While doing a bit of computer maintenance today, it occurred to me that I have saved, quite by accident, a few unrelated things in my DIVORCE folder. Upon reflection, I’m thinking it could actually be a testament to what a life becomes after a major event, or maybe it might be a subconscious act of self-preservation.
Some people may remember this wonderful little beginner reading book by P.D. Eastman, edited in 1960 by Dr. Seuss. A little bird hatches while his mother is off getting food and before she can return, the baby sets off in search of his mother. He has no idea what she looks like so he asks several animals along the way, “Are you my mother?” This book popped into my memory today as I sat thinking about my own mother. We’ve been spending a lot of time together over the past few years and lately there has been a shift in who we both are. There are times when we don’t recognize each other.
Age related dementia is a strange beast. It is a gradual loss of the ability to think and remember. But it is different for everyone. The degree of loss and the psychological reaction to the loss are like endlessly changing weather patterns one can never truly adjust to.
Dementia affects the sufferer and the caregiver in strangely similar ways.
As the daily care and comfort of our mom is in my hands these days, the struggles she faces at her advanced age, both physically and mentally, are front and centre in my life, too. My ability to think and remember what’s really important in the grand scheme of things is something I struggle with.
My 94-year-old mom’s stage of dementia is not a constant or predictable one. She is in a transition phase. Where half of the time she is sharp and witty and in the moment. She engages in intelligent conversation and digs up nuggets of childhood stories that are full of detail and colour. The other half of the time, she can’t hold a thought, asks the same question 5 times in the span of one hour, is very confused and frightened by the confusion, and seems lost, actually depressed. She is strangely aware of the disconnects and often says, “Charlotte, I’m losing it.” There are times when one visit with Mom has both versions of her switching back and forth. Like a child playing with a light switch, you can only endure it for a short time.
This long weekend filled with 150th Birthday celebrations of Canada, seemed like a shifting moment in my life. It was the first time in 8 years, that my mom and I were not celebrating Canada Day together.
Canada Day ranks higher in Mom’s life than any other special occasion. She used to organize city celebrations back in her civic politician days in Saskatchewan. Although as a Newfoundlander, she voted against joining Canada in 1949, she eventually became one of its most patriotic citizens and devoted her life to making our country better.
I made sure her red blouse and white pants were hanging together in the middle of her clothes closet before I left for my weekend at my cottage. I felt bad about leaving her behind and a bit angry with myself for feeling bad. While I celebrated in the sunshine with a raucous crowd on Salt Spring Island, I knew my mom was alone, maybe watching the rainy festivities in Ottawa on her TV. I wondered if this would be the last Canada Day she’d be truly aware of. I think this way about a lot of special days Mom has always enjoyed in her long and eventful life. It’s sometimes hard to be present in my own life when I fret about hers.
Last week, I drove Mom out to the Drivers Licensing Centre in a nearby suburb to apply for a new BC ID photo card for her. I had not noticed that her current card had expired almost two years ago. As someone who no longer drives, this card is proof of her identity and is rather important for legal, financial and flight purposes. Her passport expired last year and as her health is such that out of country travel is not in the cards, we never bothered to renew her Canadian passport.
This particular day, the irony of our task was something we laughed about even though we were not quite on the same page. “Mom, isn’t it funny that you have no valid government issued identification proving you exist?” She laughed and then asked if I was renewing my card, too. Like it was a membership in something we both believed in and doing so was showing our support.
When she stood to have her photo taken by the government employee, she kept smiling like most people do for the camera. Even though the clerk asked her gently not to smile, Mom could not comprehend the request. I thought, in the grand scheme of things, anyone holding up the card to check her identity in person with the photo on the card, would see a striking resemblance because, for the most part, Mom is always smiling.
As the coming year unfolds, I know I’ll be quietly asking the question, “Are you my mother?” This kind of dementia slowly takes ones identity away. There is no before and after, only a fluid, unpredictable in-between time. I guess living in the moment will have to be suspended sometimes. I will remember our Mom the way she used to be and treat her with dignity and respect. In the meantime, I will try to keep smiling, myself and to always be, “her baby”.
No matter how many times I visit Las Vegas, it always plays out the same way.
At first, I am excited and enthusiastic as the plane lifts off from rainy Vancouver and heads due south to the hot, palm tree environs of Sin City. I usually consider a cocktail as my self-control slips the surly bonds of real life on earth, but the good angel on my shoulder pokes me in the conscience a few times and I opt for tea or maybe a Canada Dry Ginger Ale and feel good about myself. Also, as it is not quite noon, I think about pacing myself.
“How Much is that Jesus in the Window?”
I actually asked a clerk this weird question today at the card store in a relatively new shopping area in my neighbourhood. She laughed, awkwardly, and blurted out, “Isn’t he cute? We’ve sold a lot of these today. He’s $14.99. See, right there on the little card that says he loves you. He comes with a book, too. Separately.”
I could barely contain myself at her earnest demeanor. I had to hold back my initial retort of, “Yes, I hear Jesus does have a Book.”
I wake up virtually every morning at 4:00am, hours before I need to start my day, and I lie in my bed and fret. Some part of my brain, perhaps the anxiety cortex, if there is such a thing, fires on all cylinders and torments me for about an hour. I wrestle with the covers and the idea of simply giving in and getting up, but for some reason, I resist. It’s a standoff with my psyche.
Sunday afternoon at Mom’s
“Hey Mom. MOM. HELLOOO.”
“Oh, I didn’t hear you come in. Wasn’t expecting you.”
“Your TV is really loud. I’m going to turn it down.”
“YOUR TV IS….”
“I was just watching the golf.”
“Yes, it’s amazing. The BC guy might just win!”
“Mom, do you have your hearing aids in?”
“I think there’s a guy from BC.”
“MOM, I THINK YOUR BATTERIES ARE DEAD.”
“So, what’s up?”
“GIVE ME YOUR HEARING AIDS.”
The significant difference between how life begins and how life ends might be that a baby has no idea what it can’t do on its own and an elderly person knows exactly what independence they are losing with each passing day.
For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been caring for my 94 year-old Mom who suffered a stress fracture of her lower right leg. Before she could be treated for the broken bone, she had to endure a flu outbreak at the hospital she was admitted to. The ordeal tested Mom’s will to carry on and challenged my tolerance of the health care system that is trapped under the weight of its own dysfunction.
January 26, 2017 8:00am
I am listening to you eat your brown crunchy things that we buy at the Canadian Tire Store. You’ve always sounded the very same when you eat. You push a mound of mini chunks across your silver bowl three times, then you take just two morsels in your mouth and turn away to crunch them a few times before swallowing them and pausing to consider having some more.
The way my Mom tells it, I hung on for five minutes past midnight just to have my own birthday instead of being born on hers. At 12:05am on December 18th I made my debut there in the swank maternity ward of Vancouver’s Grace Hospital. I’m sure it was a great relief to the doctor and nurses coaxing my entrance into the world.
In 1960, ladies ‘went in’ to have babies in the manner of a weeklong spa getaway. It was apparently a different era in public healthcare budgets. My Mom soaked up the attention and relative luxury of a break from her busy life and at the end of that week she jumped right back in, with me in the mix.
Because You Watched……
Because we’ve been watching you watch us, we’ve come up with some “suggestions” to help you through this phase in your life. You’re not alone. Remember that. Even if you are technically alone on a Friday night with a half empty bottle of pinot noir leftover from lunch and nothing but a frozen veggie burger to gnaw on for dinner, we are here.
We at Netfriend are just a wireless connection away from your MacBook over there on the coffee table. We’re taking note of every movie you watch and other activities you’ve engaged in online, virtually 24/7. We’ve been analyzing your algorithms since you signed up 3 years ago for $7.95 a month. Back when what’s-his-name was still sleeping on the couch across from you snoring through that romantic comedy you fought over; the one you settled on because it was your turn to pick something and you were sick of Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker and even though you thought Ben Affleck was kind of handsome in Argo, you really had had enough of the foreign wars thing.