Tag Archives: Family

The Sweet Life

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2 scoops vanillaTen years ago my mother moved into a retirement community.

For six years she lived in a lovely apartment in the assisted living section, while her dementia continued to worsen. She has spent the last four years in a slow decline, in a secured area of that same retirement community.

As her dementia has progressed, I’ve done my best to embrace each version of her.

 

My 85-year old Mother is now in the end stage of dementia.

It may have been a stroke that caused her to turn this last corner, or just the natural progression of the disease. There is no need for diagnostic tests. They would only serve to satisfy our curiosity. The end result is the same.

As they say in memory care, “there has been a significant change.”

She is completely immobile except for her left foot which she wiggles in response to touch or in time to the music of Frank Sinatra, and her left arm which she occasionally raises while sleeping, bearing a strong resemblance to Rosie The Riveter.

She is no longer verbal.

Her ability to swallow is compromised. Her liquids must be thickened and her solid food must be pureed.

Four times a day she rides a Hoyer lift, as she is moved back and forth between her bed and a reclining wheelchair.  It’s as if she has a Disneyland E ticket for an amusement park ride no one ever wants to board. She endures it all gracefully.

At the onset of this final decline, I was sad. For a few days I occasionally boo-hooed at her bedside, grieving the decade and a half that we have lived without the original version of Mom.

Once I quit feeling sorry for myself, I realized there is a certain sweetness to this stage.

There are no more repeated sentences. The questions composed of jumbled words which seemed impossible to answer appropriately, have ceased. The gibberish is gone.

At times, she has a flat expression or is just too sleepy to open her eyes. But, some days she awakens from a nap in her bed with a sweet, contented smile – much like an infant.

Other times she is bright-eyed and able to follow a conversation with her eyes. There have been silent giggles that turn into giant, yet still silent, belly laughs. These are so delightful  I don’t miss the sound of her original laugh.

Occasionally, it seems that the pathways in her brain have been magically reconnected.

When she refused to eat, we realized she was simply refusing to eat foods with a texture she didn’t like. I mean, really – not every food works in a pureed form.

She knew exactly what was going on. Her hunger strike at breakfast ended when oatmeal was taken off the menu. My sister clued the nurses in that Mom is a cream of wheat girl!

Her daily menus are now heavy on mashed potatoes, pudding, malts, and double scoops of ice cream. When she won’t eat anything…she will eat ice cream. Even when she is too tired to open her eyes, she opens her mouth awaiting the next spoonful.

These days, she really does eat dessert first.

Sure, there have been peaks and valleys as she slows down and then rallies. Any pain or discomfort is quickly soothed by the warm embrace of a morphine haze.

Always a college hoops fan, she is here for one more season of March Madness. The games serve as energetic, happy background music.

As we head into the Sweet Sixteen,  I am not entirely certain she will be here for the Final Four.

Instead, she is on the road to a long awaited heavenly reunion with her  Sweetie Pie.

Until then, we will savor the time we have left with her.

Mom will savor the ice cream. Two scoops at a time, with Hershey’s syrup.

Because, in more ways than one, life is sweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Travelers

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ImageFor the first time in 50 years, I had an argument with my Mother.

We were chatting on the phone and reminiscing, when the subject turned to my Dad being mad at me.

“You know what you should do?” She said.

 “What?” I could not imagine what she was about to say.

“You should apologize to your Dad.” she said in a matter of  fact tone.

“Apologize?  For What?”

“Just apologize. He’ll like that.”

Then, in a sing-songy voice she continued, “When he gets home, why don’t you just say:  Dad…I’m really sorry…I didn’t mean to make you so mad. Will you forgive me?”

Instantly, I flamed. I could feel my blood pressure rising.

“Mom! I have NOTHING to apologize for!”

“Just do it.”she suggested.

“I didn’t do anything WRONG, Mother!”

“Come on, just apologize!”she said oh-so-very-sweetly.

“NO! Absolutely NOT. I am NOT apologizing to him!”

I stood my ground.

This is embarrassing because my Mother has advanced dementia. And my Dad passed away in 1986.

So yes, I had an argument with my 83-year old Mother….and refused to apologize for something that happened when I was 19… to my Dad who has been dead nearly 30 years.

Ridiculous, I know, and certainly not my proudest moment.

I dialed up my friend Nancy.

She was familiar with  my loving, but head-butting relationship with my Dad, and she is actively dealing with two aging parents . It’s a full circle friendship. I knew she would understand, and most importantly, laugh with me about the absurdity.

“What is wrong with me?” I asked her, after we had finished laughing.

Nancy said, “It’s those damn letters!  You read all those letters, and now YOU’RE  back in the 80’s with Lois!”

Maybe she was onto to something.

I had recently found a box of old letters, written to me throughout both terms of the Reagan Presidency. Letters from high school friends, college friends, and several family members.

I scanned the letters from my girlfriends, and emailed copies to the authors. (More on that, later.)

I also read the letters – all except the dozens from my Mom. I bundled those up and tucked them away for another day. I’ve gotten used to the  current version of my Mother, and I don’t want to reacquaint myself  just yet, with the previous version of her that I miss so terribly.

The event my Mom and I we were reminiscing about during our phone conversation was a coming of age moment for me, in the early 80’s. My Dad was not adjusting too well to my increasing independence, and during our debate of the day, I had outfoxed him for the first time.

He was openly furious.  I was silently victorious. Mom was secretly amused.

It has been one of my Mother’s favorite stories. The former version of my Mother would re-enact the conversation with me and we would have a good giggle.

However the current version of my Mother, who’s  mind was  somewhere back in the 1980’s  during our phone conversation, viewed it differently.

As Nancy had so insightfully pointed out, just maybe those old letters had opened a portal to emotional time travel for me, too.

So during the phone call, there I was, transported back to that summer evening, only to discover my Mom had switched  sides. I had no ally. Like the  cheese in the dell, I  stood alone.

Dementia can be magical thinking. It’s also a trickster, and it certainly keeps you on your toes. As such, our phone conversation quickly turned, and suddenly we were  back to the current day.

My Mom quizzed me.

“Where are you?”

“When did you move?”

“How old am I?”

“How old is your Dad?”

“How old are you?”

I answered truthfully (except for the teensy fib about Dad still being alive.)

She was shocked: “I can’t believe  you’re 50. Well, at least you’re not older than me, yet!”

Magical thinking indeed.

We began to wrap up our phone conversation.

Dad would be home from work soon, and she needed to get home to make dinner. She told me there wasn’t much in the fridge, so she planned to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We said our “I love you’s” and hung up.

I admit, I was still  a bit miffed.

Hmmmphh. I thought smugly.

I should apologize?  I don’t think so.

SHE is the one who should be  apologizing…for that menu.

That’ll be the first and last time Dad eats a PB & J sandwich for dinner. 

The Tale Of The Family Pa-flu-za

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IMG_3463Warning: While I try to avoid being a potty-mouth, this post does contain some potty talk.

“I think Grandma just threw up a little.”

Not what we wanted to hear as the entire family was arriving for Christmas Day Family Palooza at my sister’s home. Grandma said she felt fine, but this family of germaphobes erred on the side of caution. Grandma was taken home immediately and after some sanitizing, Christmas continued without incident.

December 26th, we all felt fine. Whew! We capped off the busy day with a big pot of my sister’s delicious vegetable soup. We had resolved to get back to eating healthy after a week of indulging. This colorful soup was chock full of fiber and chunky vegetables; exactly what we needed!  I went to bed around midnight.

We were staying with my sister’s family. My husband had already gone to bed, and his alarm was set for 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight back to the West Coast. A few minutes after I climbed into bed, without a word, he got up to use the bathroom. When he returned, he announced: “Oh man, I have bad diarrhea!” (As if there is a “good” diarrhea?) 

You might imagine, no announcement had actually been necessary. Believe me, I had put #2 and #2 together and figured it out on my own. I asked if  he thought he’d be able to make his flight, or if I should get online and change it.  He said he’d be fine.

An hour later, I was stunned when the first powerful wave of nausea hit me. I will never be able to stick-my-finger-down-my-throat-and-get-it-over-with. I fight it with lots of deep breathing and a “mind over matter” approach. However, I quickly realized there was no stopping this matter. Panic set in, because the en suite guest bath was occupied by my husband.

I told him I needed to use the bathroom, and soon realized that in addition to the toilet…I needed a basin for tossing my Christmas Cookies. My only basin option was a wicker wastebasket. I begged my husband to go downstairs and quickly grab a piece of Gladware or a bowl, and yelled, “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!!”

I quarantined us to the guest room. It was a dire situation. We had to share the toilet, but thankfully, my spouse with the iron stomach, didn’t need to share my basin. For the next five hours, we danced a delirious, diarrhea do-si-do. This was a violent, bring-you-to-your-knees gastro-intestinal bug. There is nothing as humbling and  dehumanizing as the experience of having no control over your bodily functions.

I deeply regretted eating vegetable soup. At one point, I spotted a green bean on the bathroom floor. My lack of equilibrium prevented me from disposing of it. Feverish delirium prevented me from being grossed out by it. Instead, I could only ponder exactly how it got…… over there. Clearly, I had reached the deepest depths of disgusting behavior.

Incredibly, my rotavirus roommate rebounded, and responded to his alarm clock. He was positive the worst was behind him (as it were) and left for the airport. I was delirious. I laid in bed praying for daylight. I was sure that in the history of mankind, no one had ever been as thirsty as I was at that moment. I was too dizzy to help myself. I also feared I would contaminate the house.

I sent my sister a text: I have the stomach flu. Can U bring me a pop?  No response.

I texted again. No response.

I hastily played a low-point Scrabble word on my ipad. This was no time to maximize points. She is competitive and I was sure the alert would rouse her from her slumber. No response.

Finally,  I heard the text alert on my phone.  It was not a text from my sister, but one from my older brother, celebrated during Jubilee Week:  I’m not driving into town today. I’ve been up all night with the stomach flu. He was at his lake cottage, over an hour away. I empathized and  felt bad that he was isolated. Empathy  turned to envy when I realized he was able to rehydrate  – fully stocked from Summer with all the soda pop and Gatorade he could possibly need.

Then I received a text from my niece down the hall, which said:  I have diarrhea. Mom has the stomach flu & diarrhea.

My sister hadn’t been ignoring me, she was suffering the same fate. For the next 48 hours, my sister, my niece and I were like vile, caged animals. Drinks were left outside our bedroom doors by the three healthy members of my sister’s family. There was no actual human contact. We communicated via text messages.

With five of us infected, we realized we had a real life version of OutbreakMy niece did some reconnaissance work, sending a mass text to all family members. The troops reported in gradually. Every few hours, the casualty count climbed higher. Within 48 hours, the final body count stood at 15 fallen family members. Multiple households were infected.

Days later, once everyone was healthy and the Hazmat clean-up was complete, we traded war stories. What had been the flaw in our battle plan? A thorough analysis took place. Hands had been washed. Paper guest towels had been in the powder room. The Chex Mix bowl had a scoop, and we had been on the lookout for our tiniest and most adorable little double-dippers and chip-sorters. How had we let the enemy infiltrate us?

We had failed to secure the borders. The little viral terrorists had gained entry by stowing away in Grandma. She didn’t realize she had been hijacked by the Rotavirus. Or was it Norovirus?  These guys are stealthier than Al Qaeda operatives. They are highly contagious and characterized by a rapid onset. Once they gained a foothold, we were under siege and defenseless. They swept through the ranks efficiently and swiftly via Christmas hugs & kisses.

I share the graphic, embarrassing and shameful details of the Family Pa-flu-za as my own personal PSA. A reminder that it can happen to anyone: even a bunch of germaphobes, neat-nicks, and clean freaks.

So if you think you, or someone in your family may be coming down with something during this Holiday party season, skip the festivities. Keep the borders secure. It might not be easy, but you’ll be giving your friends and family the ultimate gift: Health.

Unless, like Emily in The Devil Wears Prada you’re “one stomach flu away from your goal weight.”

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Now go wash your hands.

Seriously.