Thursday, April 6, 2017 evening
The eagle has landed…and she is pissed.
Unexpected Change of Plans
The original plan was for Mom to look at some assisted living apartments, choose one to try for a few months, go back to Illinois to pick up some things and get some furniture moved, and have her settle in and most likely adjust to assisted living in the same city where I live.
However, during the drive to Columbia Mom started talking about how much she loves her house and has no intention of moving to where I live. We were driving through farmland doted with dilapidated small hamlets and she said, “You might be able to live out here, but not me. I want to go home.”
I kept trying to remind her how she agreed to try it out for a few months and how nice it would be to have her here in Columbia where she would be closer to family. Of course, there’s no reasoning when someone has moderate dementia, but at least she agreed to go for free lunches and tour a couple communities. She’s always up for a free lunch.
For the time she stayed with me, we had many discussions which turned out to be pointless, but at least she easily conveyed her feelings and I had good practice trying to keep my mouth shut and just listen actively.
It was also a time of realization for me. She wasn’t in her own familiar territory and her cognitive deterioration more clearly presented itself. She had difficulty remembering which room was the guest room, got up at night and left lights on and the stove fan running on high, wore the same slacks and top four days in a row, and all she could focus on was how much she wanted to go home. Without someone at her home to provide some assistance and guidance, I knew there was no way she could live alone safely.
The community we liked the most was Mill Creek Village, run by Americare. It’s the newest facility with new residents and staff coming on board almost daily. The one bedroom apartments in assisted living are spacious, light, and welcoming.
Thursday of last week we went to Mill Creek Village to sign “preliminary papers,” but Mom was angry and we ended up with a therapy session, tears of frustration and unsigned papers. I was upset and kept quiet. When I was making sandwiches for dinner Mom asked if I was angry with her. “Yes,” I said, “but mostly frustrated.”
This led us to a good conversation…one of many we’ve had before…where I answer her questions, provide simple logical answers, she agrees with me…and then within hours forgets she agreed.
After she agreed with me, we ate dinner, joked and talked, and watched a couple of episodes of “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. We went to bed around 10. She slept. I did not.
The next morning I decided we were going back to sign papers, administrators were informed, and we also had plans for another lunch. I said nothing to Mom.
When we got into the car she asked if I was taking her home. I explained that we were going to sign some papers like she agreed to last night. She didn’t rage. She pouted.
As papers were given to me to read, I passed them on to Mom. The first page defined legal terms. Mom spent a few minutes looking at it and said, “Well, it looks like I’ll be staying here a while.” She wasn’t happy…but once papers were signed with me as her POA, we had a nice lunch with residents we had met at our first lunch. They welcomed us warmly.
Essentially Mom caved…but just for a short time. While signing papers we came to the decision of when she will start her residency. I asked her and she said, “Well, why not right now. You just want to put me away, right? Now is fine.”
We didn’t respond right away. We reminded her that this would be a trial for few months which she had been agreeing to from time to time, and after a few months, she could make a final decision. “Might as well start today,” she said. And so we did. Mom became a resident at Mill Creek Village Assisted Living on Friday, March 31, 2017.
After lunch we returned to my place to get the few items of clothing she packed for the trip to Columbia. I did not offer to help her pack for the trip…just left her to herself. She packed four pairs of slacks, two pair of underpants, one pair of knee hi stockings, four tops, an old, torn white tee shirt of Dad’s that she likes to wear, three pairs of shoes, and a half pair of Dad’s old briefs that she sometimes uses as a dust cloth.
We gathered her stuff, put it in the trunk and left my place. As we drove back to Mill Creek Village Mom said, “Well, thank you for the nice visit. I know you’re happy here and I’ll be glad to get home.”
I did not respond. I just kept driving and nodding my head to her statements. When we arrived at Mill Creek Village she asked what we were doing there and I reminded her we had signed papers and she agreed to give it a try for a few months. She mumbled something in anger, got out of the car and insisted in dragging her suitcase in herself.
I remember helping her hang up some things, turning the TV on, and walking around a bit but I can’t remember what was said as I left her there for her first night. I do remember feeling a bit numb…and very grateful that as fate would have it, we crash landed and both of us were still walking and talking…although I wish she would say something other than, “I want to go home.” “Am I going home tomorrow?” “When will I go home?” “Is there a train or bus to take me home.” But I get it.
This first week has been a huge adjustment for us both. I’m just not accustom to lying to her so much…but I have to think of excuses.
- They’re going to schedule the front stoop to be redone and concrete will have to cure. (true) No one is supposed to be there, so we have to wait until it’s done. (lie) Her response: “Shit!”
- I have a dental cleaning (true) but not until April 20. They could not get me in sooner. (lie)
Then I had to think of some story to tell her to explain why I would not visit this coming weekend. Susan and I are traveling to Illinois to arrange for furniture to be moved and to bring her clothes and treasures back. This actually took a powwow with four of us gal pals thinking of a story over appetizers and happy hour drinks. Here’s what we came up with:
Bonnie has to go to St. Louis this weekend for some special tests to be done. Doctors want a family member or close friend to be with her, but her kids live out of state…so I said I could. (lie) Then I embellish it with how stuff is going on with some of my gal pals…Grail fractured her hip and she’s been the caretaker of her husband who needs care (true)…three friends are moving (true) and need assistance (lie)…and so on.
I told her the story today and will tell her again tomorrow. Over the weekend, my son, Adam, and his youngest, Kaylin, will visit Saturday and Sunday. Staff know the story and will be reminding her of Bonnie needing someone to go to St. Louis with her.
Mom, Adam and Kaylin April 2 visit
This is exhausting. I usually wake up around 1 or 2 a.m. with busy mind…strategizing what to say and do so she won’t get mad at me. Of course she’s made at me…furious most of the time. That’s her nature when she’s upset. It always has been and that’s why the little girl in me is still afraid of her mother.
Giving It a Try
Although being forced to give it a try, Mom is no slouch. She participates in every activity offered: movies, bingo, crafts, exercise, chair yoga, story discussion and three meals a day plus snacks. She likes to keep busy.
Others try to engage her and she’s a good sport…willing to join in. She likes Esther who is a very kind and pleasant woman. I try to engage others in telling us their stories about moving closer to family members…or being forced to as some will bluntly offer.
“How long have you lived here, Esther,” I asked.
“Oh…since about last July.”
“Are you going to stay here?” Mom asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess so. There’s plenty to do.”
When I asked Esther if she had children she said no, but that she raised a niece and nephew.
“I had a car accident last year. I think I had a stroke. That was it. My niece arranged for me to move here.”
“Are you still driving?” Mom asked.
“Oh, no. Not anymore. You?”
“I’ve pretty much given it up,” Mom replied.
Riding a Pendulum
Much of the time I feel like I’m riding a pendulum. One minute she’ll give this a try; the next minute, no way. Take her home immediately. Back and forth, day in and day out.
Yesterday morning when I visited, we sat in the dining room having coffee and she sounded like a commercial for Mill Creek Village.
“Well, I like it here. It’s nice and clean…everyone is friendly and there are activities. It’s good to do things rather than sit around alone. I don’t have to cook and the food is good. I might think about staying.”
I jumped on the bandwagon…”Oh, I know. Honestly, I really like it here. When I’m done living by myself and taking care of meals and the house, this is where I’d like to live.”
I stayed for lunch and a by four in the afternoon she was on the phone yelling…insisting that she wanted to go home. “I can’t stay here! I want to go home!” …and I remind her of the dental appointment I have … the cement stoop that needs to be done at her house…the assistance I’ll be providing to Bonnie when she goes in for her medical tests this weekend.
“Well, alright then!” she yells. And I hear her say to the aide who helped her make the call, “Well, it looks like I’ll be here a while.”
- Even though I bought her some new clothes, she wears the ones she brought…when she doesn’t have everything stuffed in a suitcase ready to leave.
Today she had on four tops. Normally I’d let it go because sometimes folks with dementia present with interesting fashion statements. But I couldn’t resist. “Are you cold or something, Mom? You’re wearing four tops.”
“I’m ready to escape,” she said.
- She refuses to sit on the toilets…thus, spattering toilet seats. “I don’t want to catch any diseases.” Today I learned that she has never sat on a public toilet. “They tell you not to,” she said.
- If her clothes are packed in the suitcase I ask where the clothes in her closet are. “I don’t know.” When I ask if they might be in the suitcase, she says, “Somebody must have put them there.” “Somebody” is very busy…both here and in Illinois.
Needing a Shield
Because the child in me is still fearful of her mother, I sometimes arrange to have shields…others with me. That way Mom curbs her anger a bit. Most of the time the shield is a friend or relative. Today is was my dog. If I go alone, I suggest we hang out in the dining room. Sad to say, I just don’t want to be alone in a room with her. She is miserable and I am guilty. We need distractions.
This morning I brought my dog, Cinnamon, for a brief visit. He charmed everyone he met and he had a great time sniffing where other dog visitors had walked. He was my shield because I had to tell Mom the story of where I would be this weekend. She was concerned about Bonnie…”She’s really been a good friend of yours.”
And This Afternoon…
I returned to visit Mom and had a cup of coffee while listening to a lady from one of the independent living cottages talk about her health. She has a mission to make sure everyone knows that some of these pain meds they give people actually block them up…then one is constipated and that creates more problems plus the need for additional meds to unplug things. Who knew? Told her I would keep that in mind.
Mom and I joined in the “book club” which is really a group who enjoys having something literary read to them…then they discuss it. Today it was a story by Mark Twain called “Luck.” The movie for the afternoon was “Thelma and Louise.” I had only seen it once when it came out, so I stayed and enjoyed it a second time. Good flick. Mom and a few others dosed off now and then.
After the movie I told Mom I’d meet her tomorrow at the doctor’s office. She’s seeing my primary care physician, Dr. Carolle Silney, for a general check-up. I brought Dr. Silney some background information on Mom a couple days ago. After the appointment I plan to ask Mom if she’d like to go out for lunch… maybe Chinese which she enjoys. I figure even if she’s mad at me, she’ll still say yes.
And so…with near freezing temps this early April evening, I’m going fix a cup of hot cocoa and relax. There’s classical music in the background and four lit votive candles around my small wood Buddha. The simplicity and tranquility are comforting, especially after such a busy week.