HEAR ME?”
“No, what did you say?”
“I SAID, I’M ANGRY.”
“Why are you angry?”
“I’M ANGRY BECAUSE YOU LIED TO ME ABOUT CHANGING YOUR BRIEFS. AND NOW THEY’RE WET AND WE HAVE TO GO HOME.”
“Well, I don’t want you to be angry.”
“AND I DON’T WANT YOU TO LIE TO ME ABOUT CHANGING YOUR BRIEFS. AND I’LL BE COMING BACK TO THE STORE BY MYSELF.”
“By yourself?? Why??”
“BECAUSE YOU LIED TO ME ABOUT CHANGING YOUR BRIEFS AND ENDED UP WITH WET PANTS. THAT’S NOT OKAY.”
When we get home and inside, I move to block her way to the couch so I can direct her into the bathroom to change. I wait to take her pants so I can put them straight into the wash, along with the pad she was sitting on in the car.
“Can you bring me some more pants?”
“No, just go on in your room and put on a housecoat.”
In the laundry room, I use a stainstick on the blots of lipstick spotting the front of her white pants before putting them and the pad into the washer. Over the splashing of the water filling the tub, I faintly hear my husband call from the other room that she’s yelling for me. I finish what I’m doing and go into her room to find her sitting on the bed.
“I need some pants.”
“No, just put a housecoat on.”
“I don’t have one.”
“They’re in your closet.”
“Will you hand me one?”
I pull a bright yellow, snap-front housedress off its hanger and hand it to her. She struggles to put in on, as if she’s never done it before. At this point, I’m too annoyed to be sympathetic, and while I help her put it on, I insist that she snap up the front herself.
“Okay – I’m going back to the grocery store.”
“And you’re going to leave me here.”
“Yes, I am. Do you know why?”
“Because you don’t like me.” (This is a joke/not joke reply. She doesn’t really think I don’t like her. But she knows I’m irritated with her.)
“No, because you lied to me about not changing your briefs.”
“Okay, okay, ” she says as she looks away. This is her way of ending the conversation. She lipreads as much or more than she actually hears. If she’s not looking at my face, I know she’s no longer participating.
I move to the door and, 45 minutes after my first attempt, leave, once again, to go buy groceries.