Posts Tagged ‘aging parents’

My mother will be celebrating another birthday milestone birthday in a few weeks. She has been on hospice for about a year now. That word always feels so ominous to me, but they have been wonderful in overseeing her care and I am glad to know they have eyes on her when I do not. There is no doubt she is slowing down. For me, this means getting as much out of each visit as I can to deposit in the memory pot.

While talking to my cousin in Canada last night we got into a conversation about flying. She related a story of hers where she boarded a plane with her ticket in hand. Locating her assigned seat, she found it already occupied by a gentleman. Explaining to him he was sitting in her seat and showing him her ticket to emphasize her point, he explained to her she, in fact, was on the wrong plane. Whoops. This brought to mind a story about my mother. Any of you who have read my blogs in the past, would know I do seem to get myself in messes. Telling this story last night made me think “the acorn does not fall far from the tree” in our family.

I will preface this story by starting with another. My mother was born with no internal sense of direction. For her, getting from the kitchen to the bathroom involved a map and a St. Bernard with a keg of Heineken strapped to its neck. As a child, I can remember riding shotgun with her and being given a map and expected to guide us to wherever our destination was supposed to be. No wonder I sucked my thumb. That’s a lot of responsibility heaped on an eight year old.

The first year we came to California my mother and new stepfather purchased a house in Fullerton, which is in Southern California. I was enrolled in fourth grade in the neighborhood school, and one of the first things I wanted to do was to visit Disneyland. Growing up in Nova Scotia, our perception of California was sun washed beaches, movie stars roaming the streets, orange groves, palm trees, and Disneyland. I didn’t see my first movie star until I was in my early twenties, but the rest of it was pretty much right on the money. After being in the area for several months, only Disneyland was left to fill out the list.

Anaheim, where Disneyland is located, was at best a fifteen minute drive from our house. I was so excited about going my mouth was moving a mile a minute. Back in those days you bought books of tickets at the gate ranging from A-E. The A tickets were for the less exciting rides, moving up from there to the premium rides which took an E ticket for admission. My mother spent $50 that day on the whole visit and went on about how expensive it was for days. Now that would barely cover parking.

After a fun filled day of rides, park food, and souvenir shopping our feet were tired and we were ready to head home. Again, home was a fifteen minute drive with traffic. As usual, I was handed the map. Mother had never driven the freeways before that day. When she merged into traffic she became totally unglued as cars and massive semis careened by us on either side. Orders were being hurled in my direction faster than a chef calling out meal requests on a bustling food line. Somehow we missed our exit. For whatever reason she never got off the freeway again until we’d merged onto several others and were totally lost. When we finally pulled off an off ramp, it was dark, and we were in Burbank an hour’s drive from our house. Thankfully, a police cruiser had pulled over to the side of the road. My mother pulled in behind him and explained our situation. I remember sitting in the car getting my thumb prepared for insertion lest she get arrested. We made it home well into the evening. It was a long time after that before mother ventured onto the freeways again, but I retained my job as navigator well into adulthood.

There are many funny stories in my mother’s repertoire. The one triggered by my cousin’s wrong flight story was one for the books. Mother was living in the Bay Area when this silliness transpired. Plans had been made for her to take the one hour flight to L.A. to visit a friend of hers who lived in the L.A. area. Not wanting to leave her car at the airport, she asked if I would drop her off on my way home from work. It was a Friday night, and the airport was packed. I asked her several times if she needed me to park and see her to her gate. Each time she said no, she would be fine. As I remember, it had been a long week, and I still had to fight the commuter traffic home, so with some reservations, I retrieved her bag from the trunk, gave her a hug, and told her to call me when she arrived on the other end.

Several hours later a distress call came in from my mother’s friend. It seemed she had waited at the gate where my mother was to arrive, but mother never got off the plane. Asking at the gate an airport employee said she had never boarded. What?

Before I could alert the media, the phone rang again. This time it was my missing mother on the other end. She was laughing so hard, I could barely get the gist of what she was saying. Seems she had gotten on board the plane after I’d left her. After taxiing down the runway and in the air, the pilot came on the P.A. to provide the passengers with a weather report for Seattle. Finding this odd, my mother asked the lady in the seat next to her why on earth he was telling them about the weather in Seattle. The lady replied, “because that is where we are going”. Amazing. So, the airlines, realizing they had a passenger on the wrong plane and they didn’t catch the mistake, put her up in the Holiday Inn and booked her a return flight to L.A. the following morning. Dinner was also provided. Good going, Mom.

Someone pointed out the other day when you have lost both parents the feeling comes over you you are now an orphan. Never thought of that before. I don’t know how I will feel when at last she leaves us, but I’m sure I will miss her more than I can say.

Thanks for the memories, Mom. It wasn’t perfect, but it most certainly has been an interesting run. I hope we have a dozen more years of memories to make together.

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Well, another Halloween, and for me another birthday, have been put to bed. Now the big boys of the holiday clan lie ahead, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trying to get into my grateful mode, which involves being thankful for what I have, not what I am lacking, I am trying to resist sticking out my boo-boo lip at not spending these beloved holidays with my family. Covid has certainly changed the landscape of our world since it’s arrival on the scene, but in the old “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” line of thinking, if it is just myself, a dear friend, and Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, seated at the table we will proceed in a festive mood.

Watching the trick or treaters come up to the porch Halloween night to grab some candy out of the bowl I left for them on the chair, really served to accent how much has changed this year. To be honest, I was surprised to see any children at all. It felt a bit lonely peeking out at them through my curtain, but it made me happy to hear them giggle as they grabbed their treats and went on down the road to the next house with a welcoming light on.

November 1st was my birthday. Yup, I have gone and added yet another ring around my trunk. I know I’m beginning to be long in the tooth, but truth is, I still feel, and often act, like a kid. I intend to keep that inner child alive and active until I’ve made it to the end of my last mile here. Aging is one thing, but getting old, well, it’s simply not my style. My grandmother told me once when she was in her ninety-second year, “I am a eighteen year old girl, trapped in a ninety-year old body”. For some reason that always stayed with me. She was to remain with us until she was ninety-six. Her vision, hearing and sense of taste and smell were gone at that point and I believe she’d grown tired of her ever diminishing world and was ready to fall in step with my grandfather who’d left us some thirty years before. Sometimes I look at my mother and wonder how she feels about the whole program. Because she’s lost the ability to communicate her feelings succinctly due to the dementia, I suppose I will be left to wonder. I do my best to keep her safe and happy. Modern medicine has extended our time on earth, but not necessarily increased the quality of the extra time we have here.

I had the most unsettling dream several nights ago. In my dream, company was coming for Christmas. My living room was a sea of half opened boxes with ornaments, wreaths, and all manner of holiday decorations scattered around me on the carpet. There were other people in the room and the plan, as I understood it in my dream, was we were going to put up the tree and decorate the house. As I began to unpack the box next to me containing the tree segments, I realized I could not remember how they went together. As the dream continued, I became more and more confused and unable to comprehend how to do even the simplest of tasks such as using a tape dispenser. Though I’m not an expert on interpreting dreams, my best guess here would be this dream allowed me a window through with which to view my mother’s world since dementia took the wheel. Having a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s is like losing them one small piece at a time. Gradually, the person you once knew fades into the background. In my case, my mother is happy and content and can still engage with me in conversation (not how to split the atom, but simple conversation) and knows who I am and recognizes my children every time I visit. For this I am most blessed.

Sometimes I think this generation doesn’t understand the value of the older members of our population. Having lived for a long time, they generally have so much to share about what they have seen and much to contribute by way of wisdom as to what is going on in our world today. They are like old oak trees. When they are sprouts, trees have spindly, unsteady limbs and sparse foliage. As they grow and flourish, they fill out, providing lush shade for those beneath them and shelter for the birds and animals making their homes there.

My grandmother taught me much about the world. I like to think perhaps my grandchildren have learned a little something from me. As our grandchildren get older and become more independent they seem to need us less, but I don’t believe that to be true. What is true, is that when they are young we are super stars in their life but when they reach young adults we are replaced with devices and peers. That is the natural way of things. However, the bond we develop with them when they are youngsters should endure as they mature and grow into adulthood. I know I was still my Gammy’s “dear Little Susan” until the day she passed away.

I think of family a lot lately. It’s like when you’re on a diet and all you can imagine having is a greasy cheeseburger and a big stack of onion rings. Being without them is a life lesson. When having them back within hugging distance, I have promised myself never to take that privilege for granted again.

Another election is also complete, or at least the votes have been counted and a winner declared. Having so many voters show up to the polls with Covid on the move to cast their ballots, is a indication of how strongly citizens of the United States felt about the outcome of this race. Whichever side your allegiances fell, and whether you are pleased or disappointed with the winning ticket, at least it is over and perhaps we can all find some middle ground with which to begin a civil conversation again. I, for one, would like to see us all begin to work for common goals so we can get out of the current pot of stew we are in. Perhaps that is simply too idealistic of a goal, but at least to be able to open our minds to thinking other than our own might be a step in the right direction?

I had the overwhelming urge today to take my shoes off and run across the grass in my bare feet, so I did. Last night I danced with the cat. One must find their joy where they can.

Thanksgiving will not be traditional this year. Rather than whine about it, I will get a turkey and create all the side dishes. A friend of mine will come and we will have a socially distanced dinner with all the trimmings with a dish on the floor for Miss Boo and Maya, my friend’s dog. I will Zoom with my kids and he will with his. Hopefully, we can catch a game or two but there will be no Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade this year to enjoy over coffee. That being said, I’m going to find the original Miracle on 34th Street and get my fix of parade footage there.

So, change is in the air. Someone told me the other day that they found change very disconcerting. For me, change is simply the natural flow of life. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, remains the same forever. With each wave that rolls into shore, thousands of bits of shells are rearranged into an entirely different pattern. Leaves fall, people move, children are born, and people die. Each day is a state of flux and we are left to drift along in the current and take each turn in the bend as it presents itself to us.

I leave you with my introspective musings and promise to come back with a lighter story on my next writing. Stay safe. Let’s clear the slate and write something new and upbeat on it to carry us forth.

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Since last I wrote a new wrinkle has been added to my already untidy life, my mother fell and broke her hip. For a woman in her nineties my mother is somewhat of an amazement. The last time I took her in for a visit with her primary care physician he commented on how well she continues to thrive for a lady of a certain age. (You can’t see me but I’m knocking on wood this continues. We are betting she blows out the candles on her 100th birthday cake.) After running a mind boggling battery of standard tests checking everything from the length of her earlobes to her how well she flexes her pinkie, he could not find anything concerning……..well, physically. Mental prowess, I’m afraid, might earn her a lower grade. Mother’s short term memory has been declining steadily over the last four years. Though we continue to share conversations where both parties contribute, often when I tell her something it quite literally goes in one ear and immediately exits out on the opposite side. Repeat, pause, repeat, is the mantra at our house.

Certainly memory loss when plowing through your nineties is not unexpected. Like a trusty old vehicle things begin to corrode and function less efficiently as time passes. Interestingly enough, no matter how degraded her short term memory has become her core being remains intact. Her well appointed apartment is neat as a pin with all things folded neatly and a place for everything and everything in its place. Every Thursday at 11:00 she gets her hair done, and whether or not the earth is facing imminent destruction at 5:15 that Manhattan with one cherry and three ice cubes needs to show up in her special glass at 5:00. Some things, despite the complexities of life, never change.

Aside from the dementia dogging her heels my little mother (I use little only in reference to her stature, as she’s huge in attitude and personality) does battle with OCD. As of this writing I am unhappy to report that it’s Mother 1 – OCD 2,460,910. Most likely she should have been treated for this years ago but again I point to her sometimes obstinate nature, in-born pride, and the lack of information they had about such things in her younger years. Thus, we all deal with the consequences of incessant tidiness and a need for perfection, but this is balanced out with her sweet disposition (most of the time), undying love of family, indomitable determination, and generous nature.

Though I don’t allow the internal conversation to bubble over and fester, my mind can’t help but conjure up the what if’s of a parent getting older, a serious injury, and the statistics surrounding such a fall and break. I am still processing the loss of my significant other last year and the thought of losing another person close to me might trigger a full on anxiety attack if I let it have its way. Often I have told Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, I expect her to live to be at least thirty, as I couldn’t imagine a world without her silly face staring at me over the laptop in the morning. I choose to hold on to positive thoughts, enjoy as much time as I can with my mother and my dear kitty, and be thankful for all the years, good and bad, we have shared on this planet. Someone said to me somewhere along the way “Death is an integral part of life. We all suffer loss. If you can’t learn to handle it, it will make the act of living far more difficult.”

Mother has put the surgery behind her plus three days in the hospital and is now occupying a bed at the local skilled nursing facility where they will rebuild her stamina while her leg mends. This process, or so I am told, is a combination of rest, attitude, and general level of health and unique to each individual. The State of California legislators passed a law a while back banning the use of railings, bed alarms, or any type of restraint in extended care facilities such as mother is staying in. Struggling to comprehend the reason for such a law, because to me these safety measures are needed, I was given to understand some patients have been injured by the railings. People have gotten tangled in the railing apparatus thus prompting such legislation. The bed alarms, or anything restricting the movement of the patient are now viewed as a form of mistreatment. If dealing with a heavily sedated patient or someone with less capacity to understand what is and is not safe for themselves, it seems to me there might might be room for some exceptions to such a ruling.

When she was transferred I was told by the charge nurse that in cases where dementia has been diagnosed the family is expected to be at the facility 24/7 to watch their loved one. Once I closed my mouth after that statement, I said “really”? What do people do who have small children, jobs, school, …….um lives? What do those people do with a request like that? What do people like myself who aren’t blessed with a large extended family or a large bank account do in such a situation? We are not talking a couple of days but rather several weeks or far longer. I adore my mother and would happily do anything for her but even I, in spite of the large red “S” emblazoned on my J Crew tee, do not have enough stamina to pull that out of my hat without some consequences to my health.

I was told by one of the CRN’s they are short staffed and she works long shifts. Apparently they fill out their staff with family members to make up for the lack of manpower. For anyone going through such an ordeal set up a case meeting immediately such as I did. At that meeting I explained my situation and that I could not “live” at their facility. Alternate solutions after the meeting such as a CRN from the facility checking her at regular intervals, keeping her bed at it’s lowest height, and putting pads on the floor have been put into place, when I am not on the premises. These are not optimum solutions certainly but better than instituting no precautions at all. Also a caregiver (at our expense) has been brought on board three nights a week to be there so I can get some rest. This at the suggestion of my cat who had placed an ad in the paper looking for a new home with a human who lives there once and a while.

The food is another beef I have. (I use the term beef here in the loosest sense, because what they have been serving thus far hasn’t been anything even closely resembling beef or any other meat I recognize.) Though I realize their food can’t be heavily seasoned or spicy due to dietary concerns, at least it could be palatable. Yesterday, I swear to God, lunch looked as though someone had regurgitated on the plate. That being said, I bring in the food. I label it and it is put in their fridge for her use. After three days it is tossed. Somehow I suspect someone is participating in some of this bounty because I left a to-go container with a baked potato and delicious gooey ribs in there clearly marked and dated and mysteriously it opened the refrigerator door in the middle of the night and escaped to wherever uneaten ribs go to avoid the inevitable. Huh.

The food issues, like any health issues, require you advocating for your loved one. Over the past ten years I have been called into duty to be a caregiver for someone I hold dear on more than one occasion. They are ill and can’t do it for themselves so you essentially become their “voice”. If a procedure seems wrong trust your instincts and speak up.

Another tip is to get to know the staff. I have gotten to know a lot of the nurses personally. They bend over backwards to keep my mother safe and well tended to. One nurse, Rowena, has been on shift often during my mother’s stay. Originally from a poor village in the Philippines, Rowena is one of thirteen children. She seems fascinated with my only child status. When I told her I had no siblings at first I think she thought I was kidding her. Nope, just me. The tallest, the shortest, the best, the worst, and yes, the one and only princess on my block. The matriarch of her clan is her 105 year old grandma. “Grandma” was described as a tiny woman with silver hair down to her waist who enjoys squatting on the floor of her modest home and sharing the wisdom of her many years with her offspring. One such pearl, according to Rowena, was that the eldest of the clan are tasked with showing the younger members how to care for their parents as they age. In other words how I treat my parents will be a guide for my children as to how to treat me when I may need their help. Interesting. Hope mine are paying attention.

So another chapter opens up in my roller coaster life, and just when the dust was beginning to settle on the last one. Guess I can honestly say that above all things I am rarely bored, which I believe is a good thing. As usual life offers up new lessons to ponder as the days unfold. I try to keep my eyes and ears open to what is coming my way and either tuck it away for future consideration, pass it on, or release it. I had a friend a long time ago who had a tee shirt that read “keep the best and leave the rest”. Guess that’s kind of how I view all this information coming my way each day. Take with you what is relevant and leave behind you what doesn’t pertain to your life. Have an excellent day!!

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