Saturday, December 3, 2016 late morning
It’s been about six weeks since I left Illinois so that Mom could begin her life as a widow living alone. It was clear that she is most comfortable where she and Dad made their home together. It is familiar and she feels safe there. Plus Kevin is right next door and she agreed to let him provide assistance when needed.
Although she feels safe and comfortable, she is quite lonely and becomes more so as her dementia progresses. She drove over to the senior center day time shortly after I returned to Missouri, but she has not gone back. I don’t know why. When I asked she sort of side stepped the question with “Oh…I don’t know. I’m so tired all the time.”
She needs socialization; otherwise she lives in her mind which plays the constant theme that she is poor and has no money. When with other people she is happy, but she has no friends who can easily come over or meet her for lunch. Dorothy is in an independent living apartment at The Village of Victory Lakes but has health and mobility issues. It’s not easy for her to get around. Toni lives within a mile, but is often busy with other things. Evelyn lives far away and doesn’t drive. Barbara, with whom Mom use to walk regularly years ago, now lives in Nashville where she is close to her two daughters. Mom might have a few phone conversations with these gals, but she doesn’t have any real companionship other than time spent with Kevin and his wife, Sue.
Of course, I sit around and think, Well, if she lived in a senior community she would have plenty to do and would make friends with other ladies who are widowed and also have memory problems. I drop seeds now and then when she calls and talks about how bored she is. “Well, Mom, they say being able to socialize with others is very important as we age. That’s why a lot of people choose to move to a senior community.” It’s just a little seed and it’s generally ignored. She truly loves her independence and her townhouse and she’s managing okay with Kevin keeping an eye on things and assisting her. She still cooks a little (or heats things up), cleans a bit (vacuums but hates to dust), does laundry, and takes care of her personal needs: baths, hair, toileting. She’s not so consistent about taking her meds, however.
She just can’t remember things…and it sometimes bothers her. “I feel like I’m losing my mind,” she’ll say now and then. Sometimes she can’t remember if she had anything for breakfast…what she ate yesterday…or if the mail has already come. Trash pick up for her townhouse community is on Mondays, however, she is eager to get rid of any trash every day and complains that “they keep changing the day when trash is picked up; sometimes they don’t even come.”
We were apart for Thanksgiving, each in our own place, as agreed; however, twice she called me on Thanksgiving and asked if I wanted to go out to eat. “That would be nice, Mom, but I’m 400 miles away.” She would say “oh” and chuckle a bit. I reminded her that I’ll be up for Christmas. This morning when I called her she ended the conversation by telling me to stop by any time today if I’d like. I reminded her that I’m in Missouri but will drive up on the 18th.
During this time apart, Mom is finding it difficult to keep busy. She no longer has Dad’s laundry to do and she no longer visits him every day. She’ll talk about going to the library to check out some books, but then doesn’t. I’ll remind her of the book I bought her that is on the couch. “Oh, good. I can read that,” she’ll say. Then she doesn’t. I’ve probably reminded her three or four times, but she forgets.
One day she called and said she received a letter from an attorney addressed to “Mrs. Pearl Abbott.” It said she had to pay $47 and I thought, “Hmmmmmm…wait a minute.” Mom married my Dad in 1954 when I was seven. Her first husband, my biological father, was Walter Abbott. “What’s the date of the letter, Mom?” I asked. “1950,” she replied. “I think that bill was probably paid, Mom. This is 2016. The letter was sent to you over 60 years ago.” She was convinced it had just come in the mail, but I talked her into putting it aside so I can look at it when I get up there. No telling where she will put it, but at least I kept her from sending a check to a divorce attorney who is probably six feet under.
Mom and I talk almost every day. On bad days when she is obsessing about a piece of mail she doesn’t understand, she will call me 3 or 4 times with the same question. I give the same answer: put it on the pile of mail you are saving for me in the guest room and I’ll look it over when I come up. It doesn’t register. She becomes irritated, hangs up and then calls back a couple hours later…not remembering that we discussed the matter earlier. On bad days she might call me 6 or 7 times…but then she’ll also be knocking on Kevin’s door multiple times and it drives him nuts some days.
On good days, however, we’ll chat about the weather, what we ate, and any plans we have. She never has any plans. She would like to, but other than going to the grocery store (often with Kevin) she doesn’t do much. She’s grateful for the TV but Kevin often has to assist her with finding the remote and getting it on a channel she will enjoy. She likes hearing about my plans with friends and family and tells me, “I just want you to be happy.”
For a long time I dreaded her calls…the worry, the crying, the confusion about a piece of mail. That’s changed a bit. I understand how lonely she is, so when we visit on the phone I try to steer the conversation to something pleasant…or I’ll commiserate with her about how tough aging can be…or I’ll get her to laugh about something. We have great conversations sometimes, and I know they are golden moments to treasure.
Mom is looking forward to my next visit. I am too…now that I’ve recovered from the last one. I’ll drive up on Dec. 18 and will plan to say at least a full week. We’ll eat out, see a movie or two and maybe do some looking around at the mall. I promised her we’d make some homemade blueberry pancakes…a ton of them so we can put them in batches of four and freeze them for her future breakfasts. We’ll try to get some visits in with a friend or two as well. I want her to have some fun! I also want us to do some shredding of old documents. We’ve made progress, but there’s more to do…plus it keeps Mom busy.
So that’s the plan. Go up for the next visit, get her out of the house doing some fun things, and generally assess how she’s doing with the current arrangement of living by herself with assistance from Kevin. Kevin and I speak by phone occasionally, but I’m also concerned about his willingness to carry on as neighbor caretaker. It’s a tough role, even if he does consider her to be the grandmother he never knew. I just want to make sure he stays stable and sane in the role he has taken on.