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."

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