Parental Journal 14 from Planet Elderly: “I Love You But This Is Tearing Us Apart”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 early afternoon

I remember being quite anxious about making this trip up to see my folks.  Wanted to be with Dad for Father’s Day and his 93rd birthday on July 1, but not wanting to deal with Mom’s mood swings, yelling, and anger at being confused so often.  Actually, as I approached the Chicagoland area on my way up, I began a quiet mantra:  “It will be fine.  It will be fine.  It….Will…Be….Fine.”    And it has been; in fact, the visit has been almost golden.

Within twenty minutes of arriving, one of my tires went flat.  That could have happened on the toll road or on I-55.  I was relieved to have made the trip without a blowout.

Within a half hour of arriving, I realized the Mom I was interacting with was Mom from a couple years ago.  She was happy to see me…a little worried about Dad…and she just seemed to be much calmer.  What I think is happening is that she is getting tired…worn out…and she realizes that when I come to visit, I’m here to help.  She has her rigid routine and I don’t interfere; in return, I’m doing some cooking, most of the driving, and reviewing things she might have questions about in terms of mail or bank statements.  She has told me a few times that she’s glad I’m here…and we agreed that we are having a good time together because we’re both “behaving ourselves.”

When we went to see Dad on Father’s Day, Mom became angry because he would not eat much of his lunch.  She was personalizing this, as in, ”He’s punishing me by not eating his lunch because he doesn’t want to be here.”  Royal C.R.A.P.  … but it is her mindset of extreme guilt playing havoc with her thinking.  That’s my take on it, anyway.  Before we were ready to leave that day she told me to go get Dad and bring him to his room.  She wanted to have a talk with him.  She sat on his bed and I went down to the common area to get him while I wondered, “How are they going to have a talk???  He can’t hear and he can’t follow a conversation.  Wish I had a video camera.”

I steered Dad into his room where Mom was waiting on the bed…crying.  I took a seat in the corner of the room and kept out of the way.  Mom went on and on about what is happening to us…what you are doing is killing me…you might as well take a knife to me…do you want me to visit you or not?  Do you?!  … I love you but this is tearing us apart.   Etc. etc. etc.

Dad was wide eyed and struggled to 1) hear her, and 2) understand her.  He tried earnestly to respond…saying things like, “Well…I don’t know what to say.”   “Who took the ice?”   “It don’t matter.”  When Mom broke down and sobbed, he looked at her and simply said, “I love you very much.”  Well, it couldn’t have played out better in a Hollywood script.  She smiled and kissed him, stroked his face, and told him she loved him with all her heart.  He laughed and said, “What a gal.”  And the scene was over.  Mom was happy and Dad seemed to have the feeling that he had done something right.

Mom needs validation…especially from Dad.  She needs to know he loves her and is not mad at her for having him in a long-term care facility…that he appreciates all she does for him:  laundry and ironing every day, visiting him every day, and incessant worrying about far too many things she has no control over.  And each day since “the talk,” he smiles at her when she approaches him and says things like, “Here’s Miss Pearl!” ….  “She’s terrific.“ …”What a sweetheart.” …. and yesterday: “ I’ll love her forever.”   Well…how golden is all that?  He is her world and she’s happy to know how much she means to him.

I’m trying to gently coach Mom in the idea that if Dad does not have much of an appetite at lunch, then he’s probably just not hungry.  He eats a good breakfast, we’re told, and some dinner.  He’s doing fine with food for now.   I reminded her that Dad is not at all like Wanda or Ray or Ruth who just sit and stare at their food and occasionally take a few sips of chocolate flavored Boost.  A couple days I even suggested we visit in the morning and then leave before lunch…Monday before scheduled storms arrived, and today so she could go to the monthly bingo happening at one of the local banks. She liked the idea.  She thought I would join her at bingo, but I gently told her it’s not my thing…that I would hang out at the library and pick her up after bingo.  Actually, after I escorted her to the bingo room, I headed over to Jewel and bought a couple bottles of wine.  There will be wine with some sloppy Joe sandwiches this evening…and she’ll probably join me.  We’re eating mostly her type of menu items and I’m craving salad greens other than iceberg lettuce….but at least I talked her into letting me add some raw red cabbage which she strongly dislikes.

I do wish she would be willing to talk with her doctor about her mood swings and feelings.  She can get so quickly bent out of shape about minor things like only seeing one undershirt in Dad’s laundry.  Then she’ll go on a tirade and cry about not knowing where all his tee shirts are going and she’ll insist we get another pack…and when we go to put the new pack away the next day, there in a drawer are 500 tee shirts. Well, almost.  I remind her that she does his laundry every single day…so how many dirty tee shirts would she expect to find?  She just puffs up and shrugs her shoulders to acknowledge my point.

Mom seems to be doing fine with driving.  Her neighbor helps her get her car in and out of her tiny garage.  I think she gets a little lost now and then because she talks about so many green trees that some places don’t look familiar right away…until she finally sees a place that looks familiar.  No accidents.  No more escorts by the local sheriff department.  The short term memory loss is there (What day is it?  I need to get the mail…no Mom, you already picked it up.  I need to go to the bank for some money…no Mom, you cashed a check yesterday; you have money in your drawer.  Today is garbage day…no Mom…yesterday was garbage day.  Dad’s birthday is tomorrow…no Mom…his birthday is next Wed. July 1.  I need to get more ketchup…no Mom…you have five jars at home.  I do??  Yep…I guess you plan to make a lot of sloppy joe sandwiches.)….but despite such lapses, she is managing ok and, most of all, wants to manage things by herself.  I’ll continue to stay in the background and assist as needed.  I still fear being yelled at if I offer advice or suggestions she does not want to hear.

Today we ordered a birthday cake for Dad.  Will pick it up next Wed. and bring it over to his unit at Victory Lakes in the afternoon after lunch is served.

Gail is one of the caretaker staff.  He greets everyone with “God’s blessings to you,” and is very committed to the Franciscan Sisters’ mission statement of care. He’s also a history and news nerd, and a talented pianist.  I think he plays the organ for one or two area churches.  He owns an historic home in Waukegan and showed me photos from Thanksgiving dinner.  What I saw was a home seeped in historic details…and he loves maintaining its authenticity.

I think there are few people who believe it is their calling to do the kind of work he does.  He truly believes that.  He’s a good soul.

About jjmummert

Just another voice in the wilderness from someone who's lived on this planet for over 60 years and faces permanent residency on Planet Elderly. Update: As of March 2, 2017, I turned 70. I'm now an official resident of Planet Elderly. Dad passed away September 22, 2016. I view the Parental Journal entries as part therapy, part family history, sort of a case study of what our family experiences with one parent in a memory care unit, another living independently with short-term memory loss, and me, the only child daughter who lives 400 miles away. It's quite an adventure. Recommended readings for others who have loved ones who live with some form of dementia: The 36-Hour Day, The Myth of Alzheimer's - What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis, Alzheimer's Early Stages.
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