Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Good, bad and other

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 91 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 2014. 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.

"Hi, mom. I am sorry I haven't called you in a while, but my husband has lung cancer and that's kept us occupied," I explained as soon as she answered the phone yesterday

"I was wondering why I hadn't heard from you," she replied. "I am so sorry for you (me and Kevin). It is a terrible thing, cancer. I hope it gets better."

She went on to repeat the usual things she tells me about where she lives and what she thinks is going to happen with her. She quizzes me to see if I have more information regarding her future care. I explain, I don't. She goes back to retelling me stuff that happened months ago. She has trouble remembering what she ate for lunch, but issues that bother her, stick in her mind.

She admits she gets, "awfully confused."  She says some people don't understand and she's feeling more like an embarrassment, these days. She brushes it off by saying,"Just wait. They may have the same thing happen to them." Then quickly adds, she wouldn't want it to happen to anyone else.

Mom went to the hairdresser, which she does every Tuesday. She had to touch her hair to make sure it was today that she went. She went on to tell me about Bridget who washes, cuts and perms mom's hair. Mom says it is a short walk from her complex. My brother Dennis drove her back and forth a few times last winter when it was icy out, after mom fell and banged up her head. Mom didn't think his driving her to the beauty shop was necessary, but she understands everyone's concern.

"Oh yeah, mom," I squeezed into the conversation. "Today is my birthday."

"Is it March?" mom replied. March is her birthday month.

"No, it is May," I said. "May 12th. Do you remember the day I was born?" She was trying, but. "Dick was first and then you had me. After dad came back from the war."

"I do remember. You are four or five years younger?" Five. "Yes, I remember it was after he came home. Well, Happy Birthday."

That wasn't going anywhere, so I asked if she remembered the time Grandma Whitney was watching me while mom went out shopping or somewhere and she cut my hair to look like Mamie Eisenhower.  I was five years old.

"Oh yes," she immediately replied.  "I was shocked when I came in and saw your hair. She cut your bangs so short. You had beautiful long hair and she cut it off.

"It was hard at times to take care of people like that, but I loved her and always gave them the best care.She was a wonderful woman"

What I do remember and didn't mention to mom was my aunt who also lived with us goading my grandmother on to get it done before mom came back home.

Clearing something up

I was informed last week that I have inaccuracies in this blog. My father died from heart trouble and suffered from some dementia, not Alzheimer's Disease. Mom had told me years ago he had Alzheimer's Disease, which turns out was not the case. She apparently told others the same thing. We were not close during this time.

This was not intentional, nor do I feel that it has any bearing on the memories and stories I write and the feelings I have toward my parents

But for future clarification, here is a good article about the differences between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

On the subject of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Important read

Here is an article regarding dementia, Alzheimer's Disease and having family to help make important decisions for the elderly. Angelo E. Volandes, MD, makes some thought-provoking claims regarding the aging baby-boomer generation and how more people do not have families to help make difficult decisions regarding end of life care. He's written a book, The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care, and this article in Psychology Today is a must read.

Dying Demented and Alone

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mom met dad on wheels

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 91 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.

"Today is dad's birthday," I told mom when I called Tuesday afternoon. "He would've been 94 years old."

"Is it the 21st?" mom asked. "I thought today was someone special's birthday. But, I couldn't think who. Huh. How old? 94?"

That was how we started our conversation. I hoped to talk mostly about him and her best memories of life with this well-liked man. Dad had Alzheimer's Disease and passed away in 2005.

Growing up, I thought he was a simple man. He took his responsibilities seriously, valued friendship and respected everyone. He worked in order to earn money needed to live and raise a family. He would've preferred to spend his time farming, but it didn't pay all of the bills. He loved his children. When we were young we would follow him around the farm all day long. He was clever with making stuff and playthings out of nothing. But, as we grew up, became teenagers, we had a harder time maintaining that same relationship. He knew less and less about what we were doing or how we felt.

Some of that had to do with mom. If something bad or upsetting happened, we had to go to mom. Her first words would be, "Don't tell your father." She wanted to keep him from worrying or "having a fit." It made sense and seemed to me like a natural instinct to protect the bread winner from more stress. Years later, when raising my own children, I realized how wrong that was and unfair to dad as he never got to grow up with us. I am sure mom thought this was the right way to handle her family.

Lately, she talks more about her family, her parents and growing up poor. She feels that she gave back to her parents by being a devoted daughter and taking care of them in their older years. I've already written about much of what she recalls. She's softened her feelings about stuff her parents did or didn't do when they were raising mom and her siblings, but that's how life works. We forgive, forget and try to be more understanding. No one is perfect, not even ourselves.

For dad's part, he grew up under the foot of a very harsh and abusive father. I think fatherhood was a mystery to him because of the way he was treated and because he never wanted his children to be mistreated. His reaction was a hands off approach. Don't get me wrong, he was loving and caring, but was never really involved with our lives as we got older.

Love at first sight
I asked mom about the first time she saw dad. "It was at the skating rink," she replied. In her day and mine, roller skating was a huge part of a young girl's social life. She went on, "I loved going roller skating with my friends. Right away, I knew he was someone special.

"He was a good skater. He loved to perform, a big show-off. Isn't that funny? Leslie wasn't one of these people who always wanted attention and never really tried to stand out anywhere else, but at the rink.

"Good skaters would get in the middle of the rink to do tricks and perform. He would do jumps and different steps. He was so good. I wasn't a good skater and didn't dance (skate) with him. I just skated around and around."

They met at the Coliseum Skating Rink in Ceres near Little Genesee  N.Y. "He was a great guy. We drove all over all over to skate in Wellsville and Olean and further away. We didn't drink or smoke. Well I drank Pepsi. He loved root beer, so that's probably what he always drank." She says it was the most fun she'd ever had, to be with him.

"He was well liked," mom reflected. "He was funny, told jokes, always pulling tricks on people and loved having friends."

Mom had a funny but embarrassing experience recently, that reminded us of something dad did when he was a kid. His family was at a park on a family picnic, The kids were all over the place playing ball and wading in a stream. Dad was getting hungry and decided to head back to the picnic table where his mother was setting up the food. On the way, he got a whiff of fried chicken and sat down to eat, with strangers. He had some chicken, then got up and left. He later claimed he didn't realize he'd mistakenly sat at the wrong table. But, the chicken was very good.

Mom told me she saw that a bunch of people were going into her church which is next door to her apartment complex. She gets confused and thought it was Sunday and time to go to church. So, off she went and when she got there, people were sitting down to long tables set for dining. She sat down and ate with them, then she found out it was a private dinner for some group. she was she was so embarrassed, but the meal was good.

I reminded her how at supper when I was a toddler, I would point and say, "Noot, Noot" when I wanted mashed potatoes,  Well, dad loved that saying. He pointed his fork and squealed, "Noot, Noot," every time mashed potatoes were served. Probably did this for the rest of his life.

My daughter Stephanie remembers grandpa and his magic finger. If you had a loose tooth he would offer to help with his magic finger (by pulling it out). I don't know if he actually fooled anyone with that trick. She was told it was either that or the string tied to the tooth and a doorknob remedy. Stephanie kept her distance when she was shedding her baby teeth and preferred to let nature, or maybe an apple, take its course.

Mom says she enjoys my calls and finds herself thinking about old times after we talk. I told her I enjoy our talks, too, but for now it is time to make dinner. I promise to call in a few days and we said our goodbyes.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Here is a photo taken by Sherman Clarke in 2010 and well after the Coliseums' hay day.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Conversation follow-up for last post and what I've learned about myself

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 91 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 had a great conversation with Chuck Meyers, a long time friend who is familiar with the my mom, our history and the issues facing our family. He is so right with his perspective and it made me think about my place as well as reactions to what happens between me and my mom. I look back and can see us sitting at the table, having a very similar discussion. 

The dementia does play a large part in all of this. Her perceived needs are a lot more intense, since all of the time and instances that normally take a person brain energy to digest is forgotten and she had this big void to fill. Oh boy. Well, that is my non-professional way of looking at it. I will boil it down to: controlling her life and the lives of those around her was calling. In her mind, the things she wants to change or fix is now a very short list.

I need to stand back once in a while and view how I react to our conversations. My tasks for now are to listen, to help her remember old times and not judge. I have the easy list because I was the free spirit and mom couldn't always count on me to do everything she expected of me.

Here is my conversation with Chuck from earlier today:


Chuck: Nice read.  I think she is lonely. I've been helping my mother since dad died and have noticed the profound impact it has on her.  I replaced some of the man-in-the-house stuff. Today she drove me mad in the morning wanting to go here and go there. I kindly motivated her to hop in her new car and go to K mart without me. I want her to be more independent, because one day I’m gonna be away again, in my own space.

Me: Yes, you are right, she is lonely, but maybe she brings some of it on herself. Hazel, that is. She wants to be with Liz as a companion and Dennis to do the errands and to take care of her.  It is so nice that you take care of your mom and help her keep up some level of independence. Life is hard being old. We children are lucky to have parents who live so long, but we also have to face some difficult decisions. Do you think I was being a brat about her insisting on talking about the same issues, over and over? I guess I was. Maybe it is due to the mother/daughter relationship that we have. This is very interesting, Chuck. I would like to get your impression of this latest post. Can I use your response and this convo for another post? I do need a sounding board for some of the posts I write.

Chuck: You are normal. It is how we deal. I loved it.

Me: How do you know all of this? As a young child, I would've been the first to bolt from the room, when she started acting like this. I mean I really see some of this as the roles we always played. At least now and from this distance, I can be patient, let her have her say and then complain and make faces after we hang up. Dennis and Liz are stuck in their same roles and they can't change that. In your work, do you deal with people who have dementia?

Chuck: I have two friends who recently lost their mothers to dementia and I just listen to them a lot and I try to learn and understand what they have to go through, the things they have to do and how they get to a certain barrier that helps them cope and get through it. You're doing fine you're communicating with her you're doing a very loving thing

Chuck: Everything you do is positive and stimulates her mind it's very important what you're doing. What Dennis is doing is very very important. You're doing a wonderful job I know it is painful and sad but you're doing wonderful

Chuck: You are going to achieve closure in all of this because of this loving work
Chat Conversation End

Sent from Olean, NY

I am so grateful for Chuck's response he was a tad generous with his compliments. that's always welcomed. And I appreciate the notes I get from others about my blog and mom. Please keep passing along your thoughts and ideas. Thanks again for reading.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Circular conversation

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 91 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.

These days, talking with mom is more like a lesson in patience. The poor gal is so wound up with herself, her plight of loneliness and the blame she places on others, it has become her only topic. I do spend time trying to get her off that hamster wheel, by bringing up old times. She laughs, adds her two cents and then goes back to the wheel. The past few times we spoke, I let her go on, hoping she would finally run out of steam. Doesn't happen and I think it is because she doesn't have anyone for venting. She even said yesterday, something to that effect. I forgot to note exactly what she said because I wasn't really listening.

The gripes: no friends, family doesn't care about her, no friends, her family doesn't care about her, no friends, her family doesn't care about her, no friends and her family doesn't care about her. Did you get all of that?

There are other complaints, but the above mentioned are the biggies. 

Even though it was 70 with sunshine Saturday, she is still carrying on about not being invited to spend LAST winter in a warmer climate with my sister Liz or brother Jim. And, she's already starting in about suffering again next winter. I remind her it is April and her favorite spring and summer months are around the corner. 

"Yes," she agrees and moves on to list what she looks forward to, like the weekly concerts held in the park across the street from her apartment. "That starts in the summer. I don't have a chair, but I will just go over and sit on the ground. Someone took all of my chairs." She's talking about folding chairs that are part of a card table set. Then she goes on speculating over who took them. I tell her she can't carry a heavy folding chair to the park and she says she will have Dennis get another chair for her.Poor Dennis has become her 24-hour go-to guy for whatever she thinks she needs.

"I won't have anyone to go with me, but that's okay." That's when I asked about her friend Velma. I talked to Dennis and Vicki before calling mom and they said she'd gone out to eat on Friday with Velma. so, I asked if she'd seen or heard from her lately. "No," she replied. "She's still mad at me."

So they went out to dinner on Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon, mom's forgotten.

We get back to the GOOD stuff that will be happening when it warms up. 

* She likes watching the kids play sports on the fields behind her complex,  
* Counting cars and traffic watching are better than TV.
* She will take more walks around the small downtown.

Oh yes and she wants to go live with Dennis, part of the time, anyway. She's is worried about her options drying up. she's afraid "they" will put her in one of those places where someone will feed her like a baby. I told her to make sure she is doing two things: eating right and taking her medicines. "Oh, I do that," she said. 

It is a mental workout on calls like this, but I concede she has a lot of time with nothing else to do. I am her sounding board. So, I listen and get a thought or two, when I get a chance.

We did get a good laugh over something she made me think of. One time my dad's brother August called around nine at night. He said he heard on the news there were tornado warnings in our area and said everyone should sleep downstairs, to be safe. I was eight or nine, so that meant mom, dad, me, my brother Dick, Jim, maybe Liz if she was born by then, my grandparents and my aunt Theresa all bundled up in chairs and on couches. 

Mom remembered that and what a horrible night it turned out to be, just waiting for something bad to happen. I told her I expected to pull back a curtain that was hanging at the staircase entry and seeing the sky, that everything would be gone. She laughed and said she'd had similar thoughts. 

That next day, mom wasn't happy with my uncle for his inaccurate prediction.

Oh and she said the curtain was hanging there to keep heat from going upstairs. They (my grandparents whose bedroom was downstairs) said they (those who slept upstairs) didn't need heat to sleep.

That's it for this post.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Thinking back to this week in April long ago.

Here is a post I wrote for Antsy Artist Redux about this week and it's importance to me. My dad would've been 94 on April 21st. We weren't always very close, but I do have these thoughts. This is my remembrance of my daughter, her grandpa, his birthday, Earth Day and Save the Whales. Please read on.

Today's post on Antsy Artist Redux

Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's the dementia or not

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 91 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 am so confounded by old age and dementia, these days. For months mom was depressed, despondent, lonely and sad. All she wanted was a Winter down south where there wouldn't be snow and ice. Where she could walk her dog without it getting frost-bitten feet. Since last fall as the leaves were falling, she's pined for an invite from my sister, Liz as well as my brother Jim. There are reasons she didn't get invited back, the biggest one is that it is problematic getting her and her dog there and home again.

I kept bolstering her spirits all winter by reminding her that she is a warm-weather person and she would be happy once again, in the Spring. We talked about the concerts in the park across the street from her apartment. About the families gathering to watch their kids playing sports on the athletic fields behind her complex, walking her dog around town and car watching. She would lighten up for a while and then go back to the same conversation. She got to the point where she didn't even like her apartment, anymore.

Finally, it is warmer and she's made a few decisions. Unfortunately, what she wants turns out not to be in her best interest. And there is more going on in her life besides her winter woes. 
This week mom is bubbling with enthusiasm. She'd heard that Dennis and Vicki may be moving into the farmhouse and maybe she would be able to stay with them. She embraced that idea, immediately, but soon came up with her own alternative. She thought is would be better for her to keep her apartment, now that those concerts in the park are just around the corner. The best of both worlds.

Sounded great to me, until I got another side of the story. The real problem is she is becoming less able to care for herself. The apartment situation was perfect for a while. Now, with no one to watch over her, she is forgetting to take pills and isn't eating right. She gave a way her pots and pans. Dennis and Vicki check on her daily, sometimes twice a day. They've talked to her about these problems and explained that her living alone in an apartment may no longer be viable. Mom is getting to the point where she needs additional care.

This was a rather serious conversation they had with her on Friday afternoon. But, when I talked to mom on Friday evening she was very excited about (her plan) to go back and forth between her place and the farm, with no mention of the conversation she had with Dennis and Vicki a few hours before.

It is coming down to mom needing structured care, like a nursing home. But she is "with it" enough to fight it. Problem is she is coming up with alternatives that are no longer workable. I've heard the arguments. It is a very sad time, not just for her, but for my siblings that have been dealing with her care. 

It is becoming difficult to know what is real and what is dementia talk, in our conversations. Oh, I can tell when she talks about our family life as being probably the best ever in the world, and I know better, I let her go on. But things she says about what is happening in her day-to day life -- I just don't know.

We did have plenty of laughs talking about things like the time the bat got into the house and was flying from bedroom to bedroom with dad chasing it in his underwear. Or when the Sears truck delivered a tub, toilet and sink, that mom bought because she was sick of having the only house around without an indoor bathroom. I will get back to sharing those conversations here. I needed to get this other stuff out.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Which Chuck is it?

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 91 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 of 2014. 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.

First, I want to note that I've talked to mom twice since my last post, but didn't have much new to write about. She is preoccupied with her situation of living alone and feeling cooped up. She  says she's lonely, despondent, feeling neglected and basically, not happy. We both know her mood is due to the weather. Mom is a spring, summer, fall person. She got along better in the winter when she was younger, could drive and get around more. Now, after falling on the ice several weeks ago, she hardly gets out and has caught a major case of cabin fever.

She's been calling my brother Dennis and his wife, Vicki, everyday looking for company and someone to take her out to eat. If they aren't near the phone to answer she leaves a voice mail, or several begging for a return call. She gets panicky, says she needs them to come to her place for this or that. She knows he is home during the day and forgets he also works at night. They are patient with her. They call her to calm her down. They go out with her to eat. The next day it starts all over.

Vicki told me about this and mom brought it up when I called her on Friday. She even told me she forgot they had just gone out to eat. And forgetting was putting her into another panic. With dementia, there seems to be no end to the misery.

But, that's not what I want to write about, this beautiful day before Easter. We had a fun conversation about Chucks.

We were talking about past Easter baskets, candy, ham dinner, straw hats and flowers. It was a good topic to get her mind off of the current weather and onto Spring, which already happened according to the calendar, but not by Mother Nature. Mom loves white Easter lilies and red azaleas. They were everywhere during the Easter season. My dad's sister, Ella had a flower shop and those were the most popular plants to send friends and family for Easter. She always made sure our house was bedecked with lilies and azaleas for the holiday.

Straw hats and new dresses for church were all a part of Easter. Of course the new outfits were church apparel. To me, the hat was a waste since I would never wear it again.

Jelly beans, chocolate and decorated eggs filled baskets. Potatoes, carrots and ham filled our bellies.

I got a little off topic when I told mom about a recent FB conversation I had with a friend, Chuck Meyers. I said he always loved being around our house on holidays because there was so much fun going on. For a minute, she wasn't sure who I meant. She started talking about another family friend named Chuck from long ago,  "Oh, you mean Chuck Dean," mom said. No. I replied, but that name is familiar.

This Chuck was Dennis and Vicki's friend. "Oh, Chuckie," mom said. "Where is he now? I don't think I've seen him in a long time." He still lives in your area. "What is his last name again? I am writing that down and I will ask Denny where he is now. Is it Chuckie? Meyers?"

Getting that straightened out, she went back to remembering the other Chuck. I brought up a couple of times I remembered about that Chuck who was dad's good friend. They went coon hunting together. Dad had a LOT of coon hunting friends.

BTW mom said she went hunting with dad a few times and really enjoyed it. "Leslie (dad) was something when it came to hunting. He would say 'Listen. Do you hear that?' I could hear the dog running in the woods. 'She's (the dog) on the trail now.' It was too dark to see anything, but he knew exactly where the dog and the raccoon were.

"Oh, I know, it was Kinney. Chuck Kinney. His father was Reverend Kinney."

I told her one of my first memories was of me getting myself into trouble, without realizing what I had done. I related something I heard my dad say regarding Chuck and his wife were secretly living in their beauty shop that caught on fire. I was telling all of this to Chuck's father the reverend, as dad, mom, Chuck  and others sat in our living room. Dad was standing behind the reverend, furiously shaking his head and mouthing the word NO over and over. There was more to the story than I'll relate here. ... After they left, my older brother Dick warned of what I'd just done and told me to prepare for a spanking. I ran and hid in my closet for about two hours until mom coaxed me out for supper. No spanking, but I learned not to repeat stuff the adults said. And I never found out what happened between Chuck and the Reverend after they left.

Mom chuckled at this story. "Chuck was a nice guy. He was kind and a great friend. He could get himself into some real messes. I wonder if it had to do with growing as a preacher's son. Maybe it was too hard trying to be perfect."

I asked again about Chuck Dean. Mom said she'd have to do more thinking and remembering. For now, she is focusing in on Chuck Meyers and his whereabouts.

Promised to call again on Easter. "I will be in church," mom said. "Call me that night. Then we can have another nice visit. I love our talks."  Me too.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Being lonesome, lonely and making lists

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 91 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 get so lonely," mom told me when I called Tuesday afternoon. "You don't know what it's like until you go down that road."

She was referring to her life, now at age 91. Every day is filled with so little to do, to occupy herself. It is more like every day is empty. She is down to one friend that she sees once in a while. Mom can't get interested in TV anymore. She doesn't crochet and her eyesight isn't so good for reading these days.

Mom never lived a day alone, by herself until dad died. I imagine it is hard for her, without someone or a lot of someones always around her. Being alone is something that never crossed her mind before now.

"I am getting despondent. I don't see anybody, don't have friends for visiting. Seems like all I can see from my window is snow."

Warmer weather isn't far off, but mom can no longer remember what day it is, let alone season, so she's still lamenting over not getting to spend the winter down South in a warmer setting. She says she feels hurt, betrayed and abandoned. Her words, not mine. She says she almost regrets getting to Florida and South Carolina last winter with my brother and sister. because it hurts more to know what she's missing. She quickly takes that back by saying she is grateful for being able to forgo snow and cold, even just for one season. She says it isn't easy anymore for her to live through winter here.

"Next fall I am going to take my money and go south somewhere. I won't even tell anyone, where I am. Just me and my dog. We'll enjoy ourselves and not have to be by ourselves where it is cold and ice and snow."

She goes on to describe her activities during this time of the year. From her window, she looks down on a snow-covered athletic field. Highlights include watching the Dumpster truck come and go, emptying the dumpster contents. Then she watches the cars of residents, workers and visitors come and go, driving in and out of the parking lot. She watches as she sits in her rocker chair. Daily visits include the person who brings her Meals on Wheels boxed lunch and my brother Dennis who checks on her nearly every day, lately.  She takes her dog for brief pottie walks, but doesn't get to sit outside because of the weather. Mom wanders down to the community room in her complex and watches others play games or work on puzzles. She doesn't interact much anymore as she feels like the others have circles of friends that don't include her. She says she no one ever calls her, but I know she at least hears from me, Liz and Jim regularly.

She's angry with her family. Thinks no one cares about her. She is talks about the love and care she gave to her mother. How she rode the mail truck from Weston Mills to Bolivar, sitting among the stacks of mail, to visit her parents, after she married and moved away. She expects the same loyalty from her kids. It is an old story.

On the other hand, she asked for my help on something. "You are going to think I'm crazy," she said."How many children do I have?" Six, I told her. "I am making this list and I only have four. who did I forget?" she read the list to me and I filled in the rest. Then she found another list she'd written that was complete, so she was relieved. She went on to list her grandchildren list and I helped her out with additional names.

"You should make the lists, print them and send them to me," I said. "then you would probably ask me, what are these lists for?"

"Oh no, you write on each one my children list and my grandchildren list, so I will know."

Assigning work for me.

I did my usual to try cheering up mom. I told her it is the last week in March and April Fool's Day is coming. Used to be one of her favorite days when we were little.because she got up nice and early and could think up a good April Fool's joke by the time she woke us for school.

Mom got a good laugh when I reminded her how she would trick us every year. If it was snowing out she's say, "Come on get up, the sun is shining and it is a beautiful Spring day." We'd jump out of bed, run to the window, just in time to hear mom say, "April Fools, I fooled you." If it was a nice Spring day out, she would tell us it was snowing and maybe we should check the radio to see if school had been closed. By the time we were older and wiser, we still couldn't figure out if she was tricking us or not.

I told her about the time Maia, Stephanie and I fooled my husband, Kevin. We were meeting up with him at a restaurant for dinner. Don't remember the circumstances, but we arrived in separate cars. When we were on the street by the restaurant, I spotted his car parked a few spaces from where we parked. So, we plotted to fool Kevin. I had a set of keys to his car, so I drove it away and parked it on the next street over. When we came out of the restaurant together, the girls were busting, trying not to laugh. Kevin started for his car, then stopped and I could see a bit of panic setting in on his face. The girls were whispering, don't tell him -- but I couldn't let it go further. He looked like he was about to start screaming for a cop.

Mom laughed and laughed. She thought that was the best April fooling she'd ever heard. Over the years, it's brought plenty of laughs from everyone, except Kevin.

Mom wants to write an article or a book about having dementia. We are going to work on it, one of these days. I think some of our conversations are a good lead-in to the project.

Mom thinks the paper would be interested in printing it. She remembered I wrote for newspapers, so I guess she thinks I have an in.

By now, we've talked for an hour and mom is searching through her fridge for something to eat. I send her off to eat and think up new lists, until the next time we talk.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mom's birthday second part

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 91 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.

According to mom her birthday was a whirlwind of activity. She went out to dinner and had guests and calls. The problem is by 8 p.m. she couldn't remember a thing. I called, as promised, so she could tell me all about her day. But, when she answered, she was in a panic.

"I feel so awful. I am embarrassed because I know I was busy all day, but I can't remember any of it," she said. Her voice trembled and she sounded as though she was in tears. "This growing old and not being able to remember what went on all day along. It's horrible. I wish it wasn't happening."

Too much was happening. She was confused, dazed and overwhelmed by all of the activities. Now, with a cold bothering her and being so tired, she laid on her bed wondering what took place.

She told me she went out to dinner, maybe at Sprague's Maple Farms Restaurant. Wasn't clear who took her out to lunch. Yes, my brother Dennis and his wife came to visit, but couldn't remember calls or visits from anyone else.

My daughter Stephanie called her in the late afternoon  and me afterward. Mom told her she didn't think she spoke to me earlier. Stephanie did find out that Dennis and Vicki were there when she called and that my sister's son Josh and his girlfriend were there earlier.

After talking to Vicki today (Sunday) I am able to confirm Josh took mom out to eat at Sprague's. Josh and his girlfriend brought a cake. Vicki and Dennis brought a cupcake cake and mom was probably suffering a sugar high, by the time we spoke in the evening.

She did calm down after I promised to call Vicki for more on the day's activities. She was a lot more scattered in thoughts than she was Saturday morning. We ended up talking for an hour. I reminded her about our visit earlier and how she wanted to write an article on getting old and what it is like to have dementia.She didn't actually remember the conversation, but thought it sounded like a good idea. She started in with the points she'd like to cover. She wants to educate youngsters who think most older people are plain crazy. It is important, she says, that children know the elderly weren't always how they are when they grow old.  By now she is hoarse and her voice is crackling from what is more likely allergies than a cold. I told her we'd take some time later next week to go over what she wanted in her article and I would put it together for her to read. Then she said she wants to write another one on how important it is to have a pet.

 I kept telling her I was going to hang up so she could go to bed. "I am in bed," she responded. "I am lying here, with my dog, talking to you. Oh, where's my dog? There she is on the other side of my feet. She keeps looking at me." I finally explained that I was hanging up so that I could get to bed. Mom was ready to talk all night.

So, that was the end of our second call. Now let's switch back to Saturday morning.  I asked mom if she remembered the time of day when she was born. Very dumb question that made her laugh. We agreed it was funny and dumb.

"People didn't pay much attention to things like that in the old days. Not like everyone does today. I do remember I liked visiting my grandma (Cartwright) on my birthday. She would give me fifty cents or a dollar. That was a lot of money in those days.  That was her second husband. We thought he was strange. He would wet himself." Mom paused, realizing her childhood ideas about the elderly were no different than those of kids today. But she didn't mention making the connection.

Instead she said people take care of the elderly nowadays. I guess she means their illnesses, and diseases are acknowledged and addressed rather than simply accepted, but I am not sure where she was going on the issue.

She ended that part of the conversation with, "I am so thankful for grandkids."

She talked about getting Meals on Wheels and how she also relies on frozen foods instead of doing a lot of cooking. We agreed she'd certainly done her time making meals while raising us kids. I asked her what was her favorite thing to make.

"Well, everyone liked my baked beans, Every time there was a bake sale at the church or school, I was expected to make a big batch of beans. They would dish them up and sell them by the pound or something."

Mom says she loves living in the small town of Portville. "It is such a beautiful town. We have a nice school. Everyone helps each other and everyone seems to get along. I don't like Olean (larger town nearby). There are neighborhoods that are so run down and no one cares or tries to help those people. The rest don't care."

Mom remembers my dad's mom as a real saint. "She would scare me when she'd race around in that old car of hers. She'd get (dad's sister) Ella's big old hats and take them apart to make a new hat for herself and then wear it to church. I can see them, these big flowers and feathers.

"She was a creative person. You kids would be fussing and she'd say bring them here and then she'd start drawing or telling stories."

Grandma was sent to bed by the country doctor after having a heart attack and stayed bedridden for the rest of her life, except for jaunts around the house when no one was home or everyone was asleep. Her bedroom was one of the large downstairs living rooms and that is where our first TV was located. So that was where everyone congregated.

I brought up the time when my grandpa fell asleep watching the Wednesday night fights, something he regularly did. When she would try to turn off the TV he would wake up and insist he'd been watching. He was irascible. He would fall asleep throw his head back and snore with his mouth wide open.

So, one night when it was just the two of them by the TV, she took a doughnut, soaked it in water, rolled it into a ball and made a 3-pointer. She tossed it and the mass went straight into grandpa's mouth and down his throat. That woke him up.

"Hey, I remember that," mom squealed. "He was spitting and sputtering. He didn't know what to say. He wasn't a very nice person, always fighting with someone. But, I remember that time."

Okay, so now I owe mom another call, but I think I will wait until Monday because I am just about out of words. It's been a busy birthday weekend for all of us.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mom's birthday, part one

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 91 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.

Despite suffering with a cold, mom was upbeat and in a talking mood, when I called her at lunchtime to wish her a happy birthday. She thought someone may have called her and she did get cards, but didn't have anything special planned for her 91st birthday. I asked her to make a list of the people who called her today and she replied that it would be an empty list. Hey, put my name, Antsy Nancy, first on that list, I teased.

I explained that I wanted to make her a treat, but couldn't decide what to make. Instead, I took a quart of strawberries to our neighbor, Horst, this morning. He is a great neighbor, always has a smile and kind words. He is diabetic like mom. I presented the berries to him explaining that it is my mom's birthday. I couldn't think of a healthy treat to send her and today is too late. So, I decided to give him a gift. Horst appreciated the gesture and asked me to pass his birthday wishes on to mom.

She laughed and loved that idea. Her goal today is to get some phone calls and cards. The gift of conversation is the best.

She did go out for dinner with Velma and Morey. They went for a fish fry at the Hibernia restaurant, mom's favorite place. Then they finished the evening off  at Red's and Trudy's Diner for coffee and pie. I am so glad they went out together. Mom has been feeling low over something that happened between her and Velma. They've been best friends for a long time. They were spending a lot of evenings together for years. Velma drives and has a car, so mom relies on Velma for most of her social life. For the past several months,mom says she hasn't seen Velma as often and there weren't as many dinners invites.

Going out with Velma last night was a huge boost  to mom's morale. It was just like old times and I could sense her happiness. She still talked about how disappointed she is about not getting asked to spend the winter where it is warmer, but not with so much fervor and repeated herself about it less often. It was more of an aside. She had better things to talk about, like dinner last night.

I was surprised how well she was doing today. She wants to write an article, describing what it feels like to have dementia. She wants to help others, especially children and younger people understand what is happening in someone's mind. Discuss the confusion. We talked it over and I told her I would write it for her. I told her I will call some afternoon, when she's feeling better and work on it. Then I will write and send her the piece for her to read. She LOVED that idea. Today anyways.

We had a wonderful visit. Actually, too much to write about now. I will be calling her tonight about that phone list of birthday wishes and get an update on the day's activities. Then I will be back with a bunch more from mom.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mom turns 91

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 91 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.

Mom is getting older and the Universe keeps changing.

When I talked to mom on Thursday, she asked the usual question, "What month is it?' 

"March," I replied. "Tomorrow is the first day of Spring." She chimed in, "Ooh, tomorrow is my birthday."

No, tomorrow is March 20th, I told her. Saturday is March 21st and it will be your birthday. 

"Well, why did they change the day? It's always been on my birthday, ever since I was born. Everyone knew that if it was the first day of Spring, it was my birthday."

I started to explain science in layman's terms, by talking about how time is changing. That smarter people than us knew all along that something in the sky, somewhere in outer space, somehow has altered the amount of time there is in our seasons. Winter is getting shorter and summer is longer. So, for the last 20 years or so, the calendar setters change the date of when it happens, every year and some years it will happen on mom's birthday.

Well, I told her most of this and she wasn't really paying attention. It was fine for the first 75 or so years of her life, why not leave these things alone.

Despite that bit of news, mom was in a pretty good mood. There was still snow everywhere. The athletic field outside her window was still white. There were still snowbanks along the streets, mounds of plowed snow that are just starting to melt. Trees are bare and summer is still  months away. The sap is running, maple syrup season has begun. 

Mom said she was just doing some thinking, when I called. She was remembering old times, visiting me when I lived in Massachusetts. She was in a remembering mood.

"Use to be families did things together. We did a lot together, as a family. Now everyone expects the school or the church to come up with things to do. We went on picnics, went fishing,  Maybe it wasn't much, but we did stuff together." 

My memories regarding this subject are somewhat different, but this is how she sees the past. 

Somehow, she wound the conversation around to how she misses her kids. If she had her way, she 
would travel. She would, "float around," from child to child, staying and visiting for a while and then move on to the next in line. After all, she has six of them and a couple months here and there, should work fine. Yikes.

"Oh, I am missing my family and how it was when they were growing up. I get lonesome and 
I have a pity party for myself. Then I get these ideas."

It was time to get her back to the remembering mood.

First, I wanted to get up to date and I asked her about her cuts and bumps from the fall she took, last month. "It is healing up. My hand looks better. The cut over my eye healed, but now I have a bump there, that hurts when I touch it. 

"I don't remember how it happened. I was helping this lady or something. I thought I was doing a good deed, but every body else didn't think so."

"Speaking of cuts over your eye," I said, "what about the time Dick hit me in the head with the baseball bat?" she chuckled, then waited to hear more. 

My brother Dick was in the side yard hitting a baseball. I was four and he was nine. I was the sucker sister who ran to retrieve the ball after he hit it several feet. I stood in front of him and he told me to get behind him or I would get hit by the ball. Being the good sister, I ran around and stood -- directly behind him. He didn't realize how close. He threw the ball in the air and swung the bat over his shoulder to take a swing. When he did this the bat smacked me across the forehead. There was blood and mom getting so upset. Dad worked on the railroad, this was the middle of the week and he was out of town. It was in the evening. 

Mom called the family doctor, whose office was at his home. She managed to get me there. He had to sew up the gash which meant three stitches in my eyebrow. Dr. Cash enlisted mom to help him. One look at him sewing my head and mom was white as ghost.

I remember hearing her softly say, "I am going to faint." Then his big voice boomed, "Put your head between your knees, Hazel." 

She did, or at least tried to do that. I was never sure if he was trying to give her something to do or amuse me. Seeing her in such a funny position got my attention.

When I finished retelling that story mom laughed and said she did remember it. However, then she said, "We had some good times." My response was, getting hit in the head with a baseball bat and having to get stitches wasn't a good time for me. "That's right, but we did have some other good times."

I told mom that granddaughter Taryn is in Paris this week on a tour arranged by her French teacher. she's in middle school. "I always wanted to go there," mom said. 

She went on to talk about my dad and the war. She said he did quite a lot of traveling while he was there, after the war ended. He was stationed in France and Germany and made some friends. He went to Italy and other parts of Europe.She wasn't sure if he was in Paris. I told her he was and spent most of his time in France. He got to choose my name, Nancy after Nancy, France Yes, there is a Nancy, France. He said it was pretty city.

For years mom wrote back and forth with people dad made friends but finally lost contact. "I don't know what I did with those letters. Probably threw them out, but I wish I had kept them."

I asked her how she felt while he was gone and fighting a war. "I worried all of the time. So many bad things happened in the war. A lot of young men were lost and left grieving families. It was the happiest day when he came home."

Mom said she was going to coffee hour downstairs in the community room, in a bit. "There is something going on tonight. I don't remember what, but I have my coffee cup sitting here with a spoon in it and some money. So, it must be a get together. They have them ever so often. Someone brings cakes or cookies -- stuff I shouldn't eat, but just a little won't hurt. Probably starts at six. 

We'd talked for an hour and it was going on 5:30. "I will let you go so you can get ready," I said.

"I'm ready. I will go early, so I don't miss anything." 

"I will call you Saturday, on your birthday. Don't forget to enjoy the first day Spring.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finding luck in the clover patch

Boy, does this article from Modern Farmer make me happy. They say clover, the three-leaf kind that occasionally produces the lucky four-leaf  piece, is making a comeback after being declared a weed more than a half century ago. Turns out clover is way too beneficial to be considered a weed.  I've always favored the tiny clover flowers for their fairy-telling potential and the wonderful smell clover adds to the lawn. Clover doesn't turn brown (I don't think) or get raggedy looking. Instead the small bright green leaves and tiny round white or red flower balls keep a low profile and tries to fit in among the fescues.

Let me tell one little Antsy Nancy Sez story, before you go off to read more about clover.

When I was a youngster nine or 10 years old, I took piano lessons from Mrs. Ryder, at her home. During the warmer months, if a student arrived early for their lesson or they need to wait until the lesson before them was done, Mrs. Ryder would send them out to her backyard. Their mission was to find a four leaf clover.

The Ryders had a beautiful backyard, so green and plush. They lived in town, so thier lawn wasn't as large as the lawns on our farm, but always perfectly kept. I liked arriving early enough to hunt for four-leaf clovers and they were prevalent. While crawling along the ground, I imagined little people, leprechauns, scurrying about in the darkness, on this very spot of green, searching out the perfect four-leaf specimen.

Another student told me it was Mrs. Ryder's trick. They said the lawn was planted with a special clover mix that produced many four-leaf ones. She knew we would find one, eventually.

I never found out and still don't know if such a seed mix existed. Many times in my life, I've thought about her lawn and how I would love to plant a lawn filled with four leaf clovers. Not just for my own amusement, but for everyone to enjoy.

Mrs. Ryder was a very creative and intelligent woman. I think she loved inspiring youngsters  to think creatively. She retired from teaching piano a couple of years after I started taking lessons from her. My brother suggested she retired because of me. I learned so much from her in just a short time.

I took lessons from another teacher for a few more years and felt like I never learned any more about how to play. She was a no nonsense kind of person. I certainly never enjoyed taking lessons as much and the new teacher didn't have great backyard to explore.

A neighbor drove me and her son to our lessons each week and we had to sit and listen to each other play. He was very good and ended up teaching music in school. On our way home from lessons, he would echo my brother's sentiments about my piano playing.

By the way, Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day and may you find a four-leaf clover.

Read about clover here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

This old house

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 haven't talked to mom since my last post, but decided to update with words about the family farmhouse in upstate New York. It is an ongoing and sad subject that mom brings up every time I call her. She keeps getting it in her head that the house has collapsed, She says a neighbor told her there was nothing left, just a pile of dust. As you will see in the following photos, it needs work, but is still standing along with one of the 100-year-old maple trees.

Luckily there are neighbors on an adjacent farm that keep watch for trespassers and my brother Dennis checks on the property on a regular basis. The farm's driveway is the end of the street. I remember going past two houses, then a swamp on both sides of the road, two more homes then across the railroad tracks and I was home. The farm isn't visible until you go over the knoll and cross the tracks.

A little refresher: After dad died, mom was living in this very large house, by herself and her dogs, until it became too much for her and she was moved into the apartment where she now lives. After WWII she and dad took the farm over from his parents. His parents held a mortgage, but only paid on the interest, so mom and dad actually bought the place and gave his folks a life lease.

The farm turned out to be a life-long improvement project for mom and dad. When they married, there wasn't any running water, no electricity or heat and of course no bathroom. I am not clear when the electric was installed or plumbing for water. But, I remember clearly the day the big Sears truck pulled up and unloaded a bathroom. Turned out mom was tired of waiting for a bathroom, so she went shopping and bought the pieces -- tub, sink and toilet. It was a surprise for dad, but he got the message and we soon had indoor plumbing. I was no more than 3 years old.

All of mom's favorite memories are of her home where she grew up and the farm where she raised a family. She and dad spent their lives making the farmhouse their dream home. It wasn't easy. They weren't poor nor were they rich. Just hard working folks.

So, here are some photos, pictures and a drawing of our farmhouse. Too bad, I don't have any old photos to include and if anyone out there has photos to share, please do so.

Our dear friend Chuck Meyers passed three gems along and I am posting a picture I drew from memories of the house and what it looked like to me when I was a youngster.

First is a house portrait painted by artist Marilyn Reynolds in 1987. A lot had been done to the house, including closing in the two-story porches. I think this was done when the house was just as mom wanted. As you look at the picture, the tree on the left is a maple tree that is the last of four still standing and I believe it is over 100 years old. Right next to the left front of the house was a beautiful lilac bush, but is was gone by the time this picture was drawn. On the right is a butternut tree. For some reason we never ate the butternuts. We dried them for something.

Painting by Watercolor Artist Marilyn Reynolds

Second is a photo taken last spring by Chuck. I think the house was empty for two year when this photo was taken. Looking shabby. The butternut tree is just a stump. In front of the stump where the daffodils are growing was a long-lived blueberry bush. I don't think many pies were made from those berries. The birds and we children snacked daily on them, straight from the bush.

Still standing.
Third photo is taken by Chuck Meyers on Friday, March 13, 2015. He went along to the farm to check on things with Dennis and his wife, Vicki. Still lots of snow and some deterioration. That maple is amazing. We always had a rope swing tied to the front branch and a tire swing on the other side. Dad had to use a ladder to hang the swing. He would wrap tar paper around the limb to protect is from the friction of the rope. You could go really high on that swing.

The snow covers the weeds.
Fourth is my memory drawing, done two weeks ago. I haven't seen the house in 30 years or any pictures to jar my memory. I know, I got the dormers all wrong and have too many windows, but this is what the house looked like to me when I was a youngster. I loved it best in the summer, mom's favorite time of the year. Everywhere was lush with color and the air was fragrant, other than the usual farm smells. In the back were pastures and fields of hay. Further behind was the woods, an amazing, wonderful place for wandering and discovering.

This drawing is of the house long before the front porches were enclosed. We sat on summer evenings on the downstairs porch to watch the rain and lightning. One summer was perfect according to dad. It was sunny and hot all day and by evening the rain watered the crops and brought cooler air in time for sleeping. The upstairs porch was a sleeping porch. Sometimes some of use would sleep out there to catch a cool breeze and we didn't have to worry about bugs, because they didn't seem to fly that high in the air.

Besides, the blueberry bush, there was an apple orchard and some grapevines as pictured along the right side of the house. The grapes never made jelly, because like the berries, children and birds ate the fruit as soon as it was ripe.We had gardens and so much fresh food. But the little eating areas in the yard were special.

My drawing of the farmhouse when I loved it best.
I didn't understand why mom was always making changes to the house. It seemed like she couldn't stop.  I liked it the way it was. But, now I get it. She put so much of her life into this house, her home. It is hard to let it be.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mom has new clock

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.

"You should see this clock," mom says during our phone conversation,Tuesday evening. "I don't know who gave it to me. It has great big numbers and some other stuff on it." She'd just asked me what time it was and as I checked, she answered herself, it was 8:51. Right I agreed and then she started talking about the clock. I told her she'd told me a couple of weeks ago that my sister Liz gave it to her. I knew that it also displayed the day and date, but asked her what the other "stuff" was.

"Aah, I don't know, I can't read it," She says. Does it tell you the day and date? "Yes, that is what it says. I couldn't make it out."

This part of our conversation occurred 50 minutes or so after we began talking. When she was feeling happier.

It was a different conversation, at first. She had been knocking on doors before I called. Looking for company, in her senior-adult complex. But, she says no one invited her inside. No one needed her company and she was lonely.

"They all have their own friends. They stay in (their apartments) and watch TV. When I first moved here there was always something going on, downstairs (in the community room). There was always someone to talk to and something to do. Now, I am a lot older than the rest of them and they don't want anything to do with me."

Bear in mind, she's lived in this apartment for a couple of years, not 20, so the age difference shouldn't  have changed that much. Also, it is tedious talking to mom. She is wrapped up in her own miserable circumstances. She will go on nonstop about her woes. Her dementia makes it worse. It is like listening to a broken record. I imagine her neighbors would rather watch TV than listen to the same complaints.

We've talked a couple of times since my last post, about her. For a while, it was tough to get her on a different subject. I needed to check with my brother Dennis and his wife Vicki on a few things she'd told me, to get the complete story.

She did have a bad fall a few weeks ago. At first she'd said she fell, but then talked about when she fell a couple of years ago. I am still not sure what happened, but she ended up with a black eye, a gash on her forehead and cut her hand up. This is what Dennis told me. Her glasses had to be replaced and her hearing aid was damaged.

She nearly fell again a few days ago, so Dennis has been making daily trips to her place to walk her dog and take her to get her hair done, because the slightly warmer weather has turned streets and sidewalks into sheets of ice.

Dennis has done a stellar job of taking care of mom. He is patient with her and faithful. He was glad for the new clock. Mom never remembers what day it is, or month. The time escapes her, too. The only problem is, she tinkers with it. He says every time he goes there, she's changed the time. He tells her to leave it as is, but she forgets to do that.

I did manage to cheer her up, during our recent visit. I brought up the time when I was sitting in the kitchen with a family friend, Chuck. Mom was at the sink doing something and started laughing over something we'd said. Neither of us thought we'd said anything funny. I asked mom what she was laughing about, but when she tried to tell us, she would  burst out laughing again. This went on for several minutes, until she had us uncontrollably laughing along with her -- even though we had no idea why or what was so funny.

Eventually, we were quieting down to giggles, when Dennis walked in and asked what was so funny. Well, that started the whole laugh session all over again. More stomach muscles were still aching the next day.

I told mom we never did find out what she thought was so funny, but that really didn't matter. This happened when I was in my 30's and mom in her 50's. She and I had our ups and downs. This is a memory, I will never forget.

Mom loved my telling her this story. I don't think she remembers that time, but she was laughing pretty hard, on the phone.

"See, you are good for me. You always remember something that reminds me we had a good life. We had good times. I am so grateful for your calls."

And when the new clock read 9:00, we said goodnight.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

A good remedy for procrastinating

Here is my blog post on Antsy Artist Redux, for today. I opted to put off doing tax paperwork to work on another project, I thought would be more fun. Read on ....

Social Media frenzy

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Happy (Chinese) New Year




Here is my post for today at antsyartist.com about my take and experiences regarding the Chinese New Year. Please note: the t-shirt in the photo is mentioned in the post as one my daughter gave me for my Chinese birth year zodiac symbol. It is always nice to celebrate two New Years' eves annually. Enjoy.

Chinese New Year and more



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mom is cleaning closets, again

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.

Last time we talked, the conversation was all about mom wanting to move into a different apartment. If only she could move to the front side of the complex where she could peer out at the street below and all of the activity, she and her dog would have more to do than be lonesome. That was then and cleaning out closets, dusting things she admits don't need dusting and house cleaning are her latest ways to fight the blues.

"I am going to clear out my closets, see what I have and what I should throw away," mom said, first thing when I called her Monday afternoon. "I want to dust off the things in my (china) cupboard. It has glass doors, so there shouldn't be any dust inside, but I want to check and make sure. Those things on the top shelf (collectibles) are going to be tough to reach. They took my step stool." I ask her who and why. "Liz (my sister) and them (no idea who)," she replies. Maybe they worry that you will fall and get hurt, I suggested. "Well, I may try to use a chair instead and fall, so that doesn't make sense." Why don't you have Dennis (my brother) get the things down, next time he comes by, so you can inspect and clean them and have him put them back? She agrees that is a good idea.

She says she is cleaning for something to do since she doesn't watch TV much anymore and spends a lot of time with nothing to do. She was an avid reader, but can only read large print books and doesn't seem to have a good source for them, right now. I listed off things I would do in my spare time, but she isn't into crafting or sewing or stuff I would do,so I wasn't much help.

I asked her if she'd done anything about her wish to move? Silence. I reminded her of our last conversation and how she wanted to exchange apartments for one on the front side of the complex. I asked if she'd talked to Liz and the complex management about it.

She blew me off, by talking again about cleaning her closets, which by the way, she did a couple of months ago.

After a few minutes, she must have remembered our conversation and explained that apartments get rented out as soon as someone moves out. That there is a waiting list and a lot of people want to move in there. She decided not to do anything, but stay put, since she has the biggest apartment in the complex, the one everyone wants and envies her for. Besides, she has a lot of heavy furniture and no one to help move it.

So, I guess she had been thinking it over. She listed about as many reasons for staying put as she had last week, for moving. I am a little surprised, because I was hoping to see her in a happier position than the one she is in now. Maybe, I was excited for her to make up her mind and move.

But then moving was something I always wanted to do, as a kid. Knowing that my dad finally worked himself into a position and profession where he had an offer to move to South America or another state, gave me itchy feet. I fantasized about our family in a different environment, making new friends. I know most kids hate being the outsider, moving to a new community. They never realized that at least to some of us, they were exotic. A new friend, maybe. With so many different experiences to tell me about. I wanted the chance to live in a different town or state and be the new kid.

However, there was no chance of that happening. Dad was born in the house we lived in. Except for WWII, he'd never lived anywhere else, but in that house. So, when he talked about an offer he had or his employer, Ralston Purina, had openings elsewhere, he quickly killed any possibilities by adding, "I was born in this house and I won't ever leave here."

And I know she would reason it out, along with him. I asked her once about it and she repeated his phrase. Though, I always felt that mom would have happily moved if he changed his mind. Wishful thinking on my part.

Even now, with dementia, her clearest recollections have to do with vacations and trips they'd taken. The places were always beautiful and interesting to her.  One of these days I will ask her if she ever wished she'd moved to one of those places. New England, down South. If she says no, I will think she is just saying that, in case dad is listening.

I am happy with my life today and for that reason, I am glad we didn't move when I was a child. But just think.

Of course, this is my interpretation because I wanted to move away. Far away. Now just one of her six children live nearby. The rest of us have settled hundreds, thousands of miles away from the area she calls home. It bothers her when she gets lonely. It irks her when it gets cold outside and she's left to battle the weather on her own. By summer, she will be busy again, just enjoying nice weather. Life is both simple and complex.

Mom went on for a half an hour, telling and retelling me the same things that annoy her. She told me she fell. At first she thought it happened recently, but after playing 20 questions, we determined she was talking about the fall she took quite a while back and not something due to the snow and ice. She told me about an unpleasant discussion she had with the complex manager. It is old news. Some days are foggier than others.

Marley, her dog started barking at someone in the parking lot. It turned out to be Dennis, so we said our goodbyes until our next phone conversation.

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, dear. Have a nice week."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mom wants to move

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.

Mom has itchy feet. Her apartment is plenty large enough with a large bedroom, lots of storage space and huge dining/living room area. Her living room window overlooks sports fields behind her complex that are a hive of activity with children and families during warmer seasons. She tells me about her place every time we talk on the phone. Her dog, Marley sits on her chair and watches the activity. Marley also likes to peer down at the parking lot to see who comes and goes.

So, you would think all is well, but not quite. It is the desolate months when the sports fields are covered with snow and the view is bleak, that makes mom's feet itch. She wants to move. Of course, she's been upset about not getting the chance to head south with the birds, for winter. Those conversations started last fall and her desperation increased as the temperatures dropped. By January she was more or less resigned to the fact that she would ride out the cold, snowy, icy days of winter, this year. She would make do, until spring.

Okay, but the feet, they still want to travel. And mom has a new quest.

First of all, I must say she's put together a great case for moving. She's lonely. She seldom (she says never) gets company. Only my brother Dennis and his wife Vicki. Dennis comes by to check on her prescriptions, to do her grocery shopping and to visit.  She has a woman who cleans for her, but all other times, it is just mom and Marley. She gave up TV watching because it is always, "the same old junk." There is too much space that she doesn't need or use, she says.

The apartment that is the envy of others who live in her complex because of its size and mom's treasured abode isn't quite so perfect, anymore. You see, it feels too big. The worst part for her is where her apartment is situated, away from the street, on the backside of the building. She longs to spend her apartment-bound hours gazing down on the street, watching traffic. If she had an apartment on the street side, she would be happy to watch children passing by, going to school or the library. She would be able to watch activities in the park that's across the street. She and Marley would feel much happier and not mind the loneliness so much, if she were to switch apartments.

Too bad she is using the argument on me (don't think she's shared it with my sister Liz who would be the one to help make that happen). Even worse she didn't didn't have her argument for moving thought out in time for what would have been a logical solution. Her neighbor across the hall moved out last month. That apartment is on the street side, was vacant and is next to the exit stairs which is good for taking Marley out for walks. She laid the whole thing out to me during a call earlier this week. She even brought it up, that she lost out because a new tenant already moved into that apartment.

I told her to discuss it with Liz and with the complex management. At least get on a list for the next time a street side apartment is available. The dementia makes it rough for her. She doesn't remember her conversations and has lost confidence in doing much for herself, like talking to the manager. Actually, she thinks the manager wants to kick her out because she has a dog, so she is reluctant to approach her about anything. And it is not exactly like she has a team of family members to help her move.

I hope something is done to help fill her time with things she likes to do and can do at her age.

"I am in my 80's," mom said the other day. "Oh no, what am I 90?" Yes, I replied. You will turn 91 next month. "No, not until March, Didn't winter just start?" she said. No about winter.Next month is March and it is almost Spring, I told her. To that she groaned about having another birthday.

Much of our conversations are her telling me the same things over and over. Most of the time, I can get her interested in something else, especially talk of old times. This week was rehashing stuff that makes her upset. At least we had her hopes of moving to discuss.

"Gotta run, mom. I'll call in a few days."

" You have a nice week, sweetheart."

"I love you, mom."

"I love you too, dear."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Paper Chaise Lounge: One who sings with his tongue on fire

Paper Chaise Lounge: One who sings with his tongue on fire: People have been looking for -- and sometimes finding -- meaning in Bob Dylan's song lyrics for more than 50 years. The fascination wi...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow is making mom cranky

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.

"Dammit, I'm old and I have dementia," was mom's response as soon as I called her at noontime, today. "Those children of mine don't realize how hard this weather is, on me. It is cold and we have a lot of snow. I am use to spending winters down south. That is where I should be. With them. But they don't care about me." (I am one of them, but she never remembers that.)

I told her I called because I was thinking about her and the groundhog. We discussed that it didn't matter whether he saw his shadow or not, expect six more weeks of winter. "I don't like that groundhog," she says. "He should stay in the ground."

She got back to her angry mood and went on to tell me she didn't get her Meals on Wheels lunch today and didn't have any food in her apartment. All of that was amended as our conversation went on. She told me she found a can of tomato soup that she warmed up and ate, and an Oreo cookie, which shouldn't have because she is diabetic, but figured the chocolate would give her strength. She says she doesn't often eat chocolate cookies, but has them around for times like these.

I asked her twice about not getting her lunch delivered and the second time she paused, thought about it and said it was delivered - earlier. I kept questioning her about not having any food, as we've had several discussions on why she needs to stock up in case of snowstorms like they had today. She said she had two slices of bread. I finally got her to check her fridge and cupboard, where she found a loaf of bread and some other staples and canned goods. I will check with my brother Dennis and I am sure she has food.

But, she was still steaming over being left in the cold. I hear the same litany about her taking care of grandkids and now this is the thanks she gets. She recounts all of the things she did for her parents and spending years taking care of dad's parents while raising her own family.

After she married and moved 20 to 25 miles away from her mom and dad, she would pay the mail truck driver a dollar for a ride to Bolivar, to visit her parents. (She counts those trips, even though they were just visits. )

That was all before I was born. She did spend a lot of time caring for her mom who was in a nursing home, when I was a teen, before grandma died.

She did spend many years taking care of dad's parents and they were both a hand full. She never had much play time during those years and now she wants more from her children. It is very complicated.

Well, I did get her into a better mood. We talked about snow days. I reminded her of how every April Fool's Day she would wake us for school and declare it was snowing or wasn't snowing. Once we were old enough, we always knew that on that day, the weather was opposite of whatever she said, Nice try mom.

"I always tried to fool you kids, before you got me,"

I talked about the many times the Allegheny River would rise and the bridge would be closed, so the school bus couldn't get kids who lived on the other side and we would all get the day off. I liked those days better then the snowed in ones.

Mom talked about the early thaws and how we would have flooding on the farm in the spring.

"I remember one time I had to wade through the water and get baby chicks out of the chicken coop and to safety," mom recalls. "I was a little scared of chickens and I had to go into the coop in my bare feet, walk on dirt and straw and chicken crap to round the chicks up. Then I had to bring them back to the house. I didn't like that at all."

I told her maybe my brother Len got that from her because he was afraid of the chickens. I reminded her of the capons dad raised for a while. Roosters that were shot full of steroids to plump them up for market. They were mean ugly birds and they would chase Len when he went to fill their water dishes.

"Animals are pretty smart," mom responded. "They sense things, so maybe they knew he was afraid. Or maybe when he started running the chickens were just following him."

That led to talking about how much she enjoyed  are children and how some of them were honor students. (Not me, but the three in the middle) She added, all of her kids did well in school. None of them ever got held back.

I decided to test my thoughts I discussed in my last blog. I asked her what time or part of her life she enjoyed the most. She went back and forth, not sure how to respond. I asked her how she felt about being a grandmother, with little grandchildren. She really perked up and yes, that was a very happy, memorable time in her life. she talked about the usual memories with some of the little ones and what it meant to her.

"I enjoyed them so much. They are around, now and I wish they were. But you have to let go." She sighs.

Mom turned her attention back to the snow and wind just outside her window. She worries that one of the three huge pine trees not far way may fall down in the wind and crash into her apartment. I said that pine trees are pretty strong and she probably wouldn't need to worry about that happening.

"You never know," she replies. "They are bending back and forth and the wind is strong, too. The tree could crash down and then what would they think. I could fall, too. Leave me here all winter."

I tell her not to worry. I remind her to follow my sister Liz's advice about taking her dog out for potty breaks. Take her out long enough for her to go and then come back inside. No long walks around the building when the sidewalks are slippery.

"I will, but sometimes it takes her (Marley the dog) a while before she goes and then her little feet get cold. Six more weeks? Darned ground hog."

"I love you, mom."

"I love you, too, dear."