Parental Journal 84 from Planet Elderly – Starting a New and Likely Difficult Chapter

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 – early evening

Mom has been living “independently” for over a year and as a widow for 4 ½ months.  Neighbor/assistant Kevin has kept an eye on things and in recent weeks has tried to get her to attend bingo at the local senior center.  In addition, he has taken on more than what he initially thought he’d be doing and he has done  so with a kind and generous heart…as has his wife.

While Kevin checks in every day, he is also interrupted every day…by phone and in person.  He has taken on the role of main caretaker as many know it for folks who have dementia…and he has finally had his fill.  His quality of life and sense of sanity have diminished and he called this morning to say he can’t do this anymore.  He loves my Mom like a grandma, but he has a wife and a life.  Mom is declining and she needs more help and guidance than he is able to provide.

Understood.  I’ve been waiting for this conversation.  It sets the framework for the next chapter.

What’s Been Going On

images

From my end, I’ve spoken with Mom almost every day.  She often calls me, and if I don’t hear from her I call her.  We’ve had many fun phone visits and over the past several weeks there has been less crying.

What I have noticed and things Kevin has mentioned:

  1. Mom seems to forget that I live 400 miles away.  She complains that I don’t come pick up Dad’s clothes that she has set aside. Kevin then reminds her that I live 400 miles away.  I’ll call and ask, “Whatcha doing?”  Her response:  “Having a salami sandwich. Would you like to come over and have one?”  Then I remind her that I live 400 miles away.
  1. I called her the other day at 5 p.m. “I think I have an appointment this morning,” she said.  I explained that it was 5 p.m. and not morning.  She was surprised.  Most likely she fell asleep and woke up thinking it was the next day.  This happens often.
  1. She hasn’t been driving.  Kevin claimed he took the keys away, but later explained that he hid them.  Guess who found them?  My very own Nancy Drew.  That said, she seems to prefer not to drive.  Kevin takes her to bingo and often does her food shopping for her.  She hasn’t had any doctor appointments, either; so there hasn’t been much need her to drive.  When I’m there, I do the driving.  So maybe she is easing out of it…willingly?  As soon as I think that I wonder if she will insist on taking the driving test again next August.  It took her eight attempts to pass last August.  I need to find a way to just bring this to a close.  Unfortunately, Illinois lets elder folks take the damn driving test as many times as they want.   They should require her to take the written test.  She would not pass.
  1. I called her the other morning around 10 a.m. “Oh, good!” she said.  “You got home early.”  “I did?” I asked.  “From where?”   “From here,” she replied.  She thought I was downstairs doing laundry and then went home.  Again, I explained that I live 400 miles away.
  1. She thinks she is seeing Dad or that I am in the house. Maybe she’s dreaming; maybe she’s getting a bit delusional; maybe both.
  1. She still talks about getting a job because she has no money. When I hear that, I go online and tell her what her bank account balances are.  “Oh…then I’m okay!” she’ll say.  “I don’t have to worry.”  I try to assure her that she is okay financially. This is a common concern of elderly who grew up during the Depression.  We have covered this subject thousands of times.  She just can’t remember.
  1. Kevin tries to monitor her mail so that she doesn’t send off cash to all the charities that contact her. If she tries to do so, she often forgets to put a stamp on the envelope…or she’ll include a part of the pitch letter with no cash.  It’s all mixed up, so he has my permission to confiscate mail that looks like a request for donations. He’s also tried to hold on to mail that he believes we’ll need for filing taxes.  Lord only knows where she might stash stuff.  For a while she was able to follow the instructions to put mail on the desk in the guest room.  She can’t follow those instructions consistently now.
  1. According to Kevin, she loves her bread, hard salami, chocolate ice cream, Bavarian cream puffs, and the chicken tenders he makes for her. He also brings her meatloaf and other portions from the dinners he makes for himself and his wife, Sue.  “Boy, that woman can eat!  How does she go through two or three loaves of bread in a week?  And all those bananas!  She can eat like a horse!”  She weighs 105.  Lucky her.
  1. This morning, when Kevin called to tell me he has finally had enough, he reported that he had to help Mom dress the other day. She had clothes on inside out and backwards.  Not a good sign…even if it did just happen once.  We have both observed that she often wears the wrong shoe on the wrong foot.
  1. Mom also has no sense of time…date, day of the week, time of day. According to Kevin, she is no longer able to use a calendar.

 

Tentative Plans for the Next Visit

I will return to Illinois this Saturday.  It’s a week earlier than I had planned, but Kevin and Sue need a break.  In an email sent to friends today, I outlined my “tentative plans.”  They have to be tentative because when dealing with a loved one with dementia, there aren’t many absolutes…other than a change needs to be made and then the planning for how to make that happen.  Here’s what I wrote:

I hope to bring Mom back after we have her taxes done on March  22.  Between now and then, I’ll be talking frankly and gently about the need for change now that she has been home alone for a while and now that we are both getting older.  

This week I’m visiting Candlelight Lodge, Provision, and The Arbors.  Did Candlelight today..  Arbors at 9 tomorrow and Provision at 11.

Once down here, she and I will visit them and have lunch.

With Kevin finally admitting that he can’t do this anymore, that opens the door for a needed change.  If she is totally resistant and raises a fuss, I’ll call one of the elder agencies and have them visit with us in person.  The bottom line becomes:  she either cooperates with a change…or Adult Protective Services will force a change and could put her in a facility up there.  I’m not going to mention that route.  Plan to go slowly and emphasize how important it is for us to be closer during our final years…how we can help each other out when needed…plus have fun hanging out together.  She can have a small apartment of her own at a senior community, and I’ll have my little place, but we can be closer and do more things together…plus she’ll have things to do in her community….etc. etc. etc.  

A year ago this would have been a much harder sell.  This time, I think she knows more that she’s changing…and we’ll get into the discussion after a few days of being together.  

I am practicing all kinds of statements to make my case…and I hope she’ll eventually understand that it is more of a “bother” for us to be so far away and me having to travel…than it would be for us to both live in Columbia.  

Kinda iffy at her age…but her choices are limited:  a senior community there or here.  For a while I thought in-home assistance a good option, but if she continues to live where she is, she’ll continue to call Kevin and Sue and go over there at all hours of the day and night as she is doing now.

So that’s the tentative plan.  Go see her for a visit, bring her here for a visit…and see what we can make happen.

Thanks for all your support.

Meeting Cinnamon

My traveling companion for this trip will be Cinnamon.  This photo was taken during our first attempt at giving him a trim.  He’s Cockapoo.

Cinnamon first grooming session 022517 02

I adopted him recently from our local Humane Society.  He’s 11 and mostly blind with cataracts.  He’s a sweet guy and I think Mom will like him.  During our drive up to Mom’s I’ll have to lecture Cinnamon on his job as ambassador.  He has to help me convince Mom that she would have a good life being closer to family, which includes him, of course.

Jenny and Cinnamon 030117

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Parental Journal 83 from Planet Elderly – Tears, Bingo and Missing Curlers

Sunday, January 29, 2016

This time away from Mom is a bit of a test for us both.  Can she maintain comfort and safety living independently in the home she has shared with Dad for many years…with the help as needed from neighbor/assistant Kevin?  Can I engage in a meaningful life here in Columbia where I have family, friends and identity…and not be worrying about her or feeling guilty?

It’s a challenge.

Tears

Mom and I speak by phone just about every day.  Sometimes it’s 7 or 8 times a day…depending on if she’s stuck on some question or issue.

Sometimes we have chatty conversations about the weather, meals, or what we are doing.  Unfortunately, she is dangerously isolated.  It is not good for her mental or physical health.  I, on the other hand, engage with friends and family, and have become more politically involved after Donald’s election.

adam-and-jenny-nov-16-2016-anti-hate-march

In addition, I’ve adopted an 11-year-old Cocker spaniel/poodle mix who is almost completely blind.  He and my 10-year-old cat get along well.

winston-and-cinnamon-012817

 

So my life is busy and full.  Hers is unfulfilling…boring…and still filled with grief.  I’m told she will go next door to ask Kevin if Victor has died.  It seems as if her purpose and identity died when Dad died.  At 90, how does a person with dementia reinvent herself?  The only thing she keeps telling me is that she doesn’t want to get married again.  I don’t either.

As a result, she cries a lot during our phone calls.  It wasn’t that way when I first got back to Missouri.  We had gal pal chats and she laughed a lot; but in recent weeks, despair, loneliness and confusion have their grip on her.

A few times Mom has called me to tell me she didn’t know whether to make dinner for us or to take us out.  Then I have to remind her that I’m 400 miles away.  Sometimes she pauses and then changes the subject.  One time she said, “Okay, then!” and slammed the phone down.

When she talks about being bored looking at four walls, I take those opportunities to plant “senior living community seeds.”    “Yeah…it can be tough just being home alone, Mom.  I know that when I get into my 80s…maybe sooner…I’ll probably move to a senior community.  There will be plenty of activities and company there, plus I won’t have to bother with grocery shopping and meal prep.”  She usually has a positive reaction to such seed planting, something like, “Yes, I should think about that…maybe sell this place sometime…..but I’m not ready.”

Of course, she isn’t ready.  I’m not sure she ever will be ready to relocate to a senior community.  She enjoys being in the space she shared with Dad.  Even though it’s quiet and she gets lonely and bored there, she also feels “comfortable.”  She doesn’t have to answer to anyone.  Since her youth she has convinced herself that she has to learn to take care of herself and just “make do” when needed.  That’s still a strong thread in her thinking, and I respect that.

So there are no changes in her living arrangements for now.  She takes care of her personal needs and she can easily state and justify her preferences.  I believe it’s important for her to continue making her own decisions as much as possible, and I agree with the many suggestions on discussion boards that it is preferable to keep our seniors at home as long as possible.

BINGO

Of course, with Mom home she’s also in and out of neighbor Kevin’s house multiple times each day.  He has an open door policy…so in she comes with various matters and questions.  It takes its toll, but he has been there for my folks for over 25 years and they are like grandparents to him.  In addition, he agreed to be on “the team” made up of me, Mom, and Kevin.  We assist Mom with her wishes to live independently.

It drives Kevin nuts that she has the house so quiet sometimes.  “I tell her to turn on the TV…or put on those old records of hers.  I always have the TV or stereo on; I can’t function without it.  It’s like a mausoleum over there!”

This past week Kevin told Mom that she’s going to Bingo and he made her do it.  Two benefits:  Mom gets out of the house and socializes; Kevin gets some quiet down time.  She enjoyed herself and a few ladies remembered her from before.  “I’m taking her every Tuesday,” Kevin told me.  “That’s wonderful, Kevin.  Thank you,” I said.  Too bad the senior center doesn’t have Bingo every day.

Kevin has also taken on the role of car cop.  “She’s no longer driving.  I took the keys away from her,” he announced.

“You did?”

“Yeah, she had another neighbor pull the car out of the garage when I was gone one day.  I was just getting home and saw what was happening and told her ‘Oh no you don’t.  You drive too slowly and you don’t see well.  Give me the keys.’”

Wow.  I’m impressed.  I’m also glad Kevin played bad cop on that one.  I’m not sure she remembers that he took her car keys away because she hasn’t said anything to me about it and recently said she’d have to take another driving test this summer…but for now it looks like she’s not driving.

Hair Curlers

This morning Mom called before 8 a.m.   “I just want to let you know I need my hair curlers and could you bring them over.”

This is the kind of moment when I’m reminded of images of dying brains…the ever increasing gaps…the shrinking solid blotches.

“Oh, you can’t find your curlers?  I don’t have them here in Missouri, Mom.”

“Well, I don’t know who took them.”

“Maybe you put them away in a new place the last time you used them…a drawer maybe.

“Maybe.  I’ll look later.  Sorry to bother you.”

It’s no bother to ask me about your curlers, Mom.  It’s no bother for me to remind you for the five thousandth time that you can afford to buy new shoes whenever you want.  It’s no bother to assure you every time you get a utility statement that the bills are automatically paid.

And it’s just fine to cry whenever you need to.

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parental Journal 82 from Planet Elderly – Christmas Visit 2016 – Toilet Paper Caper, Frozen Food, New Shoes and Growing Concerns.

Monday, December 26, 2016 – afternoon

Toilet Paper Caper

Two days before I left for this trip, neighbor Kevin called and asked if I was sitting down.

Turns out Mom’s sewage pipes were clogged and water was overflowing from the main floor toilet down to the basement area below.  Not just plain water.  Yellow and brown water, if you get my drift.  Turns out Mom had been using paper towels instead of toilet paper.  She denies this, of course.  Kevin arranged for repairs with ABC Plumbing.

When I arrived, Kevin reminded us not to use any water.  If we needed to go to the bathroom, go over to his place.

Since Mom and I are both senior citizens, there is no such thing as getting through the whole night without having to pee.  It’s just a given…at least once a night and usually more often.  Although we had our last bathroom trip the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 20, we didn’t want to have to go over to Kevin’s in the middle of the night.  Mom got out her old bucket and we were set for the night.

If either of us had to pee, we would pee into the bucket and then toss it out the patio door where there was a blanket of old snow.  Overall, the plan worked well except that Mom kept moving the bucket to a different place after using it and I had to play find-the-bucket.  At three a.m. we were both in the living room searching for the bucket telling each other how great it would be “tomorrow when we have running water.”

By morning the snow on the back patio looked as if some large dogs had been busy all night.  But, hey, this is what happens when one has to camp indoors.

The work crew showed up much later Wednesday than expected.  Apparently they were busy with lots of jobs.  When they asked how things went overnight and we told them our pee bucket story, they assured us that we could have used the toilet.  Not according to Kevin who claimed we would end up with a cesspool at the bottom of the hole created just outside Mom’s front door. Oh, well.  We can attest to the fact that there is no pee or poo at the bottom of the hole.

sewer-line-repair-dec-22-2016    The hole

sewage-line-repair-dec-22-2016-abc-plumbing   The crew

Water service was resumed on the 21st, so we were happy.  Completing the project, however, took a few more days what with a permit, an inspection, and then filling the hole correctly.  Mom’s front stoop won’t be reconstructed until spring.  Meanwhile, there are some boards rigged up so we can use that to go in and out of her townhouse.

From the time I arrived and for the next few days Mom conscientiously reminded me that “when we go to the bathroom, we can only use a little toilet paper.”

“Ok, Mom,” I said, “and we can’t use any paper towels either.”

“I never did!  I know I never did.”

End of discussion.

During the time we couldn’t use water, we enjoyed eating out a bit.  Nice crepes at the Hillside Restaurant in Grayslake IL.  We also enjoyed their pot roast over noodles another time.  It seems to be a popular place for retirees and locals.  Nothing gourmet, but a decent selection for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

New Phone

Because Mom repeatedly either forgets to put the phone in the charger or puts the TV remote in the phone charger, I got her a new corded phone.  She didn’t like this idea.  “You shouldn’t spend your money on me.  Who knows if I’ll be here tomorrow?”  I explained that it’s a problem for me when I call and can’t get through.  With a corded phone, she will hang up as she should, she won’t lose the handset, and the TV remote won’t fit.  Turns out she likes it.

moms-new-corded-phone-122416

 

Stocking Up on Homemade Frozen Food

One of my goals for this trip is to cook enough so that we have leftovers to freeze for Mom.  So far I’ve frozen some homemade blueberry pancakes, crock pot potato soup, and turkey breast with sweet potatoes and stuffing.  Tomorrow I’ll make a double batch of beef stew.  We’ll have it for our main meal and I’ll freeze portions of the rest.

homemade-blueberry-pancakes-122416-for-mom

mom-and-blueberry-pancakes-122416

New Shoes

One of Mom’s mantras has been that she “needs some new shoes.”  She has several pairs, but gravitates only to a couple that are falling apart.  Any time I’ve mentioned going shopping for shoes she has told me she prefers to shop by herself so she can make her own decision.

During the time I’ve been gone she has had a chance to experience living life without her routine of visiting dad every day.  It’s been lonely and boring.  She has felt cooped up and more so now that winter is setting in.

The weather Christmas Eve day was mild so I said, “Let’s go over to the Sears store at Gurnee Mills.  Maybe they have some shoes on sale.”  She put her coat on and was ready to go.

We did have some luck finding shoes–two pairs, in fact, and she picked them out herself.  I just stayed in the background and if she found something she liked I checked to see if it was available in her size.

mom-shoe-shopping-122416

It was amazing to see how many people were out shopping on Christmas Eve, but then that’s a great day to find deals…and we did.

Christmas Dinner

We enjoyed a delicious dinner with Mom’s friend Toni, Toni’s daughter, Renee, and Renee’s three sons.  Oh, and Bella, an older, sweet labradoodle. There were some Polish specialties and everything was quite yummy.  It’s a good thing it was an early dinner.  We were stuffed for the rest of the day.

bella-122516-at-renee-home-toni-daughter   Bella

 

toni-and-bella-122516  Toni and Bella

Since we received an invite to join Toni and her family for Christmas dinner, I cooked our planned turkey breast dinner today.

Returning to Missouri Wednesday…with Growing Concerns

 Things are relatively stable here and I will return to Missouri Wednesday.  The weather forecasts for this area and for Missouri indicate that the weather should be fine for travel.

Kevin will be on board, continuing as neighbor/assistant to help Mom if she needs it.

I do leave with some growing concerns.  Mom is managing, but I can also see that she is failing a bit.

First, Mom is less steady on her feet and this raises concerns about possible falls.  I see that she takes a while to steady herself when she changes from sitting to standing.  When walking, she often reaches out to hold things…a chair, the side of a table, a wall.  Her gait is bit shuffling and her feet point outward a bit.  When she attempts to sit down in one of the living room chairs, she sort of plops down.

Second, her organizational skills are scrambling a bit.  The cabinets in her small kitchen have always been well organized.  Over the past year, things have changed.  Sometimes there are canned goods in the area once reserved only for pots and pans.  Soup/salad bowls sit on top of smaller dessert bowls.  The flatware tray is disorganized with spoons mixed with forks and knives difficult to locate.  Things easily go missing because she changes locations without realizing it.

Third, food issues are starting.  I’ve seen some evidence of rotting food in the past…extremely old carrots maybe.  During this trip, there was an open package of four raw hamburgers.  Two were left in the package.  The package was not securely wrapped and the “use by date” had expired.  I waited a couple days and then put them into the trash.  So far she hasn’t noticed.  I can suggest that if she buys packages of burgers that she wrap and freeze them individually, but she will probably forget.  Concern:  food poisoning. I’ll alert Kevin.

I emptied and rinsed two opened jars of spaghetti sauce.  They have been there for months and I finally purged them.  So far she hasn’t noticed.

This morning she made herself some oatmeal.  She got a phone call while making the oatmeal, so I took over the cooking while she took the call.  Of note:  she did not have near enough water in the pan and the oatmeal was sticking to the pan.  I added more water and rescued her breakfast.  Concern:  potential fire hazard.  I’ll alert Kevin.

I know that Kevin sometimes brings food items over to share with Mom, but if left to herself, her food repertoire is limited to canned soup, salami sandwiches, Red Baron  frozen pizza, chocolate ice cream, eggs, bananas, oatmeal and toast.  Sometimes she will make chili or sloppy joes, but not as much.  Her motivation or desire to cook is diminishing.  That said, she has a hearty appetite and loves to eat if given food by others.  Left to herself, she may become fixated on some task and forget to eat…or if asked, she may not remember if she had any lunch.

Meanwhile… she does her own laundry, takes her baths, washes and sets her hair, continues to vacuum and does her dishes. She still hates to dust…so she doesn’t do it much.  Sometimes she talks about moving, but her thoughts always come back to how much she likes where she lives.  She is comfortable here and she feels safe here.  She is also lonely and does not have much socialization other than with neighbor Kevin and his wife, Sue.  Two cold months are coming up, so outings will be infrequent…maybe an occasional trip to the bank or grocery store with Kevin.

A couple days ago she said she should probably move down to Missouri “because it isn’t fair for you to have to travel back and forth so far like this all the time.”  That thought lasted less than a minute.  “But this is a nice place and I feel close to Dad here.”  No problem.  I get it.

We’ll just continue as we have been.  We can do so because she’s fairly okay living independently—thanks to neighbor/assistant, Kevin.  Without him, I would have to convince her to hire folks to check in and she would not like having strangers in her house.

I’ll plan to be in Missouri for the cold winter months of January and February…and then venture back up to Mom’s in March.  This is always a tentative plan…things could change if Mom has some kind of health emergency. I’ll keep in close contact with her, and Kevin and I will continue with our phone consultations.

It’s been a good visit.  She has been calm, is eating and sleeping well, and we’ve laughed a lot.  Tomorrow the plan is let the crock pot make a terrific beef stew while we go out and see a movie.

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Parental Journal 80 from Planet Elderly: Mom Is Safe, Comfortable and Lonely

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.

Next Visit

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.

 

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parental Journal 79 from Planet Elderly – Mom’s Visit to Columbia and My Encounter with the Flu

Monday, November 14, 2016 – early afternoon

Visit to Columbia, MO

A couple days after Dad’s memorial service, Mom and I headed to Columbia, Missouri where I’ve lived for almost 40 years.  The purpose of the trip was for Mom to meet great grandchildren, spend time with some of my friends, and relax a bit.  We went with the understanding that we would be gone about 9 days and I put Mom’s mail on hold so she wouldn’t worry about it.

The day after we arrived, Mom woke up and asked if I would be taking her home.  She asked me that every morning, and every morning I explained that we would be in Columbia about a week.

It was awkward having her visit me.  She liked my little rental house, the front porch, back deck and the large backyard, but she had nothing to do and I think it is now quite difficult for her to sit and read anything like a novel or magazine.  Mom is not one who enjoys having nothing to do, so I found things for her to do and she was thrilled.  Often it was meal prep or after meal clean up.  We do dishes well together and she tried her best to find things and put things back where they belonged.

What she really enjoyed was sweeping the back deck.  Acorns and leaves were starting to rain down big time, so I gave her a broom and off she went.  At home she loves to vacuum, so this was similar.  She did a great job.

mom-sweeping-acorns-on-back-deck-oct-2016

mom-oct-2016-sweeping-deck-columbia-01

We had a nice luncheon with a bunch of pals, hosted by friend Bonnie.  We also invited a couple of my friends over for a blueberry pancakes breakfast, and we enjoyed coffee and a delicious apple dessert at another friend’s home.  Mom was delighted to meet my friends and often commented on how lucky I was to have so many friends.  I not only feel lucky, I feel blessed.

In addition to friends, I arranged for Mom to spend a little time with her great grandchildren.  It was sweet to see her enjoy their company, but also sad in knowing that for so many years she could have been a part of their lives if Mom and Dad had moved down to Columbia.  But they never did.

mom-adam-k-oct-2016

mom-laeabha-pax-oct-2016

mom-and-pax-oct-8-2016

mom-laeabha-pax-oct-8-2016

And of course…my cat, Winston, took to Mom immediately.  He’s usually shy and hides from visitors.  And she…SHE WHO NEVER LET ME HAVE ANY PET WHATSOEVER WHEN I WAS GROWING UP…she adored Winston.  They became best buds…and I was delighted.

mom-and-winston-oct-2016

mom-and-winston-oct-2016-02

I came to understand that Mom’s desire to be home was also a desire to be closer to Dad. It was as simple as that, so after all the planned activities were finished, I took her back to Illinois a few days early and she was thrilled to be home.  I stayed a few more days and then returned to Columbia on a Saturday.  On Sunday I helped my landlord clear up fallen branches from old trees, and by the end of the day on Monday I was in my doctor’s office with a diagnosis of flu and bronchitis.  Oh, hell.  Why not?

 

My Encounter with the Flu

I meant to get a flu shot in early October, I really did.  I could have gotten it at the Walgreens in Grayslake, but did I?  No.  For some reason I wanted to wait until I got back to Columbia.  I was planning to get the flu shot the day the flu welcomed me with open arms.  Now that I’ve recovered and gotten my flu shot, I can say, “Oh, well.”  But at the time it hit, all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole, go to sleep and never wake up.

It was the first time the flu had taken me down so completely.  I had it once before when I thought it was just bronchitis but then tested positive.  This time, all I can remember is the overwhelming lethargy and loss of appetite…the constant chills…the inability to get my mind to shut up when I tried to sleep.

I remember lying in bed and thinking, “Now I know why sometimes old people are just so tired of being sick, they just want to die.”  Then I remembered something important:  I am old.  Next March I turn 70 and that officially labels me as elderly in many facets of society.

Lying in bed I had too much time to think and no desire to do anything else other than drink lots of cold water and pee a lot.  Could not read, could not enjoy TV or Netflix movies…could not eat or sleep well…just generally miserable and also quite sad.

I think the year and a half of frequent trips to Illinois, trying to manage my folks’ care from long distance, and watching Mom’s short-term memory deteriorate while Dad’s end stage dementia moved him to give up on eating and drinking anything and then die looking like a shell of the man he once was…it all came to a head and I got sick…first with the flu and then with a rather deep bout of depression.

And then Donald Trump wins the presidential election.  !!!!!!!

Time has moved on. I’m over the flu but miss my Dad very much.  Mom is living independently at home for now with assistance from neighbor Kevin when needed…and even when she thinks it’s not needed.  She calls me frequently with the same confused thoughts and misconceptions about bills and banking.  At least she can still ask questions and hold a conversation.  She might not remember it the next day, but she can call again and I’ll explain it again…and again…and again.   Should she need more assistance, my hope is that she be able to remain in her home as long as possible…even if it means professional assistance later.  She does not want to move to Columbia and I will not uproot my life and move to Illinois.  I am able to be my mom’s manager and she appreciates that, but as the only child, the role of primary caretaker is impossible for me…and she has often said she does not want to put me through that.

So we move along day by day…phone call by phone call…until our next visit.  I know Mom is comfortable and relatively safe under Kevin’s watch…but I also know she is lonely and unhappy.  “I’m so tired all the time,” she tells me.  “I understand,” I tell her.

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Parental Journal 78 from Planet Elderly – Dementia and Grief

Monday, October 3, 2016 – very early morning

It’s been ten days since Dad died and the most painful part is to witness Mom struggling with her grief.

Vigil Time

Mom and I sat with Dad who had become bedridden. He had not been eating or drinking anything; thus, his decline was rapid and dramatic.  His face was thin and drawn, his chest bones protruded extensively, and his arms were nearly as thin as Mom’s.  One CNA stopped by and was shocked.  “He was just sitting at the dining table last week,” she said.

It was clear to the staff and to me that he could die at any moment.  Mom, however, would hold his hand and kiss it…cry…and often say things like, “Oh…I hope he gets better soon.”  Then I would gently coach her on what was happening and she would cry.

At times, she stared at his open mouth, joking that a fly might fly in…not understanding that he could no longer close it.  I just nodded my head and winked.  Then I remember one time when she was quietly and earnestly studying him.  She looked at me and announced, “I think that’s a good weight for him.”  I didn’t nod.  I didn’t speak.  I looked at her managed a tiny smile.

The Week Afterwards

Dad died on a Thursday and I thought having a memorial service that Sunday would be a bit too soon.  As it turned out, the funeral home was quite busy that weekend, anyway.  We arranged for the service to be the next Sunday, October 2 from 1-2.  I wanted a day and time convenient for the few people who might be able to join us.  We were a tiny family of three…now two…with a few second cousins and a couple of Mom’s friends and neighbors.

Turns out it was a more difficult week for Mom than I expected.  At first she seemed very accepting of what had happened.  She wanted to be busy, so we spent some time shredding ancient receipts and utility statements and finished these sessions with Affy Taffy caramel apples.  When I think back, I was rather surprised at how easily Mom made decisions about Dad’s memorial service…initially.  After arrangements were made, she was often confused…thinking there would be “a viewing” and worried about having a meal for people who came to the service.  She also worried about giving Dad’s underwear briefs to my son.  She was totally baffled when I suggested Adam probably would not be interested, that he probably liked a different style.  “What about Dad’s coats?” she asked.  “Sure,” I said.  “Adam might use some and if not, he will find others who can use them.”  She seemed pleased with that.

Memorial Service

We had about 20 people join us in honoring Dad.  I led the service and started with asking folks to introduce themselves and tell how they came to know my parents.  It was a nice beginning.

I followed with a talk of remembrances that ended in gratitude for a man who was a wonderful husband and father. Some memories made us laugh; some made us sigh. The only time I cried was when I spoke about Mom and me being with Dad when he received last rites.  It was a very meaningful tradition to witness.

I ended the service with the following reading by Rabbi Alvin I. Fine

 

Sympathy

Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
and youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to desecration
and then perhaps to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or
from strength to weakness
and often back again;
From health to sickness
and we pray to health again.
From offense to forgiveness
from loneliness to love
from joy to gratitude
from pain to compassion
from grief to understanding
from fear to faith.
From defeat to defeat to defeat
until looking backwards or ahead
We see that victory lies not
at some high point along the way
but in having made the journey
step by step
a sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
and death a destination
And life is a journey;
A sacred journey to life everlasting.

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parental Journal 77 from Planet Elderly – Five Days of Hospice

Saturday, September 24, 2016 – early morning

My wonderful dad, Victor Anthony Leogrande, peacefully passed away on the morning of Thursday, September 22 after receiving five days of hospice care.   It filled my heart with joy and gratitude that Mom and I were with him and she held his hand as he died.

Call from Nurse Sherry

Last weekend I received a call from Nurse Sherry at Victory Lakes.  She told me the doctor had ordered hospice care and that they would be contacting me.  I was planning to return to Illinois on the 21st, but told Sherry I would return on Monday the 19th.  “Good,” she said.

Nurse Sherry told me the doctor had spoken with Mom and she told him she did not want Dad to be sent to the hospital.  I learned later that staff members in Dad’s wing were quite surprised at Mom’s response.  I know we had talked about this possibility and maybe the key message of our talks remained with her.  We did not want Dad hooked up to machines and he would not have wanted that either.

Dad had had a rough couple of weeks with lots of agitation.  He had also stopped eating and drinking.  Clearly he was suffering and the goal became comfort care.  All regular meds were ceased and comfort meds were to be administered as needed.

mom-sept-21-2015-vigil-with-dad

A Restless Night and an Early Visit

When I returned to Illinois on the 19th, Mom was sleeping.  I told her I’d like to go visit Dad.  She got dressed and we went.  His physical decline was markedly fast.  He was bedridden now and was quite withered.

Mom held his hand, kissed his cheek, and spoke to him often.  She told him he was her life…that she loved him…and that he was a wonderful husband.  I held his other hand at times; at other times I stroked his head.  I thanked him for being such a wonderful father…for taking  good care of Mom and me;  I told him I loved him and that everything “is okay.”

The night before he died, neither Mom nor I slept well.  We were both restless and up early.  We felt the need to be with him earlier than usual, so we drove to see him a bit after 7 a.m. thinking we would do a morning, midday, and evening visit.  We sat with him at about 7:30 a.m. and he took his final breaths at about 8:15 a.m.  The hospice nurse from Journey Care was there and gently told us that he was actively dying.  Finally she said, “I think he’s gone.”

We stayed close to him while nursing staff continued to check his vitals.  We watched his color change and felt his skin cool.  Mom kissed him one last time and we left the room while staff checked him over and called the funeral home.

gail-at-victory-lakes-062515  Gail, one of Dad’s caretakers.

The Village of Victory Lakes has a wonderful tradition.  When someone has died and is ready to be transported out of the facility, a special blanket is draped over the deceased and family members plus any staff who are free join together in a procession to escort the resident outside.  A few remarks are shared and a prayers are said.  In our case, one of Dad’s main caretakers, Gail, led the little service.  Hugs and prayers are shared with family members and the resident is escorted away.  Emotional and physical support remains for family members.

Mom said, “It was like a little funeral procession.”   It was.  It was so meaningful to have so many of us escort Dad from his “home” of the past year and a half to the fresh air of the first day of autumn.

For me, this was the beginning of real grieving and tears.  Mom has been grieving and crying since February of 2015.  I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be finally parted from someone you have been married to for almost 60 years.  It has been a wonder to witness.

We have arranged to have Dad cremated and will have a small memorial service on Sunday, October 2 from 1 to 2 p.m.

Dad’s obituary as it will appear on Strang Funeral Home’s website:

Victor Anthony Leogrande, 94, a resident of Grayslake, passed away Thursday, September 22, 2016 at The Village of Victory Lakes in Lindenhurst where he received wonderful care. He was born July 1, 1922 in Syracuse, NY.  Victor was a World War II veteran having served with the US Army.  He was a lifelong employee of Walgreens and a loving husband and father.  Victor is survived by his devoted wife of 60 years, Pearl, his daughter Jeanette Mummert, his grandson Adam Victor Shearin, and his great-grandchildren La’Eabha Shearin, Pax Shearin, and Kaylin Shearin.  He was preceded in death by his parents, and his brother John Leogrande.  A memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, October 2, 2016 from 1:00 to 2:00 pm at Strang Funeral Chapel & Crematorium 410 E. Belvidere Rd. Grayslake, IL 60030. In honor of Victor’s service to our country during World War II, please feel free to make a donation to The Wounded Warrior Project.  For more information please contact (847) 223-8122 or log onto http://www.strangfuneral.org.

Posted in Parental Journal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment