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."