Parental Journal 28 from Planet Elderly: Thanksgiving Visit Part One

Sat. Nov. 21, 2015 – Trip to Mom’s delayed due to snow storm in her area. She has called me multiple times telling me not to come, so I assured her that I would wait until after the snow. The plan is to leave for Bloomington tomorrow morning and spend the night there at an AirBnB location. Then head up to Grayslake, IL Monday. I’m figuring that most main roads will be cleared by Monday. I’ll just take my time.  Mom called and reminded me to bring the checkbook because she has a doctor bill to pay.

Wed. Nov. 25, 2015 – evening – Plans for the trip changed and I decided to drive it all at once on Monday. I just wasn’t sure what road conditions would be like in the NW suburbs of Chicago, but true to form, they were clear even with cold temps.

Received a phone message from Mom Sunday. She sounded upset and told me not to come up because she didn’t want me going through her drawers or Dad’s. “We’re not dead yet.” Then she hung up. This seemed like another example of her faulty thinking…that Dad (or maybe I) sneak into her house and take money. Turned out the drive up there on Monday went well weather wise and when I rang the doorbell, she acted like she was expecting me. I had stopped at the store to pick up some chicken and sweet potatoes so I could make us dinner. She was delighted because she “hadn’t had time to go to the store.”

At least her refrigerator had some stuff in it that showed signs of a recent trip to the store:
1. Four Red Baron pizzas
2. Ice cream
3. A bag of carrots
4. A bag of celery
5. A package of frozen ravioli

On the other hand, there were signs of forgetfulness:
1. Two opened jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce with mold inside
2. Various quarts of milk with overdue dates…but they didn’t smell spoiled.
3. A rotting tomato resting in a dish of rather old apples
4. No bananas – her favorite everyday fruit at breakfast
5. Old, partially wrapped bacon

She enjoyed the chicken dinner and was delighted that I brought a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread with me.

Mom broke down emotionally the first night I was there. She talked about feeling like she was “losing her mind” and didn’t know what to do about it. She wasn’t sleeping well. When I asked if she wanted to talk to Dr. D. about how she felt, she said, “No.”

There’s an interesting dynamic going on here, I suppose. Mom needs some help with her confusion, forgetfulness, and stress and knows it, but refuses to acknowledge that a doctor’s visit and maybe some medicine might help. I believe she is fearful…afraid that she is becoming like some of the people in Dad’s wing of Victory Lakes. I, of course, know she needs to see a doctor, but I feel unable to force her to go. One, she’d refuse, or if I tricked her into going, she’d walk out once we got there. Two, I’m still the child who hates to hear her mother yell at her.  Bottom line: she’s capable of making her own decisions and will raise hell if anyone tries to make her do anything she doesn’t want to do.

But I think I might have a window of opportunity when it’s time for her next annual visit. She does not like Dr. D, and so once again while chatting in the car, we talked about the idea of changing doctors…getting a woman doctor who specializes in older people. She liked that idea once before, but decided not to follow through. As we visit from time to time, I’ll continue to water that seed of an idea and hope to bring it to fruition.

I believe that at a minimum, Mom would receive some relief from stress and anxiety if she agreed to see a doctor and talk about her symptoms. It’s very sad to return every five weeks or so and see continued deterioration in her short-term memory.  Examples:

1. We went to the bank yesterday to get her some household cash to have on hand and within two hours she said she needed to go to the bank to get some cash.

2. She showed me a pair of old women’s booties and asked if they were mine. I said, “No. Those are yours. I remember them.” She seemed surprised and said, “Who would ever buy such an ugly pair of shoes?”

3. After we came home from doing a few errands yesterday, she announced that she could not find her wallet. We looked everywhere. I called Wal Mart to see if anyone had turned in a wallet. Fat chance, but I thought I’d try. Nope. So today we went to get her a replacement driver’s license and a new wallet. Fortunately, she refuses to own or carry a credit card anymore and most of her other important cards were not in the wallet.

4. She did not worry a lot about the wallet. She was concerned about the household cash she had lost. It wasn’t lost. It was put in its special place…but over and over she could not remember that. It was just stuck in her mind that the wallet was gone and so was her cash.  She went to her rooms several times to find where she put it.Remote to tv

5. I noticed that one of the phone handsets was missing. She didn’t know where it was, but she reached for the TV remote control and thought it was the phone. She tried to put the remote in the charging unit and got it to fit. When I reminded her that it was the TV remote and not the phone, she said, “That’s ok. It fits there for now.” She was right. We eventually found the phone upstairs and put it in the charger.

6. While ready to leave, I noticed Mom putting on some shoes…or at least trying to. I didn’t say anything at first, but as she struggled with seeing how they fit, I finally told her that I thought the shoes were Dad’s. “Oh, probably. I thought they were kind of big,” she said.

When we visited Dad yesterday, he looked good. He was sleeping a bit.Nov 25 2015 He recognizes Mom as his wife. I think he recognizes me as someone familiar, but he does not refer to me by name. Mom and Dad held hands and both seemed relaxed.

I looked around the community room and saw Joan sitting alone. She and her husband, Joe, were always together unless Joe was taking a nap. When I walked by Joe’s room, I noticed his name plate was gone and a nurse told me he died about a week ago. Joan, who was often up and about walking, bopping around to music in her head, fussing over Joe, helping staff organize things in the community room…now sat in a wheel chair, crying. Her right eye was bruised; perhaps she fell. The staff was especially kind to her. The loss of her dear Joe seems to have profoundly affected her and I could not help but wonder how long she would stay around without him. They were devoted to each other.

We signed up to have Thanksgiving dinner with Dad tomorrow, so that should be nice. He is assigned to a table with all men, but we may be assigned to a different table tomorrow with just the three of us. We’ll see.

I’m glad I’ve planned to be with my folks for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. I don’t want them being by themselves or Mom being alone at home after she visits him. At the same time, there is a cloak of sadness …or dread…I feel around me. So many of us deteriorate slowly in our old age, and I now understand why my Mom has been wishing to “just go.” She once said, “Some people just live too long.”

When I’m with my parents and visiting where Dad lives…I see that as the future for so many of us and probably for me as well if I live long enough. This makes me yearn to define quality of life now while I can and to engage in the activities I enjoy…because who knows? I feel an urgency to do and be what I can, yet at the same time, there is a nagging thought of “Why bother?” I live with depression, but at least medicine keeps nagging negative thinking from taking over too much. For now.

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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