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."

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