Parental Journal 18 from Planet Elderly: Mom Turns 89 and Dad Chats On

Tues. Aug. 18, 2015 8:30 a.m.

Mom’s birthday on Sunday went well. We had a nice visit with Dad, who chatted away like a game show host. He gave her a birthday kiss when prompted and then he said, “All I know is these are the best girls.”

Mom enjoyed a late lunch at Emil’s; later we went to her friend Toni’s and brought the lemon meringue pie to share. In the evening she became frustrated with bits of paper and complained about money again, so I showed her the summary sheet of accounts I wrote the day before and we reviewed the bank books. Then she felt a little better.
When visiting Dad we tried to tell him about a beautiful yellow bird that was feasting on coneflowers planted near the little patio. It didn’t commute completely, but he took each of our hands and said, “Here are some pretty beautiful birds.” Then he chuckled.
Dad chatted on…quite alert as he looked around the community room. “I was here last night, I think.” When a staff person brought in some lunches, he said, “Oh, he doesn’t look very happy.” Then he told us several times to “Just take good care of yourself.”

After lunch, things were a bit more difficult for Dad. He knows he’s not at home and he’s trying to figure out where he is and why he is there. He is also concerned with what he is supposed to be doing. “Where am I supposed to be tonight?” he asked. We explained that he would stay there.

“Here? Why?”

“This is where you are safe. Mom is too small to take care of you.”

“What is this place?”

“This is Victory Lakes.”

“Oh,” he replied. “Where is it located?”

“In Lindenhurst,” I said.

“Oh, my. Really?”

“Yes, but it’s near Grayslake.”

“Oh, that’s good,” he said.

We tried to leave with the usual explanation that we had to go do laundry, but he became agitated.

“Wait a minute! What are we doing? What am I supposed to do?”

Mom teared up and tried to speak with him, but then she had to walk away. I spent about 30 minutes gently repeating the same things to him over and over…that he will stay here where he is safe…it is a long-term care residence…the staff help him…everything is ok…we will see him tomorrow. Over and over and over.

He listened so earnestly and simply could not remember what he was just told. At one point he asked for my phone number in case he needed to call me, so I wrote my name and phone number on a piece of paper, then I wrote the words “Victory Lakes” and “Long-term care residence.” He studied the piece of paper and read it aloud over and over and over…trying to make sense of it. He settled down a bit and then I left to join Mom who was down the hall. She felt incredible guilty seeing him so confused.

When we arrived yesterday, the staff told us that Dad continued to be agitated after we left. He tried several times to get out of his wheelchair and needed a lot of calming down. They ordered an anti-anxiety medicine to have on hand in case his agitation continues.
While visiting before lunch, Dad talked on and on about his brother, John, and how John knew “the greatest guy in the world,” referring to himself, of course. “John had the best of everything…but I was the greatest. I guess we just ended up in the best category: The greatest guys. Victor is the handsome one…and the most honest. I’m the guy who knows everything.” Then he laughed.

These days when I visit and he is so chatty, I write down what he says. I find it fascinating and I often wonder if that will be me in years to come. Mom worries about the same thing. She looks around and says she does not want to “end up in a place like this.”

More of Dad’s comments: “I’ve been eating different foods in the restaurant. Boy, some of them are so weird, you don’t know if you want to eat it or not.”

When he saw Mom walk toward him he said, “Boy, looks like she’s a little wild.” Mom’s white hair is sparse and it was windblown. Later, when he saw various aides wheel other residents around, he loudly said, “Gee, those ladies look pretty big.” While waiting for lunch to be served he looked around and commented, “Here’s a yard with a little bit of everything in it.” During lunch Mom reminded Dad that yesterday was her birthday. Because of his loss of hearing she had to repeat herself, but eventually he asked, “Oh…your birthday? Well, happy birthday.”

One improvement is that Mom is beginning to understand that Dad speaks from what he perceives at the moment. I’m trying to coach her to not take what he says personally…he just says what he’s thinking at the moment…like the comments about other people. Of course, I’m also coaching myself not to take what she says personally, especially when she gets confused and/or upset and lashes out.

Meanwhile, at home Mom is vacuuming every day. It’s just something she does. This morning she was awake very early, so after we went to Jewel for a few things, she said she was going to lie down for a while. Five minutes I heard the vacuum cleaner. When she finished I kidded her. “I think you have a love affair with your vacuum.” “I do,” she said with a giggle.

As I write, she is sitting in a chair and snoozing—finally. She has a doctor’s appointment at 11, but keeps thinking it is at 9. I’m concerned that she is so easily confused with appointments and days and times. She has two other things on the calendar for next week, and then she won’t have any appointments for a while. She can follow her usual routine of visiting dad and going to the grocery story. With luck, maybe she and her friends Toni and/or Dorothy will schedule some time together.

As of today, I’m planning to visit again in October for a week or so, just to check in and help with any mail she’s confused about. Mostly likely I’ll return for the holidays. Last year Mom and Dad were together at home. This is the first time in 60 years they will be apart over Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I want to be here to make sure they have plenty of time together despite what kind of weather there might be. Mom won’t drive if it’s too rainy or if it’s snowing, so over the holidays I can assist with that. Plus, it may be the last time we can be together for the holidays. I’ve been saying that for several years now.

Time is precious. Events are unpredictable.

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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