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 caught mom being sad when I called her last evening (Saturday). She said, "Is this Antsy Nancy? Because I was just thinking about you. I feel so bad right now, I don't have anyone to talk to, no one wants me, I don't have any friends.They just don't understand my dementia. I was hoping you would call or thinking I should call you."
Catching her in this mood turns into a great conversation with her upbeat, relieved and feeling better about her life. She is more lucid, her thoughts not so clouded, when she has hit her emotional bottom. I've learned how to get her out of the ditch and on to the high road on these occasions, at least for a little while.
I let her voice her hurt and she does have some good points. More on that later. Mom needs to tell someone how she feels and what bothers her most, in order to get through the mood. By now, I can predict her next sentence and can verbally help her get past the explanation as to why she is sad. Once it is said, she can relax a little and maybe move on until the next valley of sadness occurs.
The first good laugh, I got out of her was when I told her something funny that happened to me that afternoon. When I went to the mail box, a neighbor was there, getting his mail. He and his wife are quiet, keep-to-themselves people. A bit different from us. He got a new lawn mower last fall and loves to talk about it, even though he didn't get to use it much before the weather cooled. I offered it was a lovely and warm day. He agreed. To be funny I added that he might have to get his lawn mower out with this weather. Well, he started laughing and inadvertently farted. Of course, I acted like I didn't notice, but nearly lost it laughing when he immediately grabbed the rear end of his pants and headed for his house.
Now, that was just right to get mom laughing. Just telling her about it made me laugh with tears. As always, she had her take on the event. "He was probably holding on until he got to the bathroom," was her first thoughts as she giggled. "There are all kinds of people in this world. Everything is out there. Writers can find their characters in people. They don't have to dream someone up, because they already exist," adding I just told a very funny story.
Mom has a cold, with a lot of coughing. It is cold outside, the sidewalk stones are popping up leaving corners and edges sticking up. And the sun sets at 4:49 p.m. these days, which makes it difficult taking her dog out for an evening walk. These are gripes that I can spin from. That is where we restart our conversation with memories and more pleasant topics.
Mom's cold. Always. Every Christmas holiday, mom would spend days and weeks baking, cooking, decorating, shopping and everything else that needed to be done to meet the traditions of Christmas. By about two days before Christmas, she would have a terrible cold and by Christmas Day, laryngitis. I don't remember mom not having a cold on Christmas -- or being able to speak above a whisper. When I brought that up, mom laughed, "I guess you are right. That was a busy time of the year and I got through it. I guess now my body is just used to having a cold every Christmas. I remember being happy back then, with family home and lots of food."
The biggest reason for mom's depression is winter. It is cold, walking her dog is hard when she is afraid of falling and it gets dark so early. She wants to be somewhere else, where it is warm and the sun shines. But that isn't happening this year. She is ninety years old, frail and doesn't go anywhere without Marley, her dog. I suggested the real problem is mom is a warm weather person and has never really liked winter. she thought about it and had to agree. We are focusing on springtime and how she will be very happy, once winter is done.
We did some more memory lane traveling and talked about summers, being outside on the farm. When I was first able to help with lawn mowing, we used a push mower to cut a front, side and back lawn, which wasn't too bad and I shared the duty with my older brother (he did most of the work). The, as summers passed, mom gradually expanded the yards and lawn areas to include
small flower gardens, everywhere. We graduated to a couple of power mowers and eventually a ride on. Mom, dad, Dick myself and Jim did our part to keep the lawns in estate worthy shape. It meant someone cutting every day. When all of the lawns had been cut, we would start over. This was all summer long. Lucky for me I grew up and left home by the time they dug the pond and turned that whole area into a large are that needed regular mowing.
She remembers it was her plan to go at the lawn expansion gradually, so as not to upset my dad who already had more than enough work to keep busy. She always loved gardening and we had two big vegetable gardens, plus a strawberry patch and apple orchard. But she always wanted to grow flowers. She would plant anything anyone gave or she would find growing wild, from gladiolas to Japanese Lantern. It all turned into a very lush and beautiful yard. "I will always remember my beautiful flowers," she says. I can fell her smile through the phone.
About those people who she thinks don't like her, I suggested she spend more time having happy thoughts about the ones she loves and knows they love her.
She hates having dementia and knows it is robbing her of thoughts, memories and making her do and say things she later regrets, even though she doesn't remember doing or saying those things. I have softened on my attitude about that. I know what her personality is like. When she was younger she could be judgmental and harsh. Looking back and talking to her about her years growing up, I see that she had things happening that made her angry, but she couldn't speak out. Also, her mother, who I loved dearly, wasn't always the best role model for her nor did she treat her children fairly. Mom only hints at that. There is something deep about thoughts, opinions and what is appropriate.
"I could go out and buy myself some beer and get drunk," mom says (and I don't remember what we were talking about to bring this on). "But I am not a drinker. My father made beer in the cellar and people use to come to our house in the middle of the night to get beer from him. I didn't like it. It scared me." Turns out this was during Prohibition and she was afraid her father would be caught or worse. Later she was a member of the WCTU.
I told her when I was little, we were at their friends' house and the man made beer in his cellar. When I asked her what beer tasted like, she replied, "Rat poop." She said she's lost touch with that family. She remembered all of their names including the son-in-law, Skip. I don't know if this is right, but she says his parents never bothered to give him a "real" name, just named him Skip. "Maybe they wanted to skip this one or something," she says, and then adds she was just kidding.
Referring to someone, mom said, "He doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, if he did." It cracks me up when she says stuff like this because she NEVER did in front of us kids.
While we were talking mom was having fun with her calendar. My brother Dennis and his wife Vicki spent Christmas Eve afternoon at mom's organizing her by cutting down on the number of address books she was using to one and updating the phone numbers for her. She keeps up as much as possible by calendar and Dennis said she had five of them going at once. He cut her down to one and gave her a big black marker to X out the days, so she would know what day it is. I had to keep reminding her not to go on an X spree and end up in January, already. She loves Dennis and he is devoted to her.
I have more thoughts about this conversation and will share them in a new post.
We talked for an hour and we had lots of laughs. She was feeling much better and at ease with things. I promised to call again today and she promised to remember to go to church.
"I love you, mom."
"I love you too, sweetheart."