Monday, October 13, 2014

Counting cars kind of day

This post is part of a log of phone conversations between me and my mother who has dementia. We are reminiscing and catching up. Mom is 90 and moved from the family farmhouse to a sort of assisted living apartment in upstate New York. I live in Florida. We have not had much contact for several years until I started calling her every few days, in August. My goal is to reconnect with her, be someone who will listen to her and share memories. These posts include parts of our conversations I feel important to write about such as events and things she wants to discuss from her life, her family and growing old. She so enjoys our phone calls. Her memory comes and goes. It seems like she has more alert days since I started calling, but that may be my wishful thinking. I am learning a lot about her status in life and how it's changed over the years from being the strong maternal figure to an elderly person who at times feels forgotten as well as forgetful.

Thanks to my nephew's wife, Heather Whitney for taking some great pictures of mom on Sunday morning while mom and Marley sat on their favorite bench, watching traffic and counting cars.

Hazel Whitney
When I called mom Sunday afternoon she told me my brother Dick's son's wife stopped by to visit. Her memory, well we know. I asked if she meant Heather, which she did. Mom said she thought Heather was driving by and saw mom, so she stopped to talk. I asked what they talked about and mom couldn't remember that part. Heather had offered to take some pictures of mom for me. Since, mom couldn't remember their conversation, I didn't bother to ask about picture-taking. So, it was a nice surprise to get these wonderful photos today from Heather.

"I was counting cars," mom said. I asked how many? "I forgot how many. But it is a beautiful day out there. Cooler now. What are we going into?" It is fall, I reminded her. Soon it will be winter. "Yes, that's right. The summer concerts in the park across the street are done for this year. I'm looking out my window right now at the sports fields and the grass is bright green. I guess the kids are busy doing other things today. There aren't any games going on." I remind her it is Sunday and they are probably off doing family things.

Mom and Marley
 "I really appreciate you calling me," mom went on. "One of my friends died. She was in an ambulance, on the way to Buffalo. They couldn't save her. She died in the ambulance. I feel so sad. One of the kids -- Nancy, I think was friends with her daughter." I replied that I am Nancy and asked the name. Mom couldn't remember her friend's name. She thought the daughter was Linda. Between the two of us, we couldn't figure out who she was talking about. I scanned the local paper's obits online, but didn't see anyone familiar.

Her feeling of loss was extended to include the farmhouse, which she said has collapsed. She hasn't actually returned to the farm nor seen what condition the house is in, these days. Old neighbors and friends told her it is in bad shape.

She turned the conversation to being hungry and that she was planning to walk to the nearby Subway in a while for a sandwich. "I don't have any food in my apartment. Well, she does have cereal, but nothing like soup or meal-worthy food. She gets Meals on Wheels at noon time each day, but they don't deliver on weekends. She ran out of soup and ate the rest of her Meals on Wheels leftovers.

Enjoying a fall day in the sun.
What about Dennis (my brother), I asked? Doesn't he shop for you? "Yes he gets stuff, when I ask him to. He comes and looks in my fridge. Maybe he's looking for pop. I have neighbors who get things for me when they go to the store." I tried to stress how important it is for her to have food on hand and that she needs to eat a good diet. She thinks she does. She relies on the Meals on Wheels meals and says the portions are large enough to account for two meals. She has cereal and bananas for breakfast everyday. And she goes out with friends or to the nearby sub shop for occasional meals. Nevertheless, I told her, she needs to stock up, especially with winter and bad weather coming in the next few months. She agreed and told me she will write a list for Dennis.

Okay, so once again it is another week and she is looking forward to a visit from my sister, Liz. At least she thinks it is this week that Liz will be in town. I've heard this for two or three weeks now, but the visit hasn't happened yet. Mom gets confused -- she keeps telling people that I am coming to visit and I keep reminding her, I am not.

Mom and Marley counting cars.

"I can't watch TV anymore," mom sighs. "It's always the same thing. Nothing ever changes. Over and over. They need to get new writers."

I asked again if she'd received the photos I sent her two weeks ago. "Were they old pictures from years ago?" Some were, but mostly pictures of the girls, me the flowers and birds in our yard. "Maybe they are here and I laid them down somewhere. I can't remember. I don't know if I got them or not, but I will try to find them." Mom said she does that, now. Brings something like mail in and puts it down. She forgets about it and loses it.

"I need to clean my apartment." I said that's no fun and she disagrees, because she is afraid the complex management will find out her place is dirty and they would get rid of her. I reassure her that won't happen. Well, she also doesn't want anyone else to see her place when it isn't clean. I remind her that she's already done a lifetime of cleaning. 

"That's right. I cleaned Mrs Damon's house for years." You also cleaned up after a husband, six kids and dad's parents, I said. "Everyone has to do that. I have to keep busy, keep moving, find something to do or else.

"When I was young I always walked. I always played sports. I was in the band and I loved that." She played the flute. I wanted to play flute in band, but they kept giving me other instruments that I didn't want to play like the coronet (didn't want ugly blisters on my lips) and the clarinet (sounded like a duck call to me). I did play piano, but never very well. My brother Dick wanted to play drums and I don't know why, but they tried to get him interested in another instrument, so he gave up on music. On the other hand, Dick's daughter, Erin is the percussionist in the family. My brother Len had the musical talent. He played the French horn and organ.

Let's see now, we talked about Cuba cheese and politicians. Mom thinks that her county has the best of both. Cuba cheese is hands down good and I agree with that one. She says the politicians at least do what they promise to do. She calls them active and up to date. Mom thinks she has the inside scoop as she was an active member of the Board of Elections for many years. I am not going to remind her about how she tried to talk me out of registering as a Democrat the first time I voted.

"There are only four registered democrats and everyone knows who they are. They will know if you register Democrat." Not a good reason, mom.

The conversation went back to food and mom's decision to go to the sub shop as she was in the mood and hungry. We said our goodbye. Mom said she loves our talks. I told her I would call on Wednesday and she said she would write that down. Hah. 

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, sweetheart."

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