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.
I've been busy this week, getting my Etsy shop stocked for the holidays. And, I didn't have time to spare to write a post after talking to mom on Sunday. It's probably going to be like this for the next several weeks. I will try to keep up, though.
We had a nice hour-long conversation both on Sunday and last night (Thursday). Turns out the theme for each visit are connected, so here goes with parts 1 and 2.
"My closets are a mess," mom starts off. "I have a lot of space. There is a big closet at the entryway, one in the hall by my bathroom and a big closet in my bedroom. I have a nice bedroom set with a bureau and chest of drawers. The problem is I have my summer and winter clothes mixed together and I really need to get organized or I will be in big trouble."
So, what she did was pull everything out of her closets and drawers. That is what I gathered, but I may be exaggerating.Then she began sorting and making piles. Summer shirts here. Long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts, there. She was ready to take a break when I called. Actually, her dog Marley crawled up onto her bed shortly after I called.
"I need to get my clothes organized. I can't stand the thought of winter coming, but it is and I want to move my summer stuff, so my heavier clothing is easy to get to. Jackets, coats in the entryway closet. I think I should have my summer things together, in case I get to go south when it gets cold and the sidewalks are too slippery for me to walk.
"I also want to sort through my things, to see if what I need. I wear sweatshirts a lot when it gets cold and they do wear out from all washing. So, I will get Dennis (my brother) to take me shopping for things I think I will need."
Mom sat down to chat with me. She'd been thinking about a few things. She thought of dad wearing the hood, mask and outfit, he put on whenever he disturbed the bees in the beehive as he took honey. She said he used an extractor to take honey from the waxy comb. Even though he wore all of this protection, the enraged bees would find skin and sting him. As much as he didn't look forward to this task and I don't know how many times a year it had to be done, he would do it, get stung and have sore itchy bumps, for the love of honey.
"You know, I can how the bees felt," she offers. "You are stealing their work. They spread the pollen. They don't want to share their honey."
She talked about going to church with dad's mother, my grandma Whitney. Mom recalls grandma in her "Chrysler with the big side wheels." I think she meant the wheels were exposed and not covered by the car body.
She tells me how Marley wants to chase the squirrels, so she stays clear of the park across the street when they walk. Marley also, has their regular route memorized, so when mom turns early to head home, Marley pulls on the leash, as if to tell mom she's going the wrong way.
Mom says men are so dependent on women. She isn't so happy that her best friend has a boyfriend. She accepts it, though and says she (mom) has no interest in a relationship like that. Says she has Marley to keep her company.
They -- mom and her dog Marley - have their routine. Each afternoon, they take a seat on a bench in front of mom's complex and watch the school buses, trucks and car go by. Mom says she not only recognizes the vehicles that pass by every day, but she even knows the order in which they go by. She thinks it is because most of them are coming home from work, at about the same time everyday. Now that amazes me.
She gave me a tour of her bedroom -- her stuffed animals, anyway. She doesn't remember where they came from, but she describes her bear or monkey (she called it both) that wears a straw hat and denim overall shorts and a rabbit that is stuffed. She also has a little clock that she loves, but that isn't the one she uses as it is too small for her to read the time. Instead she has a clock with big numbers.
We talked about some other issues she has and then said our good nights to each other.
So, now it is Thursday evening and guess what mom is doing. She's still shifting piles of clothes, still trying to get organized. I said I was surprised she was still at that task and she says it is taking more time than she thought it would, because her helper came to do her laundry and she ended up with another big pile to sort.
At first on Thursday, mom was very blue. She says nobody wants her. We talked about more issues and she finally perked up.
Mom had gone out to eat that evening with he friend Velma and Morey to Red's and Trudy's. She really wanted to go to her favorite restaurant in Olean for a fish fry and wondered why they didn't go there instead. She went on about wanting to go out somewhere for a real meal with salad, not a hamburger. I asked her what she had and she said some soup.
I reminded her that it was Thursday and it took a few more reminders before she understood the connection. Finally near the end of our conversation, she put it together.
"Today's Thursday," she said. "We can only get the fish on Friday. I kept thinking today was Friday.She (Velma) must have something else to do tomorrow. She is always doing stuff with her family or has to go for medical treatment to Buffalo."
Mom was relived there wasn't a big conspiracy that kept her from her favorite fish fry. She decided to call her friend and see if they were going out again on Friday. If not she was going to ask Dennis if he would go out for fish fry with her. "I like to go out once in a while, but it is hard when you are by yourself."
I reminded her about the book she gave me when I was 4 or 5 years old. It was called Nurse Nancy, and it had a page of various shaped bandaids in it. I really did enjoy the book -- mostly the band aids. Mom remembered it and how she had to get because I was Nancy. We didn't talk about it, but I also remember all of the time I was growing up she wanted me to be a nurse. I even took some nursing courses when I lived in Massachusetts and decided I would make a terrible nurse.
Mom talked about her father making his own beer in the cellar. She says in the winter, neighbor kids would get into the cellar and steal bottles of beer. It was evident in the spring because the kids would hear something, maybe her dad, and they would run, dropping bottles in the snow. Once the snow melted in spring the yard would be littered with beer bottles. She thought that was pretty funny.
"I don't like beer," mom said. "But, I like a little wine." I told her the acid in wine makes my stomach hurt and I gave up beer, and all alcohol a few years ago.
We talked again about friends, family, losing some and losing touch with others. Sometimes the dementia is to blame, she says for putting someone at a distance. I suggested change has to come in the form of understanding and forgiveness.
We agreed our conversations are important to both of us. After all , the best gift anyone can offer is the gift of time. And we've been spending a lot of it reminiscing and sharing our thoughts.
"I love you, mom."
"I love you, too, sweetheart."