Parental Journal 17 from Planet Elderly: Visit #4 Starts With a Warning Ticket

August 15, 2015 4 p.m.

It’s been around 5 weeks since my last visit. Dad is doing well in the skilled nursing facility. Mom is often an emotional wreck, and her cognitive functioning seems to be quite shaky at times. When I arrived on Thurs. she said, “I got pulled over by a cop today. He was nice. He just gave me a warning.” Then she showed me the bright yellow warning card. According to Mom, she tried going through a yellow light and got caught. I tried doing the same decades ago and I got a ticket.

Our first couple days went smoothly. Mom was relaxed, but in the evenings she would talk about how “foxy” Dad is. She’s convinced he’s driven somewhere, has called places to have mail delivered, is writing and sending away for information, and that some lady was calling for him for a couple weeks, but has now stopped. When I suggested that perhaps it was a telemarketer, she flashed me a look of steel and said, “Oh no. Not the way she used her sweet voice and said, “’Is Victor there?’”

Last night I spent some time with her bank books. She rarely writes checks, and when she does she has difficulty entering the correct information in the ledger. When I finished I was able to show her the balances that were fairly accurate. She became sullen and talked about how she doesn’t have any money…that she tries not to use any money because it’s not really hers. She thinks that if she uses any money for herself she is “stealing from Dad.” She feels betrayed by Dad because he didn’t teach her about their finances other than to give her a $20 allowance each week…and then he stopped doing that. She does not realize he stopped doing that because he had dementia. Then she cried about how he never thanks her…she feels like nothing…she’s scared of all the medical bills that may come in…and how it would all be better if she were dead.

It’s very sad to see my mom so depressed and despondent, but also unwilling to talk to anyone about how she feels. She only talks to me when I visit. She has a set routine each day and she tries to stick to it as much as possible…but she is miserable and will not accept help or suggestions from anyone.

On the plus side, we had a great visit with Dad today. He knew her and praised her. He kept asking me if my world was okay. I assured him it was. I asked how his world was and he said it was just fine. Then he looked at Wanda across the room and said, “Boy, that guy over there. He sure is weird. He gets angry a lot.” I tried to tell him Wanda was a she, but it didn’t compute.

I told Dad that tomorrow is Mom’s birthday. He couldn’t hear very well, so I had to repeat myself. It did not seem to register, so I asked him how old he thought Mom would be tomorrow. “Hmmmmm…let me think about that.” Then he thought a bit and said something about the world…his world…my world. He had the word “world” stuck in his vocabulary today. But he smiled and laughed and it was a fun time…just chatting away with him on whatever topic he thought was worth a comment. He seemed content, happy, relaxed and he had a good lunch. His eyes are bright and he gives direct contact. I am fascinated as I watch him observe, comment, and smile. And he often pats my hand. He may not know my name, but he seems to know me.

Mom and I had leftover tacos for lunch and I started making a lemon merengue pie. Her friend, Toni called and said she had fresh tomatoes to drop by. When she arrived, we had a nice visit…just three gals chatting away…laughing. Toni’s husband died two years ago. She and Mom could have some quality time together if Mom could loosen up her rigid schedule. I think it would be a good idea to invite her over for a lasagna dinner. Mom would love it.

Later, when Mom was ironing Dad’s clothes she had washed, she got into a panic. She found pajamas she had never seen before. “We have to go take them back,” she insisted. I suggested we could just take them tomorrow, but she went ballistic and said she would take them herself and that I didn’t have to go along. I asked her not to yell at me. Then I tried a second time to get her to relax a bit and consider just bringing the clothes tomorrow, but it was her way or nothing. She knew the pajamas were not Dad’s, but there is only one pair, and if he has used them he will need them again because he doesn’t have another pair. (huh???) So I let her pack up the ironed clothes and leave.

Interestingly, she managed to find the red wallet we could not find earlier today even though we looked everywhere together, so she had her driver’s license and could drive legally. It’s not good for her to drive when she is upset, but I refuse to get caught up in her undertow today. Storm clouds are brewing outside. I just hope she takes her time, makes the trip safely, and that any rain holds off.

Sometimes when I’m here I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Things I’ve noticed during the first few days of this visit:

1. Mom claims she needs shoes and hasn’t been shopping in months. I reminded her that she bought two pairs of shoes in the last couple months. She refused to believe me until I showed her the shoes. Then she seemed surprised and delighted.

2. She seems hyper-sensitive to receiving any kind of assistance. She yelled at me in the Jewel parking lot this morning because I reached my hand out to her to receive two plastic bags she was holding, and she yelled that she could put them in the car by herself.

3. She has two doctor appointments written on her refrigerator calendar. They were made months ago. She continually forgets that the appointments have been made and talks about needing to make the appointments…until I remind her that they are already scheduled.

4. In addition to the calendar on the refrigerator, she has three small calendars scattered on the dining room table. None of those are completely accurate, but she often stops to study them.

5. She keeps minimal food in the refrigerator and states that she’s just too busy to go to the store. Then she worries about not gaining weight.

6. She often talks about being exhausted and “worried sick.” When I ask what she’s worried about she says, “Money.” She is fine financially, but refuses to believe me. Her early years of poverty during the depression create a continuing story in her mind: I have no money.

5 p.m. – Mom is back and is fine. Turns out the pajamas were Ray’s…Dad’s roommate…and when Mom arrived, Ray’s wife was in a tizzy because Ray’s clothes were missing. Mom handed her freshly washed and ironed pajamas…and all was well. Mom scooted back home quickly before any storm started. “I hope you’re not mad at me for going,” she said. “Nope,” I said. “You just did your thing and I’m glad you’re back safely.”

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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