Parental Journal 104 from Planet Elderly: Breakfast? What Breakfast?

Monday, November 25, 2019 – mid-morning

I am fortunate that things continue to be stable now that Mom has been a resident in the Woods Central neighborhood of Lenoir Woods for a little over one year.

“Stable” means that she continues to get around with a walker plus assistance from a staff person or me….that she feeds herself, understands what’s on the menus and chooses what she wants, brushes her teeth and washes her face, still likes her pony tail, continues to eavesdrop on conversations and makes comments, can still flirt, loves any type of music, knows me, can get testy (ok, “mean”) with others, easily shows affection and appreciation when others do something nice for her…and she is eating quite well.  More than she remembers.

“Breakfast?  What Breakfast?”

When I arrive on my visiting days, I often ask, “Did you have a good breakfast?” Her typical answer is, “No, I didn’t have any breakfast.”

In recent weeks, I’ve learned that if she’s been up a while before I arrive, she has had breakfast.  She just doesn’t remember.  And sometimes it’s not “breakfast.”  It’s “BREAKFAST!”

“Boy, did your mom have a good breakfast this morning!” one of the kitchen staff said to me a week or so ago.  I glanced at Mom because she had just said she hadn’t had any breakfast and I was thinking, “Gee, she’ll eat a big lunch then.”

“Yeah,” the staff member continued.  “She had a nice portion of biscuits and gravy, and then she asked for a second helping!  On top of that she had cinnamon rolls–four of them!”

I slowly turned my head to look at Mom.  “Well, looks like you did have breakfast this morning, Mom.  A trucker’s special!”

“Well, I don’t remember it.  In fact, I’m hungry right now.”

“No problem, Mom.  They’ll be serving lunch in about 15 minutes.”

Truth be told, there are many times I feel like the character Dorothy on the old “Golden Girls” TV sitcom, and Mom is like Sophia.

Mom and coffee nov 23 2019

Some Sweet Conversations Lately

With this being Thanksgiving week, I am quite thankful that Mom and I have had our close relationship with me being her care manager for a bit over two years now.

A lot has changed because her brain has changed.  With her memory way out of wack, she pretty much just lives in the moment, be it good or bad.

A particularly sweet moment for which I  am grateful happened last week.  I think I was helping her get dressed or something.  I know we were alone, so we were probably in her room when she looked directly at me and asked, “Are you happy where you are now in life?”

Her question almost took my breath away and I quickly assured her that I was…my health is good, I love my little nest of a duplex with the woods in back and good neighbors all around, I have friends…but most important, I have her here in Columbia living near me.

Then I asked her, “And are you happy here?”

“Oh yes, it’s nice here.  I’m comfortable.”

“Here” is an interesting word.  Mom is confused often enough to think we live in the same place, that she does some of the cooking and will make sloppy joes for me anytime I want, and that if she wants, she can just get up and walk around the mall for hours.

I have spent most of the past several weeks just being in the moment with her, wherever she is in whatever role she takes.  I enjoy our talks, our joking with each other, our changing soiled disposable underwear and cleaning up together, our Tuesday and Thursday music exercise time together with a sweet facilitator named Honey, our lunch discussions with friends Paul, Robin, Peggy and Tom.

I try not to spend too much time thinking about the reality of what is happening to Mom’s brain.  I am very much aware of it, but I choose to put it aside most of the time and focus on what is positive for us at this point in her journey with dementia.

And Those Hairdos!

To best manager Mom’s hair, we just let it grow.  She wants it long, and because it is long we usually put in into a pony tail.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a “do” Mom loves.

I do okay putting it into a pony tail at the nape of her neck, but we have talented staff who manage to get the pony tail up high and that looks really cute.

Then there are the hair specialists, staff like Shamyra, who can do French braids and even an upside down braid creation like the one Mom was sporting the other day.

Mom and braid Nov 23 2019

Pretty cool, huh?

Thank you, Shamyra!  You are one of the many staff at Woods Central who give so much of yourself attending to Mom and her neighbors.

Mom and Shamyra Nov 23 2019

 

A side note to those of us who may grow elderly and develop dementia or to those who are or will be caretakers of loved ones with dementia:

For the ladies, letting their hair grow and keeping it in a pony tail is very low maintenance and means no bills from a hair stylist.  This may be something they agree to on their own, or it can wait until they are no longer able to make decisions about their hairstyles.  Just a thought.

And about that Trip to New Mexico…

It actually happened.

While Mom was in good health, had good care from staff, and received loving visits from a special angel friend, Mary Kaye, I spend six days with gal pals on a road trip to New Mexico.

It was the first real vacation I had had in many, many years. I surprised myself and enjoyed it without dealing with much guilt.

One evening, however, we were at a restaurant and a young lady was playing a variety of songs on her guitar as she sang.  She was terrific.  At one point she sang an older song, one I knew my Mom had probably enjoyed when she was a young woman just beginning to experience romance and a life in full bloom.  I cried.  The reminder of what advanced aging with dementia can do to a person was a bit too much for me to deal with for a few minutes.  When I have moments like that, I remind myself of what Mom has so often told me in recent years:  “I want you to be happy.”

So here are some photos from the trip.  I look forward to going back again so I can spend more time with my friend Elly who lives there and learn more about the area from her.

A. Susan driving into NM Oct 18 2019

Proof it was a road trip…with Susan at the wheel of her Toyota truck that had a nice back cab area.

 

03 backyard of Eldorado NM house (2)

Our Airbnb rental house in Eldorado NM.

 

cocktail time Eldorado NM house 0ct 2019

Susan, me and Lynette…happy hour on the patio of the Airbnb rental.

 

01 Jenny landscape NM Oct 2019

View from a highway  scenic stop

 

02 Bandelier National Monument Oct 2019

More scenery

 

Selfie White Rock NM Susan Lynette Jenny Bonnie 102219

Selfie taken near White Rock

Susan, Lynette, me and Bonnie

(Note the hats.  Susan and I became fast friends with wide rimmed fedoras…a popular accessory in that area.  A bit of style and some sun protection.)

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Parental Journal 103 from Planet Elderly: Part Mom Part Child

October 13, 2019 late afternoon

Adult children who become caretakers or care managers of their elderly parents with dementia know that the reversal of roles can be quite challenging, especially when the parent has no clue of his/her limitations.

Sweet Times

Looking back on the past several weeks, I can say I’m quite surprised that Mom and I continue to have lots of what I call “sweet times.”  The only change I notice during my visits is what seems to be an immediate loss of memory.  Something can be said, and five minutes later it’s gone from her memory.  Other than that, she is in pretty good health.

Our sweet times consist of the following:

*Her delight in seeing me sitting next to her on days when she sleeps in

*Her appreciation for my assistance in getting her up, dressed, and cleaned up from toileting.  “I don’t know what I would do without you,” she often says.  I tell her I’m happy to help and remind her that on days when I’m not there, she gets wonderful assistance from the staff.  “Yes, they are nice.”

*Her ability to wash her face and brush her teeth.  It may seem trivial, but so few of her neighbors can do those simple tasks anymore.  Honestly, she is much more diligent about getting those teeth clean than her great-grandchildren are.  She brushes with vigor and doesn’t skimp on time.  She loves the feeling of clean teeth but cannot remember to brush them.  I’m now the parent who does the reminding, but I always put it as a question and let her decide.  “How about if you brush your teeth, Mom?”  Ninety percent of the time she agrees.  I stand back and just smile…taking in this time that will some day go away and be just a memory.

*Her love of eavesdropping.  Unless she is napping, Mom is very aware of the sights and sounds around her.  Snippets of conversations, phones ringing, staff laughing, a neighbor shouting, commercials for a product that will help with memory loss, a neighbor whispering in a tiny child voice that she needs to go to the bathroom, all kinds of things.  She is curious. She is concerned if she thinks someone is suffering or needs help.  And she wants to make sure nobody’s talking about her.

*Her pouting face.  This can easily make me feel guilty, but it’s still sweet. If I talk about going to a movie with some pals, she sometimes asks if she can go, too.  If I mention the need to do errands or work in the garden, she wants to know if she can help.  My responses need to be worded carefully, but when she hears she is not going to be included “this time,” I get the pouting face.

*Her mischievous smiling face when a man (resident or staff) talks to her or touches her on the shoulder.  She thinks they “want something” from her, i.e., romance. Or when a man speaks to me.  She leans forward as if to tell me a secret, and with a smile warns me, “he probably wants something from you.”

*Her active participation in chair exercise time.  She sits there waving her feet around, swinging her arms, and singing along.  I’m usually participating right along with her and I love to see her smile and make funny faces when she is encouraged by the staff person leading the exercise time.

*Her love of music.  It can be a commercial, a visiting duo, songs from a “The King and I,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” or the theme songs from TV shows like “The Golden Girls,” “Gunsmoke,” or “The Brady Bunch”…Mom sings along.  Like so many people living with dementia, music is recognized.  It is responded to with voice, tapping hands or feet, bobbing heads, and smiles.  I had no idea she knew the words to so many hymns.

*Her ponytail.  She still likes it and she loves the compliments that come with it.  The sweet time is when I get to slowly comb her hair and gently maneuver the small band to create a ponytail.

Mom ponytail 092919

But Legally Blind?

A while ago a visiting optometrist checked her eyes.  He said she was legally blind, and we could get her some “readers” for seeing up close.

Legally blind?  But she can watch TV and read words in the commercials.  She watches her neighbors and all the goings on every day.  At every visit, she comments on what I wear, or how my hair looks, or if I look rested and energetic or tired.

Mom had very bad eyesight as a young person and until she got contact lenses in the 60s. In her 70s or 80s she had cataract surgery in both eyes.  She saw perfectly for distance and used glasses for reading or sewing on a button.

I googled “legally blind” and the explanation made sense.  I bought her a cute pair of reading glasses and an eyeglass chain so she can have the glasses handy when she needs them.  Problem:  she doesn’t know when she needs them.  She will wear the reading glasses all day, claiming to see everything fine.

If I’m there I’ll gently ask her to do me a favor.  “Look at the TV with your glasses on, Mom.”  She does.  “Okay, take them off and look that the TV.”  She does.  “Can you see the TV better without the glasses?”   “Yes.”

Bottom line:  Her brain doesn’t can’t help her recognize when she needs to wear the reading glass and when she doesn’t.  If someone gives them to her, she is perfectly happy to wear them all day.  They feel comfortable and she looks cute in them.

Road Trip to New Mexico

The road trip with three other gal pals will be taking place, meaning I am going along.  Mom is not having any serious health issues; she eats well, has good care, and a friend of ours, Mary, will visit her now and then while I’m gone.

Mary knows Mom well.  She is the activities coordinator where Mom lived before and she knows exactly how to make time with Mom fun and meaningful.  Mary visited with us Saturday, and Mom recognized her from her voice.  We had a fun time.

I get to go on my first real vacation in over 10 years.  It will be a needed break from care management and an opportunity to explore “The Land of Enchantment” with good pals.

New Mexico

I made it a point to mention the road trip to Mom and said that I was invited.  We talked about it a couple times in the past week, and although she said she thought it was a great idea, I knew she would not remember our conversation.  Mary was with us the last time the trip was mentioned, and out of the blue Mom asked the question I was dreading:  “Am I going, too?”

But before I could respond, Mary leaned in and convinced Mom that the two of them would have a lot more fun “partying” here. Mom beamed with her mischievous smile.

Note to Mary:  Thank you, Sis.

roadtrip

 

 

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Parental Journal 102 from Planet Elderly: Mom’s 93rd Birthday

August 22, 2019 – late afternoon

On August 16, 2019 Mom turned 93.  Early that morning, I sent an email to pals announcing the occasion and what was planned:

Lenoir will make her a small, beautiful cake (she ordered chocolate) and since she misses her watch which went missing, I bought her a Timex, even though she might not be able to see it too well or tell the time.  I will be putting a little bouquet at each of the six dining room tables.

Adam and Kaylin will stop by around lunch for a visit and cake.  Mom will be thrilled.

This evening mom and I will dine at the nice restaurant at Lenoir, invited by Paul, the husband of mom’s neighbor, Robin.  They have a date night dinner there every Friday at 5:30 and Robin always enjoys her favorite: steak.

I knew Paul and Robin when they were political science professors at MU.  She has Parkinson’s and dementia now.  He is 88, remains an expert in northern India and world terrorism, plays tennis with older pals several times a week, has a guy pal group he eats with once a week, lives independently, and he is editing a book about India with contributed chapters from various experts worldwide, most from India, I believe. 

 I am in awe of his optimism and acceptance about life.  He has lunch and dinner with Robin nearly every day, greets her with a kiss and “Hello, Sweetie!”…drives an older model Kia, loves good food and wine, and has such a sense of wonder and surprise about life.  They have good family support even though most live in California and Oregon.

Paul speaks with a loud voice and wears hearing aids.  And he is a talker, so I don’t have to say much during visits.  I ask an open question, and off he goes…politics, movie recommendations, books, favorite restaurants, childhood memories, recipes he tries, etc.

 It is a delight to have them as good acquaintances at this stage in the journey Mom and I are on.  

Lots of laughter and chatting now.  Plenty of tears ahead down the road.

A Two-Part Birthday

Part One:  A Really Nice Celebration

Mom was in a good mood that morning, although she was a bit surprised when I reminded her that it was her birthday.

Her cousin, Carol, send me a check and asked me to pick out a nice flower arrangement.  I did and I also bought some bouquets of astromeria (“Lily of the Incas”) so that I could set out small bouquets on each of the dining tables.  The blooms last an incredibly long time in plain water.

Mom was delighted with the flowers.

20190816_102419

The Watch:

In recent days, Mom was talking about not finding her watch.  I was honest.

“It went missing several months ago, Mom, and I haven’t been able to find it.

Do you miss wearing a watch?”

“Yes, I do!”

“OK then.  How about I buy you a watch for your birthday?”

“My birthday?”

“Yeah.  August 16 is your birthday and it’s coming up.  Any idea how old you will be?”

Pause.  “Not really.”

“Well, you will be 93 years old on August 16.”

Another pause.  “Wow, I’m old.”

On her birthday, I gave Mom a simple Timex in a style I thought she would like.  She loved it; however, the adjustable band was way too big.  I took it to a jeweler for assistance and he showed me how to fit it.  When I went to see her today, we fitted the watch and she was pleased.

Grandson and Great-granddaugher

Adam and one of his children, Kaylin, were able to join us for lunch.   Mom was all smiles when she saw them.

20190816_113500
20190816_113511

We had lunch in the conference room where it was quiet.  Adam told us all about his trip to North Dakota where he and three friends were invited to attend a regional powwow.  Mom and I were intrigued by his description of the ceremonies, the communal meals, the weather, and the elder who befriended him.  Our eyes were wide open, and we frequently said “Wow” at the same time.

We were given a huge apology because the bakery ovens were down and Mom’s cake would be delayed.  We arranged for it to be delivered to the restaurant after dinner.

After Adam and Kaylin left, I sat with Mom a bit and we just relaxed.  When I got up to leave I told her I would be back later because we had an invitation from Paul and Robin to join them for dinner at the lovely restaurant on campus, Lavinia’s.

She had no memory of the invitation, but was happy when I told her I’d be back later and we would go out to dinner.

Part Two:  A Visit from the Sundown Demon

One of the reasons I visit Mom between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. is because I don’t do well with the Sundown Demon.  It brings back ugly memories of a few years ago when I was dealing with Dad’s dementia and Mom’s own increasing symptoms.

During a recent care management meeting, I asked how Mom was doing in the afternoons and evenings.  Overall, our visits have been terrific so I wanted to know how she was at other times.  In unison, two staff members said, “She’s mean.”   I just nodded my head with understanding, grateful that Mom is in the care of these well trained and experienced staff members who have a terrific sense of humor and team spirit.

So at about 4:15 p.m. on her birthday, I came back to see Mom and get her ready to enjoy a nice dinner.  I found her fast asleep, slumped toward the side in a recliner.  When I gently woke her up, I knew.  This was not going to go well.

Mom was extremely groggy and said she didn’t feel well.  When I reminded her of the birthday dinner, she made a face.  “I don’t care.”

When I asked her if she wanted to put a new top on, she winced as if in great pain.

“Do you hurt anywhere?” I asked.

“NO!  I just don’t feel well.  I’m tired of people telling me what to do!”  Then she lifted her arm as if to warn me with an ”almost slap.”

“Were you going to slap me?” I chided.

“Yes, I was!” she replied with angry eyes wide and confused.

Interestingly, when Mom is in a bad mood, she is quite articulate and has no problem expressing her anger and despair.   One would never guess that she has times when she points to try to explain a situation or a say something about a person or an item, and words just don’t make it out her mouth.

“If you don’t want to go to dinner, we don’t have to go.”

“You go.  I don’t feel good.”

I stayed quiet.  I just let her shift in her chair, look around the room, and get her bearings.

After a while I asked if she had to go to the bathroom and she said yes.  She needs assistance using her walker now and the two of us shuffled our way down the carpet lined hall to her bathroom.

When we entered the bathroom, she turned to me and said, “Something’s wrong with my mind.”

“I know.  Maybe it’s because you feel so tired right now.”  She was not convinced.

She agreed to change her top and sit in a wheelchair just in case she decided to go to dinner.  But she was sad and seemed lost.  We sat in the bathroom, me on the toilet seat lid facing her in her wheelchair, and I listened to her sighing and mumbling about not liking her life. I didn’t say anything.  I just let her express herself until she stopped.

“How about if we go back out to the TV room?” I suggested.  “Paul will here soon and we’ll see how you feel.”  She didn’t respond, but she did let me steer her forward.

Robin was waiting.  Staff make it a point to dress her up, do her hair, and put on a hat from her world travels.  Robin knows Friday night is date night and she looks forward to it, as does Paul.

While waiting, Mom started a why-bother-it-doesn’t-matter-anymore-poor-me monologue.  She spoke slowly and quietly.

“It’s up to you, Mom.  It’s okay if we don’t go to dinner.  Paul and Robin will understand.”

Shortly after I said that, Paul walked in, greeted Robin with a kiss and “My you look so beautiful,” and then he greeted Mom and asked if she was ready to go celebrate with a birthday dinner.

I started to explain that she wasn’t feeling well, and when I turned to her to ask if she felt up to it, she said, “I suppose so.  I’m hungry.”

So we went to dinner and we had a very nice time overall.  By that I mean, there was no loud anger or acting out on Mom’s part.  At first she looked as if she were a prisoner being forced to choose a final meal and she did NOT want my helping looking at the menu options.  When Paul suggested the petite steak that Robin has every week, Mom said, “That sounds alright.”  After that she seemed to relax a bit and listened to Paul and me chat about various topics.  Occasionally she would say a participatory, “yes” or “I know” and even laugh when we laughed.

She did well, trooper that she is, and Paul and Robin were gracious hosts.

20190816_184825

But as far as that chocolate cake…a team of staff arrived with profuse apologies because the bakery ovens were still out…BUT…they presented Mom with their signature hot brownie dessert made in the restaurant kitchen and served with ice cream.  It was presented on a large plate with “Happy Birthday Pearl” written in chocolate along the rim.  Now THAT made Mom smile.  She and I shared the delicious dessert and another was brought out for Paul and Robin to share.

As we headed back to Mom and Robin’s “neighborhood,” we admired some artwork painted on windows…a rooster and two Snoopy scenes. I also decided that I was going to sit with Mom for a while until she got sleepy.  I just didn’t want to leave her alone.

There weren’t many folks sitting in the TV area.  Paul situated Robin, gave her a kiss, and said goodbye to everyone.

Mom was in the wheelchair and our task was to get her into a nice, comfy chair.  Problem was, I wasn’t sure how to manage that and when I would make a gesture to try, she shooed me away and told me she could do it herself.  Of course she couldn’t, but I just stood nearby and kept my mouth shut while she tried to figure things out.

A staff person approached and I mentioned that we might need assistance.

“Well, sure, Honey.  I’ll help you get into that chair.  Put your arms around my neck.”

And with that Mom was lifted up with a yelp from her and set down.  She smiled at the staff person and said, “Thank you very much.”

I sat in the chair next to her and within five minutes she was nodding off.

“Are you sleepy?” I asked.   She nodded.

“Okay, I’ll let you rest.  I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

“Happy Birthday, Mom.  I love you.”

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Parental Journal 101 from Planet Elderly: Naming Mom’s Toilet and Other Realities of Dementia

Morning, June 17, 2019

For the past several months, Mom has been coasting along quite well in the Woods Central neighborhood of Lenoir Woods.

Walker?  What Walker? 

Mom is the only resident who does not use a wheelchair, although she has one for getting to activities in other neighborhoods.  She uses a walker, but always needs to be reminded to use it…AND…she requires guidance using it.  Staff regularly use a safety belt to guide her as she uses it.  When I walk her to different areas, I don’t use the safety belt.  I probably should, but I keep my hand on her back with one hand and help her steer with the other hand.

She can’t steer very well because she thinks she has to carry it over doorways and over areas that change from hard flooring to carpet.  If I accompany her to her room to use the toilet, she is not able to follow directions when I say, for example, “Ok Mom, we’re going to take a left to go down this hall.”  She will turn right and I will gently guide her to the left.

Another obstacle she has with the walker is her feet.  She walks with both feet facing outward, which then interferes with the walker legs being able to glide smoothly.  She can’t figure out why she keeps getting “stuck” and believes there is something wrong with the walker.

Honestly, I am amazed that she hasn’t had several tumbles and a broken hip, but that’s because she is closely watched and is not left to fend for herself with the walker.

And when it’s time to use the walker to go from the bed to the bathroom first thing in the morning…or from the bathroom to the TV areas after getting ready in the morning…or from the recliner to the dining area…she’s often surprised to be told she needs to use the walker.  A walker?  Like it’s a new concept never before mentioned.

Thankfully, she is pretty compliant 90 percent of the time.  If she is in a bad mood due to sun downing confusion, I have seen her push the walker away and attempt to take off on her own.  With one such situation, she fell onto the carpet, was thoroughly checked, and was fine.  I haven’t seen her push it away since that incident.

Naming Mom’s Toilet

When I’m visiting and Mom has to go to the bathroom, I take her myself.  We’re still a good team with this, regardless of whether we are dealing with Number One or Number Two.

One day this past spring we were having a fun visit…just chatting and laughing about stuff.  She was in a good mood and very lucid.  Suddenly she looked at me and said, “I gotta go poop!  Really bad!”

“Okay, I’ll help you,” I said.  We locked arms so I could assist her in standing up from the recliner, and once she was vertical and fairly steady, we made our way toward her room with her walker.

It takes a while to walk to her room and she is always surprised and distressed that we just can’t use any toilet close by.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” she said.

“Well, don’t worry.  We can clean up anything and put on a new outfit.”

But we made it, and as we turned into her bathroom I said, “Hey, Mom.  You should give your toilet a name!  It’s one of your best friends.”

She laughed and said, “Ok, I’ll call it Jeanette.”

Not wanting to have her toilet named after me, I offered another suggestion as she earnestly shuffled toward the toilet seat.  “How about naming it after your sister?”

By this time, we were both buckled over with silliness and she had the additional emergency of having to poop N.O.W.

“Ok,” she said.  “We’ll call her Marty.”  And with that, she plopped onto the toilet seat just in time.  No change of outfit needed.

Meet Marty:

mom toilet 050219

 

The Great Eavesdropper 

Mom’s favorite activity is eavesdropping, and she is still quite good at it.

There may be all kinds of things going on…an episode of “Golden Girls,” a chair exercise activity, residents getting their blood pressure checked and their meds, the guy on the riding floor cleaner swooping by…but whatever is going on, Mom can still zero in a conversations.

Her hearing is superb, thank goodness, because eavesdropping is one of her major forms of entertainment.

We might be sitting together, looking at a magazine with me commenting about the content, and Mom will zoom in on what other people are saying.

KAREN

“He wants Karen.  He keeps calling her name.”

“Yes, that’s our new neighbor.  Karen is his wife and she isn’t hear right now.”

“Oh. Doesn’t he know that?”

“Well, he can’t remember that she isn’t here, so he keeps calling for her.”

“Oh.”

WALKING

Last week a visitor was talking to me about a vacation and going out west. I mentioned that I had heard that the western states were quite beautiful…that a friend visited the big sky country of Montana and liked it.

Mom looked at me and said, “Well, do you think we could go to Montana together?”

“I’m not sure, Mom.  When people visit Montana, they have to do a lot of walking because there are wide open spaces and mountains….”

“Well, I can walk!  I walk all the time around here!”

“Okay, well…we’ll think about it.”

Then she rolled her eyes at me.

BIKING

Mom was listening to some of us talk about biking.  I recently tried riding my women’s size bike and discovered that my center of gravity had moved to another universe.  I took three very gentle, graceful tumbles; then decided to sell the bike.

When Mom heard me talking about selling my bike, she frowned.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Well, you could give it to me.  I bike.”

“You still ride a bicycle?”

“Yes, all the time…and I’m good at it.  I don’t fall.”

“Oh…okay.  I had not idea you still rode a bike,” I said.

“Well, I do!”

 

What To Do About That Hair?

Mom has always worn her hair short and layered.  She would set it in sponge rollers and then wrap a scarf around it.  She can’t use rollers anymore and never evens mentions them.

Her hair is also quite thin on top and it has been for decades.  Her scalp can easily be seen, but she has never realized that.  She just thinks she has “thinning hair.”

Since arriving in her present community, she has let her hair grow.  Suddenly, she does not want a haircut.  She likes it longer.

I made a hair appointment for her one time here at Lenoir Woods, but I was not there to see the results.  As expected, though, there wasn’t a trace of any hairdo when I saw her the next day.  I just saw the almost shoulder length, somewhat frizzy, straight, white hair that gave her a kind of witch look.  So I made a note to bring in some hair bands to try putting her hair in a ponytail.  At least that would keep it somewhat neat.

To my surprise and delight, I walked in to visit Mom last week, and at first I could not find her.  Then I saw her sitting in a recliner, sporting a high ponytail, and enjoying a Netflix movie.

When I walked over, I said, “Hi Mom.  You have a ponytail!”

“I do?”  She reached up to touch the top of her head.

“Oh, yeah!  And it looks so cute!  Plus I see someone painted your fingernails a pretty bright pink.”

She lifted her hands out to see.  “They look good, don’t they.  I like the color.  I’m getting used to it.”

She let me take a picture of her new look while she watched the ending of  “Mama Mia”:

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All my gal pals gave this photo a thumbs up because she looked so relaxed and content.

 

Mom and KK

Unless I am able to bring Pearl’s great grandchildren for a visit, I am the only person who visits her.  Needless to say, she is so delighted when I  bring one of the kids, ages 14, 9, and 5.

The two older ones live in another nearby city so I don’t see them very often, but the youngest one (“KK”) lives here in Columbia and is happy to go see “Grandma Pearl.”  We usually bring drawing supplies.

Mom may not know their names or their ages, but she knows they are family and she is so happy with their visits.

Mom and KK 061619

Mom with Shamyra (a super angel aide) and KK.

 

Observations

Mom has been in a great place during recent visits these past couple weeks.  She is lucid, can respond to jokes and joke back, and engage in conversations with others.

She is now on a half-pill of anti-anxiety medicine, usually given at or shortly after lunch.  Her sun downing often occurs in the early afternoon, and this eases the anxiety a bit.

Her appetite is good in general, but I notice that when I sit with her at lunch, she often does not eat everything.  Then again, there are some days where her plate is polished.

She often does not know what the items on her plate are or she claims she didn’t order what was given to her.

Lately, she attempts to eat her dinner roll with a knife and fork…and pieces of meat or vegetables with her fingers.  Sometimes she will dip a forkful of cake in her cup of tea.

Her weight is about 107 and that is fine for her.  She is aware that she has always been thin and sometimes brags that she can eat anything.  I surprised her with a root beer float one evening, and she finished it.

She does not get physical therapy because she doesn’t like it and is often rude toward therapists.  She is unable to learn new things, so she and I participate in chair exercises in the living room area when offered.

I am quite surprised at her lucidity recently.  Not long ago she would have days when she could not make a clear sentence…the words just would know show up.  For the past few weeks she has sometimes not been able to find a word or two, but otherwise has had no problem expressing herself during my visits.

She rolled out of bed a few nights ago.  It was 3 a.m.  They checked her over, she was fine, so they decided to wait until I arrived to let me know.  “So.  You rolled out of bed last night, huh?” I said.   “I did?” she asked.   Later she tried to cover why it happened:  “Well, I saw this other fella roll out of bed, so I did the same thing.”    Sure, Mom.

General health seems fine.  No current concerns with blood pressure or heart rate.  She should be drinking more water.  And her butt sometimes hurts because, “I’m sitting too much.”  If I take her for some walks outside or around the building, I’ll be sure to use the the safety belt.

FORTUNATE

I am quite fortunate that my mother knows who I am, participates in our discussions, enjoys singing along to music, is in fairly good health, hasn’t had any serious falls or illnesses, eats fairly well, and sees a lot of humor in living to one’s elder years.

I have not doubt she will be enjoying her 93rd birthday this coming August 16.

SAD

As fortunate as we are, I am also often quite sad.  I live with clinical depression and have managed quite well over the past few years…getting Mom moved here, selling her house, and enjoying time with her in memory care assisted living.  Now she is in a skilled nursing neighborhood and is the highest functioning patient on board.

We have had some neighbors die in recent weeks.  Mom is not aware, but I am.  New neighbors have moved in, and the daily schedule goes on.

My difficulties with depression suddenly became more pronounced a couple of months ago.  After discussions with my psychologist and my primary care physician, I have done two things.  First, I am taking an additional medicine for depression after decades of taking only one kind.

Second, I am visiting Mom four days a week instead of six or seven.  I see her on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  This gives me more time to focus on things I enjoy doing by myself, with friends, or with grandchildren.  I now have days that are not overshadowed with the ravages of advanced aging and the emptiness of death.

At first I was anxious about being away from Mom so often, but she has no memory of when I’m there and when I am not, and she is doing well with my new schedule.  She sees me, smiles, and often says, “Oh, it’s so good to see you!”

I am also doing well with the new schedule.  And I am planning a road trip with some gal pals:  New Mexico in October.  Four of us are going, and even though I might not be able to go if Mom is in the hospital or suddenly quite ill, at least there is a plan to take a real vacation.  Plans are good.  Plans are hopeful.  Plans can bring joyful anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Parental Journal 100 from Planet Elderly: Mom Was My Valentine and It Was the Best Valentine’s Day Ever

February 20, 2019

The planned Valentine’s Day party at Mom’s community included the C Rock City Band from here in Columbia.  They specialize in classic hits from the 60s and 70s.

And this party wasn’t for the whole Lenoir Woods compound of independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing residents.  It was set up mostly for the skilled nursing residents from three neighborhoods, although there might have been others who stopped by.

What can I say?  It was a blast.

I remember driving there around 1 p.m. wondering how Mom would be.  Her afternoons can be difficult due to sundowning, and I’m told that behavior sometimes starts right after lunch.  When I walked in, she smiled and was just fine.  I kissed her and asked if she would be my Valentine; she giggled and said yes.  Then she asked if I would be hers.

V Day 2019 02

The weekday daytime staff at Mom’s neighborhood.  A great crew!

 

Holding Hands and Smooching in Your 90s?  Why Not?

Word about a party was out and some residents were looking forward to attending, especially Mom’s friend “L” who is 93.

A couple of months ago I was informed that Mom and “L” were developing a friendship.  I was told because the friendship sometimes included holding hands and smooching, and the facility needed to inform me in case I had any concerns. I didn’t.

In fact, “L” is a lot of fun.  I’m not sure why he lives in Mom’s neighborhood.  Not everyone there has dementia so maybe he has other health issues.  He is occasionally forgetful, like remembering what he selected for lunch or what college he attended.

“L” is witty, jokes around, worries about his neighbors, and freely shares commentary about the staff and the food.  He also knows when all the activities are scheduled and prides himself on enjoying a hearty breakfast every day.  He watches the news, enjoys the company of others, and apparently still likes the ladies.

For a while I thought that if Mom kissed “L,” her memory is so shot that she probably would not remember doing so ten minutes later.  Wrong.

One morning a week or so ago, I asked Mom if she’d like to brush her teeth.  She said yes and scrubbed those teeth quite well for a while.  Then when we were sitting in the living room area before lunch, “L” rolled over in his wheel chair to visit.  I explained that Mom had just finished brushing her teeth, and she then proceeded to say, “See!  Now you can kiss me.”  They both chuckled and went on to flirt unabashedly for another 10 minutes.

I just sat there with my eyes wide open thinking, “Damn.  The girl’s still got it.”

Lunch Time Gatherings

When I visit Mom, I arrive before lunch. I sit and chat with her and her three lunch mates: “L,” “M,” and “P.”   All three engage in interesting conversations and enjoy teasing each other.  I sort of keep the conversation going and we often have a lot of laughs.  None of the three has the kind of cognitive/behavioral issues Mom has with her dementia, but she does well listening to the conversations and sometimes chimes in with a witty comment here and there.

They don’t say a word as she tries to eat her dinner roll with a knife and fork, puts some mashed potatoes into her tossed salad, or attempts to pick up peas with her knife.  Well, “L” sometimes does. “What are you doing that for?” he’ll say.  Mom just gives him her annoyed look and tells him, “Never mind.”

The Valentine’s Day Party

Mom and I walked down the hall to another neighborhood where the band was setting up for the party.  We chose to sit in soft chairs near the band rather than be boxed in at one of the long tables.  Before the band started playing, staff passed around cookies and beverages.

V Day 2019 01

 

The band was loud, and that’s good for the those who can’t hear well, but when they began playing, Mom was startled.  She adjusted quickly and in no time she was tapping her feet.

There was a nice open area in front of the band, so when the second song started, I asked Mom if she wanted to dance.  She did. I helped her up and we held hands as we moved our feet back and forth.  She was all smiles.  So was I.  It was wonderful to connect with her in that way and it’s a memory I will always cherish.

At the same time, our friend Peggy rolled her husband, Tom (one of Mom’s neighbors), onto the dance floor as she usually does if there’s a band playing.  She whirled and twirled him with such love and care.  They have been dancing together since they were 16, and a wheel chair was not going to stop them. Tom enjoyed every minute, clapping to the beat as Peggy steered him back and forth, around to the left, then around to the right.

In no time, others joined us.  Staff assisted residents, spouses guided spouses, and adult children led with parents.

The Power of Music

Watching folks enjoy the music at the party was a testament to the power music has on all of us.  Lots of folks at the party were in wheel chairs or were very limited in their ability to walk without assistance,; yet hands clapped, shoulders moved up and down, people swayed, feet tapped, and smiles lit the room.

Then there was Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful.  Well, that’s what I call them.  The wife probably lives in an independent living apartment or maybe even in her own house.  The husband is a resident.  They knew Peggy and Tom and sat next to them.  They watched as Peggy took Tom out onto the dance floor again and again.  Mrs. Wonderful seemed to want to do the same for her husband; however, she gestured to Peggy that she had leg problems.

But when the love ballad “Unchained Melody” started up, Mrs. Wonderful positioned herself in front of her husband, reached behind him to grab his safety belt, and slowly pulled him up to a standing position even though she was half his size.  They stood there holding on to each other and swayed.

V Day 2019 05

Well, my heart just melted, and I wept Continue reading

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Parental Journal 99 from Planet Elderly: Mom Now Resides in a Skilled Nursing Community

The journey with dementia moves onward, and during the past couple of months Mom has fallen a few times.  Watching her gait over the summer, I could see that fall episodes would start in the near future. In September, she willingly agreed to try using a walker and said she felt more secure.  Trouble was, she didn’t remember to use it, so getting around started becoming rather precarious.

First Medical Adventure

I received a call saying she was shaking and having trouble communicating.  She was taken to the ER and it was determined she had an infection…maybe sepsis…but they weren’t sure. She was admitted and given two varieties of big gun antibiotics intravenously.

I stayed with her 12 to 14 hours each day but needed to be home to sleep. She was moved a few times to different rooms, and there was never anything other than a hardback chair for me to sit in.  Fortunately, the hospital could monitor her via video and using a sound alarm built into the bed.  It would go off any time she tried to get out of bed.  That gave me some peace of mind when I went home to sleep.

For Mom, she was just tired a lot, but her breathing was monitored as were her other vital signs.  She was put on oxygen because they suspected pneumonia.  The biggest challenge was going to the bathroom.  She needed assistance but didn’t think she did.  A few times assistance took a long time coming and she found her self in a puddle of urine and feces.  I had to advocate quite a bit.  When I told some physical therapists about the puddle, they were horrified something like that could happen in their hospital.  No shit.  I’m sure it happens often with the aged old who are hospitalized and cannot speak or advocate for themselves.

Mom had several tests done (Why not?  Medicare was paying for it, right?), and several rather fast-moving rides to those tests by young folks who had no idea she had dementia and would scare easily.  She didn’t scream or cry out, but her eyes got big.  She rated the food at this hospital as “lousy.” I would agree.  She didn’t eat much and lost some weight.

From the hospital she was sent to a rehab skilled nursing community to receive physical and occupational therapy.  She was not a happy camper, but after several days she was glad to be able to “go home” to her regular memory care assisted living community where she was welcomed with open arms.

mom and me shoes

(Chilling out during her first visit to the rehab center)

Second Medical Adventure

While roaming around without the walker one evening, Mom fell and was in a lot of pain.  I met her at the ER and it was determined that she broke her shoulder, a common kind of break for the aged old.

The ER doctor, who seemed in a rush because “I’m the only physician here,” he said, seemed attentive enough, but he wanted to send Mom “home” with some pain pills and a brace to keep her arm stable.  We were told it would take about 6 weeks to heal.  If it didn’t heal, there was an operation involving putting a rod in her arm, “but due to her age….”  I just nodded my head.

Because it was 3 a.m., they found a room for her to sleep in overnight and I was able to go home to sleep.

The next day the rehab community picked her up and brought her back for another visit and round of therapies.  She was in terrible pain.

She was at the rehab community only a couple of days.  As I watched how she was watched and assisted, and as I looked around the somewhat dark and dingy atmosphere due to the community being located in a basement area of a larger senior community, I just wanted something better for Mom.

Proactive Me

It’s my nature to look at problems and situations and try to plan options.  With two recent hospital adventures, it seemed clear to me that Mom was headed toward needing a skilled nursing facility as her permanent home.

I found it to be very stressful to have an incident lead to an ER visit, which led to time in the hospital, which then led to time at a rehab community, which maybe would lead to going back to her home community only to know that the same scenario would happen again and again.

I drove over to a new skilled nursing care center at Lenoir Woods, a Luther Senior Services community that has been in Columbia for several decades.  In recent years they have built new independent living apartments, torn down the old care center and built a new one with three skilled nursing facilities, and over time have stepped up their game to match their mission in helping elders live better lives as they progress through the aging process.  They are highly rated and have a good reputation locally.

My idea was to get Mom on the waiting list.  I just walked in and was able to speak  with the advisor who hadn’t yet started her busy day.  I told her about Mom’s background and what had been happening.  Turned out there was an opening, and Mom was moved in a few days later.

Third Medical Adventure

This one I missed because I did not hear my cell phone ring three nights ago at 11 p.m.

I did wake at 3:30 and saw that I had a voice message.  Checked that and was told to call.  When I did, I learned that at about 11 p.m. Mom was found lying on her back next to her bed and that she was bleeding at the back of her head.

They had her taken to the ER where she was examined, given two CT scans around midnight, had three staples put into the back of her head, and sent back to the care center.

“They didn’t find anything serious and sent her back.  She is fine now,” I was told.

I made some coffee, listened to NPR news for a while, and had a nap.  I woke up and got myself ready to go check in on her, not sure what to expect but having visions of her pain and misery from previous medical adventures.

When I arrived, a man was leading a program for the crowd gathered in the living room area and there was Mom, seated in a recliner, wide awake, participating with a smile, and when she saw me, she said, “Oh, hi!  How you doin’?”  No word about pain, about being tired; no memory of her latest adventure.

Eventually I did say, “I heard you were at the ER last night.”  She looked at me as if she didn’t believe me.  “Yeah, I’m told you fell and had three staples put in the back of your head.”  Her eyes shifted left to right.  “I hope they were nice to you.”

“Oh, yes.  Theyt were nice.  They were very nice.”  And then she started feeling the back of her head to check on the staples.

And Here We Are:  Observations as of Thanksgiving Weekend 2018

*Mom has been eating less these past few months.  We had a fabulous Thanksgiving meal yesterday at her community, but she only nibbled at it.  I cleaned my plate and ate a few bites of hers.

*She weighs 109 now.   When I moved her to Missouri she weighed about 103 and her doctor wanted her to gain some weight.  While at her first community, she ate well and peaked at 134 or so.  That was a bit much a bit fast, but then she started eating less this past spring.

*In addition to lessening food intake, her taste buds seem to be changing and she doesn’t recognize food very well.  She was unsure about whether she liked the homemade rolls served at every meal.  A couple of weeks ago, that was a favorite item.

*She feeds herself, but has difficulty reading and selecting from the small lunch menu that offers two main items and a variety of vegetables and sides.  If left to herself, she may only select “mashed potatoes and gravy.”  They are yummy…and made with real potatoes.  She never says no to the dessert cart when it stops by her table.  She rarely finishes dessert, but she enjoys a few bites.

*She has difficulty remembering to use the walker and how to use it.  She struggles with it, often trying to carry it or use it backwards.  At least she is still getting around, although she put staff in a panic the other day when they found her walking without the walker.  She cannot learn new things and that is sad to observe.

*She is having more difficulty expressing herself.  She will point and start a sentence but cannot find words to state her question or concern.  She is aware of this difficulty and it frustrates her.

*She responds quickly and happily to anyone who walks by and says, “Hi, Pearl!”

*Swallowing pills is more of a challenge.

*She has her own wheelchair now for any time she wants to use it and for the future.  When I told her we were buying one, she said, “Good.  And then you can use it, too.”  Yep.

*At lunch she sits with three other folks who are quite verbal; not everyone there has dementia.  I enjoy sitting with them and chatting away.  We have a lot of laughs and Mom enjoys it.

*Mom’s short-term memory is kaput. She tries to cover up with “oh yeah,” but it seems clear that she cannot retain what recently happened or what was recently said.

*After Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, she started to sundown.  She kept asking what I was going to do and what she is supposed to do.  She could not remember that she has a room there, so we walked to the room and I showed her several of her things…side table, recliner, favorite knickknack, bathroom.  After returning to the loveseat in the living room, she asked again.  She had no memory of our walk down to her room.  We went again.  “I need to know what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said over and over.  We went back to her room and she decided it would be okay to sit in the recliner and watch The Hallmark Channel.  She remembered that channel.

Mom ER visit nov 2017 cracked rib

(one of her ER visits)

Each day when I am with her, I try to take in her presence…make her smile…share some laughs.  If she is agitated or in pain, I just sit with her and let her talk…acknowledge her difficulties.  And I am sad.  Going through this long grieving process is difficult, but for now, we can still talk to each other and have some golden moments.  I am grateful for her lucid times and I am grateful we are still creating memories.

 

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Parental Journal 98 from Planet Elderly: “I Need to Find Myself”

Tues. July 31, 2018

Mom and I have been coasting along with a regular schedule for the past year and four months since she moved into assisted living memory care.

Mom and me Shelter Gardens spring 2018

Shelter Gardens outing Spring 2018

 

Our current schedule includes daily visits except for Mondays.  That is my “work” day.  Essentially it’s my day off.  And it was highly recommended by my psychologist and group of gal pals.

Admittedly, it’s been wonderful to wake up each Monday morning and know that I have the whole day to myself.

Dual Downsizing

This past March I decided to move from a rental house to a duplex located next door to a friend. The house was nice, but I did not have a sense of community.  Apparently, I’m more socially oriented than I thought I was.

The duplex is a bit smaller than the house, 30 years newer, it’s located on a quiet cul-de-sac on the very western edge of the city with a diverse population,  and I absolutely love it. I call it my Independent Living Nest.  This is where I plan to stay until such time that I either die or can no longer live independently.

At the same time I was moving, it was recommended that Mom move to a private single room.  She had been in a double room, but in anticipation of more residents eventually moving in, the private single was agreed on–even by Mom.

We spent a lot of time joking about downsizing at the same time.  I hoped it would ease the transition for her.  Overall, she did quite well and thinks it’s cozy.  The main issue is that she can’t remember where it is.

Changes

I have read that one characteristic of vascular dementia is that changes seem to happen in “steps” rather than a gradual decline. I think Mom is currently going through her second step of changes since arriving here March 31, 2017.

*She will experience bouts of feeling okay with bouts of anger and unhappiness, which she calls “being crabby.”  Her emotional quality of life is failing, and we will be visiting with her doctor to have a urinary tract infection test done…and to propose that a low dosage antidepressant be tried to help take the edge off her bouts of crying, anger and unrest.

*Her short-term memory is failing even more.  She cannot remember what happened ten minutes ago.  During a recent visit with two of her great-grandchildren, the 14-year-old great-granddaughter was sitting at a table with us. We greeted Mom about ten minutes earlier when we arrived.  Mom turned to me and asked, “Do you know who that is?”  I explained and she responded with “Oh yeah…She is so pretty.”

LaEabha and Mom Spring 2018  With oldest great-grandchild

 

Mom and Kaylin Summer 2018  With youngest great-grandchild

She is often found napping in her old room.  When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom there she becomes upset.  She thinks someone has stolen all her stuff.  She is directed to her new room and finds familiar things, especially the bed comforter that she loves.

*I am told that she wanders and more recently has set off the door alarm a few times.  She has joined that club now, apparently.

*She has had two altercations with the same neighbor when Mom attempted to slap or actually slapped her.  She has always had a short fuse.  I know.  Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was afraid of my mother’s temper.  I know she has also been extremely rude and unkind to staff.  She tells me sometimes.  At other times, staff have shared that “she brought me to tears.”  Kudos to all the staff who work with the elderly, especially those elders living with dementia.  Some residents are quite sweet and obliging.  Then there are spitfires like Mom who shoots dagger of hate at anyone who suggests she take a shower or spa bath.

*Although she still goes to the bathroom by herself, accidents happen more often.  Often she is not able to tell if she has soaked a disposable panty or soiled herself.  Staff are cleaning up more messes now.  That’s one reason why they want her to shower or bathe more often–to make sure she is nice and clean.  When they suggest a shower or bath, she interprets that as as meaning “she stinks” and it pisses her off.  “They should just tell me I smell,” she will snarl.

*But who resents “being told what to do all the time”?  Mom.  She has been fiercely independent her whole life, even when married.  Now she needs more assistance. In recent weeks, she acknowledges that fact, sometimes agreeably; sometimes with a scowl. I often try to put myself in her situation.  How would I react?  In all honesty, once I could no longer sit through a movie, follow the story line in a book,  or be able to work a computer, table, or radio, I, too, would probably be a miserable bitch and occasionally take it out on others.  In addition to not always appreciating staff assistance, she will complain about not liking “all the busy bodies here.”

*She is losing a bit of weight; does not like to eat if she is upset or angry.

What Stays Pretty Much the Same

*Coffee and morning chat time with others when I come to visit

*Going for walks and engaging in activities most of the timeMom activity 2018

*Loving naps

*Listening to other gal neighbors and me when we tell stories and share tips on getting old…and laughing loudly together

*Our outings to doctor appointments followed by lunch out…usually a cheeseburger, sometimes a taco or fried fish filet…or a craving for a root beer float:Mom rootbeer float July 2018

*Her appreciation of her best staff friend, Mary Kaye, who continuously weathers all the up’s and down’s of residents’ realities with dementia.  She is a pro…and a saint.

 

Awareness

After a recent refusal to take a bath, Mom shuffled off to her old room and laid down on a bed.  I joined her and just sat in a chair next to her.  She did not talk a lot, but she was honest.  “I am so angry most of the time.”  “I hate my life.”  “Don’t be surprised if you come to visit sometime and I’m not here.”  “I should find another place to live.”

After a long silence, she gazed at the doorway and said, “I need to find myself.  I don’t know if I can, but I need to try to find myself.”  I didn’t respond.  I was struck by the profound reality she was expressing as a person who is so often confused because she lives with dementia.

Slowly I mentioned how she has told me she likes how clean it is here.  “Yes, it is very clean.”  Then I mentioned how she has told me that she thinks the staff are very nice.  “Yes, they are nice…even when I’m crabby.”  And the food?  “Yes, the food is good.”  And you have nice neighbors.  “Yes…well, most of them.”

Then I moved to the bed and sat next to her.  We hugged and she told me, “I love you. I know you are doing a lot for me and I appreciate it.”

“That’s okay.  Look at all you did for me over the years.”  We laughed

“Yes, but you are happier than I am.  Sometimes I’m jealous and wish I was as happy as you.”

Mom 073118

Flowers from Betsy’s garden  July 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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