Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lazy Day Tuesday

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.

Well it took a few days to catch mom at home. I called her a few times Sunday evening, but she was elsewhere. Then I got tired and forgot to try again until it would've been too late for us to enjoy a very long visit. Tried again on Monday evening and the same thing. On Tuesday, we connected after lunch and before she would be heading out to watch and wave at the passing school buses. By the way, mom told me there are so many buses because some of the children are taken to Allegany for classes, and they pass by twice a day, as well as the regular school buses.

"I'm lazy, today," mom starts out. "This is one of those days where I would rather take a nap, than take a walk."

That is a big deal because her walks are precious. She takes her dog out for a stroll and for Marley to do her business, at least four times a day. She doesn't watch TV because there is never anything worth watching. Besides, she says, "Why waste my money on electricity?" Her other interest is reading, but she needs large-print books these days. The library has some, but not many are available. She thinks it is mostly because a lot of other people need the large-print versions, as well.

"Oh, I am just discouraged with this dementia. I am afraid I will get put into a home or a place where I can't get out for walks, have my own place or have my dog. That scares me, so much. I wouldn't want to live like that"

We did talk about this and her fears a few times during our conversation. We went over some things she's done recently, like getting her seasonal clothes separated and put away in an organized manner. She says she keeps her apartment in order and makes sure she eats the right foods, while considering her diabetes. She manages her dog. She makes it a point to spend as much time away from her apartment, by either going out with friends or visiting and doing puzzles in the community room with her neighbors. She can call my brother Dennis or rely on her neighbors to pick up things she needs at the store.

I asked her why she thinks something like this is about to happen. She doesn't know where it comes from. Mostly just fear. Thoughts that turn into possibilities. Vibes she thinks she gets from other people. She knows the dementia makes it impossible sometimes to separate what is real and what is imagined. That makes her worry, even though she knows she is doing a pretty good job of taking care of herself.

After we talked about the things she can control, including her everyday stuff, I told her to stop worrying about having to give up her apartment. That shouldn't be an issue right now. I told her to instead keep doing the best she can, enjoy every day and be more open about her fears with people who are in control of making those decisions.

Another worry is over her relationship with her best friend. When I said I tried calling her on Monday night she replied that they'd gone out to eat in Eldred, and that it was a bad experience.  Apparently mom did something that upset her friend and others, but mom doesn't remember what happened or doing what they said she did. She wasn't going to talk about it anymore, except that the whole thing is very upsetting. Now she doesn't expect to be going with her friend again. I quizzed her about this. She admits she really isn't sure what happened, if anything. Maybe it was another one of those worried thoughts creeping into her reality.

"I guess I am having a pity party," mom says. " They use to say that. Pity party. Thank you for calling me. Sometimes, I just need someone to talk to, about things I don't feel like talking about with someone else."

Back to the school buses. Mom says they go by for about an hour every school day. It is chilly out today and a little windy. Not snowing cold, but fall going into winter cold. She will go in a while, to watch the bus procession. She worries about Marley's little feet getting cold from walking on the pavement. They sit on a porch swing just outside the building and there is a wall that protects them from some of the wind.

Winter. It isn't like the old days, when she would brave the cold winds to help shovel a pathway to the car or barns. Didn't matter if it was near blizzard conditions, back then. She drove three or four treacherous miles to the grocery store for food or to one of her cleaning jobs. It was doable then.

Again, I reassure her, that things will be okay. Don't spend time worrying. (Me of all people, telling someone this.) She agrees and we move on.

We talked about Halloween, again. She is really looking forward to the children in town stopping by at her complex for a load of sweets. Residents bring bags of candy to the community room and somehow it gets passed out to the kids. "We all sit and watch as they pass by," says Mom. "Some of the kids come over and shake our hands."

We talked about an old neighbor, Jo Dunbar. She was the most creative person I knew, growing up. Every holiday was so special at her house. When is was 7 or 8, I went to a Halloween party at the Dunbar's. I bobbed for apples and nearly drowned myself trying to bite into one. Also, the water was freezing.

"Her popcorn balls," mom says. "She made the best popcorn balls. Everybody went to their house, for those popcorn balls." I'd forgotten about them. I never had them before and couldn't imagine someone making such a delightful treat.

Mom said she was bored. I recollected a time when I was 4 years old. It was summer and I came into the kitchen and slumped down in a chair. Mom was peeling something, maybe apples. I said I didn't have anything to do. "It's a nice day out," she told me. "Go outside. Lay down on the lawn and look up at the beautiful blue sky and big white clouds. Make a note in your mind that you will always remember this day."

At that age, well I just went and did what she said to do. I am 67 years old and I not only remember, I can feel, see and smell it. I can smell the fresh cut grass and feel the warm breeze. I see the bluest sky and big white puffs of clouds, just beyond the spreading branches and bright green leaves of the maple tree. I heard birds tweeting and bugs buzzing. I have forgotten so many things over the years. A lot of things that seemed far more important, at the time. So thank you mom for that great idea. I will never forget that day.

She talked about when she went to Manhattan for Eastern Star statewide conventions. I joke about how dad would always come home and tell  people he had a stiff neck from looking up at the tall buildings. Whenever he did that, I thought he was serious. Mom says that was his shtick. That before he went to Europe during World War II, he was stationed on Long Island and he spent a lot of time in the city. He and his army pals would bum a ride into New York. The thing about the tall buildings was one of his jokes.

We spent an hour on the phone, which is becoming the average length of our calls. It was getting time for mom to man the bus patrol and she was in a much better mood. Told her I would call again in a few days and she thanked me again for calling.

"You know, I shouldn't feel bad," she says. "My kids, except for Dennis have moved away. There are others who live here, who don't have anyone. My children call me. Well some of them, Ah, wait. You are Antsy Nancy? I was just going to tell you that Antsy Nancy calls me."

I enjoy this, she says and I agree. We'll talk again in a few days or when I catch her home.

I love you, mom. I love you, too sweetheart.

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