Archive | December 2013

New Year, New Challenges

In my last post, I looked back on a challenging but ultimately rewarding year. Today I’m looking ahead, contemplating the challenges that lie ahead for Mom and for me, and quite frankly — I’m overwhelmed.

It’s been five weeks since Mom left skilled nursing. Her physical strength is gradually returning — she’s now able to make it down to the dining room with her walker, without having to stop and sit down on the way — but I fear that she’s declining mentally. She seems to get confused now by even routine tasks and forgets some important things, like wearing her incontinence pads every day. The Care Director let me know that she’s wearing the same clothes day after day unless someone tells her to change them, and it’s likely she’s been sleeping in her clothes as well. When I brought her home the day after Christmas, I laid out a clean outfit on her chair which included a new pair of pants she’d received as a gift, suggesting that she try them on to be sure they fit. When I called the next day, she told me she was wearing them and they fit nicely. We talked several times over the last two days about going to church today (for the first time since she’s been home), but when I arrived this morning I found she’d completely forgotten — and she was still wearing the same clothes I’d laid out for her three days ago. The blouse had several spills on it, so I had to convince her to change it for church. Then she was too tired and wanted to lie down again, even though it was time to leave.

This is another thing that concerns me: She gets up for meals, but otherwise she seems to be spending the whole day in bed. When I ask about it, she says that she just has “no motivation” to get up. She doesn’t even turn on the TV or her little portable CD player for company. She just lies there in the silence, doing nothing, intermittently dozing. Since my dad passed away six years ago, I’ve never known her to like silence; she nearly always had the TV on. Now she doesn’t seem to bother unless I come over and turn it on, which makes the $60/mo. we’re spending for cable a little ridiculous.

And speaking of wasting money, she won’t wear her new upper denture that cost her over $1,000. I knew it would be an uphill battle to get used to it, but she refuses to even try. I can’t even get her to keep her partials in her mouth for more than ten minutes at a time. She says they irritate her gums and is constantly fussing with them, rattling them around in her mouth or taking them out and holding them in her hand. Tomorrow I’m going to call the dentist and make an appointment to see if there’s anything he can do to make the false teeth more comfortable. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to cringe every time she just pops them out of her mouth in public.

I never thought my mom, who used to be so well dressed and take pride in her appearance, would be that person — that crazy old lady who wears dirty clothes and forgets to put her false teeth back in. It makes me sad and embarrassed for her, but I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t be there every night to make sure she changes into her pajamas and lay out clean clothes for the morning. Her community offers a full care package that includes help with dressing/undressing, incontinence care, etc. — but it would take every last dollar of her monthly income to pay for it.

Mom has always loved crossword puzzles and word games like Scrabble. Doing the newspaper crossword has been her daily ritual for as long as I can remember. But lately she’s letting the newspapers pile up, crosswords untouched. When I visited today I suggested that we do a crossword together, but she couldn’t seem to keep her mind on it and had trouble with even some easy, obvious clues. She loves to read, too, but she hasn’t so much as opened any of the many books she received for Christmas — not even the two I bought her by her favorite author, Jan Karon. She didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm when she opened them on Christmas morning either. I wonder if she’s having more trouble with, well, “brain stuff” than she wants to admit? And I wonder what, if anything, I can do to help.

Looking ahead, I can see that the road before us doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it’s going to get a whole lot harder. I hope I’m up to it. I’m exhausted already.

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So this is Christmas…

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun…”

Many years those opening lines from John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” have haunted me with a sense of a wasted year. Another year over and no closer to writing my memoir or getting out of debt or accomplishing any of the other goals that I set for myself at the start of the year.

Not this year.

What have I done this past year? I moved my mom out of her apartment and into assisted living in January. I took on the responsibility of having her power of attorney, managing her finances and being her healthcare advocate. With the help of my brother and sister, I cleaned out her storage unit. Then I found her an assisted living facility close to me and, again with my brother’s help, moved her from Arizona to California. I think I can confidently check off “be there for my mom” on my list of resolutions for 2013. Done and done.

So, for once, it’s with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I look back on my year.

With so much going on, and especially with my mom being ill most of November, I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year. I never got around to sending cards or putting up any decorations. But last night I had the opportunity to do a small thing that filled me with holiday joy.

While shopping for stocking stuffers for Mom and me at the drugstore, I saw these soft fleece throw blankets on sale 3 for $10. I bought three, one for each of my mom’s table mates at the retirement community, and I also picked up some chocolate truffles for each of them. I delivered the wrapped gifts at dinner last night, telling the Muslim couple with a smile that I understand they don’t celebrate Christmas so they can call these “Happy New Year” gifts. The woman looked in the bag I handed her and exclaimed that it was too much. No, it’s not, I told her. They’re just little things, to say thank you for making my mom welcome here. Her husband smiled at me across the table and said “Thank you, habibti” (Arabic for “sweetheart”). I was touched by the endearment and he seemed pleased that I knew what it meant. They put the gifts aside to open when they visit their daughter.

But the real joy came when my mom’s other table mate, an Italian gentleman I’ll call Dominic, chose to open his gifts right there at the table. He opened the truffles first and told me that he loves chocolate and he would save them to eat on Christmas Day. “I’ll be here alone,” he said, “having a cold sandwich or whatever they send to my room. And now I’ll have chocolates for dessert!” A little piece of my heart broke hearing that. Dominic was alone on Thanksgiving, too, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t spend the holidays with his family. He has a wife and a daughter, and I’m pretty sure that the wife at least lives locally. Dominic has to be in assisted living because he has Parkinson’s Disease and his elderly wife wasn’t able to care for him anymore. Bad enough that they can no longer live together, but to be apart on Christmas? To me, it’s just unthinkable. When he opened the fleece and felt how soft it was, he looked across the table at me with his eyes just shining – deep wells of appreciation and surprised pleasure – and he must have thanked me a dozen times.

As we all got up to leave the table, Dominic told us that he was going back to his room to wrap up in his new warm blanket and watch TV. After wishing the other couple a happy holiday, Mom and I followed him out of the dining room – patiently waiting as he struggled with tremors and made slow progress with his walker. At the door to his room, he turned to wish us a Merry Christmas and to tell me he wished he could reciprocate with a gift. I smiled and told him “Dominic, the best possible reciprocation is to see you smiling and know that my little gifts made you happy. Merry Christmas.”

I still hate to think of the poor gentleman alone on Christmas day, eating a cold lunch in his room in front of the TV. But when I bring Mom back to the community on Thursday, I’ll bring Dominic a plate of leftovers from our Christmas dinner. I think he’ll like that.

And so happy Christmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones,
The old and the young…

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving weekend one year ago was when this journey began – when Mom crashed her car and ended up in the hospital with elevated blood pressure and a possible TIA (mini stroke), and the case manager told us she could not go home to live alone. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year. One year that has encompassed two major moves, two hospital stays, a whole lot of adapting to increasing physical and mental limitations, and (for me) a whole lot of learning about, and accepting the responsibilities of, being a caretaker.

This Thanksgiving was the first one I’d spent with Mom in several years, and I was determined to have it here at my apartment so that she could have a real, home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner. No restaurant meals and especially no depressing holiday spent in an assisted living facility, not while I’m around! Though she’d been discharged from skilled nursing five days before, she was still not strong and her legs were certainly too weak to climb the eight steps into my building. I borrowed a wheelchair from her facility and, with the help of two strong friends, hauled her up chair and all, step by careful step. Just getting in and out of the car was enough exertion for her that she needed a nap as soon as I got her inside.

Thursday I let her sleep late and then made us pumpkin butter pancakes and coffee for brunch. She watched the Macy’s parade while I did food prep and got the apartment ready, and she took a mid-day nap so that she’d have the energy for company. By the time my friends started arriving around 4:15, I had her dressed and sitting in her wheelchair and had even curled her hair. She did great, though she only ate about half of the salad-sized plate of food I set in front of her… and my friends were great, too, making a point to engage her in conversation and make sure she felt included while I was busy in the kitchen. Around 8:00 p.m., I think, she told me she needed to lie down and I wheeled her into the bedroom and helped her into my bed. But she got up after half an hour, wheeled herself out into the living room, and joined us for pumpkin pie. All in all, it was a good day and I felt very blessed. And very, very thankful.

All that excitement must have been a bit much for her, though. The next day she was so tired, I could hardly get her out of bed. We didn’t dare try to wheel her down the steps, so my guy friend from across the street held her arm and helped her very slowly descend the stairs. She went to bed as soon as I got her back to her temporary room at the assisted living. But she got up again at dinner time and agreed to let me take her down to the dining room in the wheelchair.

When I greeted her table mates in the dining room, I asked them all if they had a good Thanksgiving. “No,” said one of the gentlemen. “I did not have a good Thanksgiving. I didn’t have any of my family here and I had a cold sandwich in my room for dinner.” It hurt my heart to hear that and I wished we could have taken him home for dinner with us. I’ve decided to bring her three table mates little holiday presents at Christmastime, and I’m wondering if I might even be able to bring that particular gentleman a plate of leftovers from our Christmas Eve dinner. When we said goodbye that evening, Mom said to me again, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I am just so grateful that I don’t have to think of her having a cold sandwich alone in her room on a holiday. Having her with me for Thanksgiving was a lot of work, but it was so worth it.