Who Am I Now That She’s Gone?

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There are a lot of similarities between a small child and someone living with dementia. Specifically, frontotemporal degeneration. I remember so many of my mom’s odd quirks. Once, she poured her Coke into her glass of red wine. She drank it, much to my dismay. My toddler did something similar recently. She poured water into a bowl of hard boiled eggs then she mixed it around and ate it. I immediately thought of my mom. I can’t remember if I laughed or felt sad. Her disease caused her to mentally and emotionally regress… a real life Benjamin Button. I always thought having a young child would be, in some ways, easier than having a mother with dementia. In some ways it is: there’s so much more joy, more laughter, fewer tears. My toddler is also considerably lighter than my mother, and when she is upset or angry, I can actually pick her up and hold her… or relocate her. Something I wasn’t exactly able to do with mom (remember those times with her priest?). Lately though, I have been missing my mom; missing something about her… I can’t quite put my finger on the what. Maybe just her presence. Her scent…. I don’t know. I lost my mom, really, when I was in my 20s… I became the parent and she became the child. Before that, I was living in another city thousands of miles from home. I feel guilty about that. Maybe if I had stayed in Arizona, maybe I would have had more of those moments… precious moments that would have stuck with me, helped shape me into someone better that who I became. Instead, my memories are blurry… sometimes I’ll hear something or get a whiff of something and it’ll transport me to a particular time or place… but they’re few and far between. And sometimes I’ll dream about her. Those are the sweetest nights. I wish she came to me more often.

And then there are times when I can’t feel her at all. The loneliness is palpable.

I thought I would be relieved when my mom died. I was in most ways. I was glad she was no longer suffering in a broken down body. I was glad to put that chapter behind me and focus on my baby. I thought the hurt would fade away, too. Time does some neat tricks when it wants to, and frankly, I lost my mom a long time ago. But what I’m learning is that this kind of loss sticks with you. I know it has changed me. And I don’t know if it’s for the better. The final years were incredibly brutal and how one recovers from such a trauma is beyond me. To wallow in it would be selfish and indulgent, though there are days where I wish I could stew in it. So I try to keep going. I hate when things become stagnant. When that happens I desperately seek change. Is this blog, is the work that I do to share our story stagnant? I mean what else is there to say? Is it — this — the anchor holding me down or the means to truly let go. I have no idea what any of it means or if it means anything at all. I guess the truth is I don’t know who I am anymore now that she is gone.

That’s a little lonely, too.

 

They Keep Saying She’s Dying … Or Waiting Around for Death

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The sky started rumbling. A storm was coming in from the north. There was wind, thunder and lightening. I hoped it would rain. But it never rains anymore. Then I thought about my mom. I wondered if God was coming for her and this was his grand entrance. As I stood over my kitchen sink washing baby bottles, I decided to go sit with her — just in case. It was 7:45 p.m.

My mom was sound asleep. She hadn’t eaten dinner. She hasn’t eaten in days, really. Earlier that day, I gave her a few drops of water, which was a mistake. She started choking. I got up from my chair, ran out and grabbed a nurse. They used a swab to try and absorb the remaining water. It was upsetting to watch, but, then, that’s what happens when you’re dying, I suppose. You lose your ability to swallow. I still can’t believe this is happening. Everyone says it is. I keep asking the nurses if they think she’s dying … just waiting for the one nurse to say, “Nope. She’s definitely going to bounce back from this, too.”

Now, here I was, back at her bedside.  I needed to talk to my mom … really talk to her. Something I have had a hard time doing … she has been mostly unresponsive for a very long time. How do you talk to a body? A body that rarely emotes, except to scream out; a body that takes and is incapable of giving because of a wretched disease. Eventually, you just stop. The silence is more comfortable. It’s safer. The words felt artificial after a while.

I don’t know why I’m having such a tough time accepting that this is (probably) the end of our story. I think I’ve been very realistic about our entire journey. Maybe too realistic, in fact. I’ve had moments where I’d step back and wonder, “am I too detached from what’s happening to my mother?” Have I shut off certain emotions in the name of self-preservation? I suppose, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The one thing I can accept is that we’re all going to die. That’s how every story ends. And yet, as a species, we have an incredible knack for wasting every precious second on petty bullshit … bullshit that no one will care about in 5, 10, 20, 100 years.

Or even right this second.

And who wants their headstone to read: Here lies YOU. You wasted your life being angry, being sad, being resentful, being vindictive, being ridiculous, and now you are dead. The end. 

So here I am waiting. And learning. And remembering. I am (probably) watching death hover over my mother. In some ways, it’s a blessing. A blessing that soon she’ll (probably) be at peace. And a blessing for me … it serves as a reminder that we have this one life, and anything can happen. Death is democratic. So is dementia. It doesn’t care if you’re white or black, a Democrat or a Republican. It doesn’t care if you’re Jewish or Muslim or Christian. It just doesn’t care. That’s not its job.

And now I need two Advil.

 

Hey God, She’s Dying. Where Are You?

I’m still coming to terms with the idea that my mom is dying. It hardly seems possible. I mean, I knew, eventually, she would die. But death felt faraway. It still feels far away. If she is dying, it’ll take time. My mom was in OK shape, physically, before her sudden decline; she was decently hydrated, and like I said, the woman has a knack from coming back from the brink. She’s done it before. Why couldn’t she do it again? Never mind the fact that she hasn’t really eaten in six days … just a few bites of sorbet and sips of water through a plastic pipette.

It doesn’t feel like she’s dying. I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to sit by her bedside until she finally passes away. Maybe I should, but what is the point? Nothing is happening. She’s lying there, corpse-like. Sometimes her eyes will open, and then she’ll fall asleep again — eyes still open. I can tell she’s sleeping because she starts snoring. I don’t know what to do with myself, so I squeeze out a large dollop of citrus-ginger scented hand lotion and quietly massage her arms and hands. I say a few prayers, tell her it’s OK to leave this world. And then I shake my fist at God.

Really, you’re going to drag this out to the bitter end, huh? 

It has been ten years — give or take — since I noticed something was wrong with my mother. That’s more than 3,000 days. And here we are. Waiting. Waiting on Him. He must be Latin, just like us… we’re always late.

My mother’s family is very religious. Everyone is praying for her. And if they’re not praying for her, they’re thinking of her. There are a lot of thoughts and prayers are floating around … “You’re in my thoughts,” “Recite this prayer,” “Tell her we love her.” I’ve also been told that God will take her when he’s ready. I realize he’s very busy these days, what with mankind slaughtering one another (in His name), but surely he can move her up the list… I see it sort of like a transplant list. He’s transplanting her from Earth to Heaven. But this dilly-daddling is total bullshit. I find it difficult to believe in a loving, kind God when a) he takes his time escorting her through the pearly gates of heaven and b) this is how he saw fit to treat her these last ten years. With a terribly grotesque disease that has rotted out her brain. My mother who devoted herself to her church and to God. Frankly, I’m surprised the woman never became a nun. A life of prayer would have suited her, I think.

So here we are waiting. Waiting for her to bounce back and resume a life of nothing or waiting for her to die. Peacefully, I hope. And in a timely fashion.

So, She’s Dying

It was 7:30p.m. last Thursday when I called my mom’s doctor. “I think she’s dying,” she said. I was sort of stunned. I’ve been waiting to hear these words for a very long time. I don’t remember exactly what came out of my mouth. At that point, my mom hadn’t eaten for three days. She had a fever, too. The doctor didn’t know exactly what was wrong. She thought it was something viral, a stomach bug. A few days before, she was vomiting and had diarrhea. I told her that I didn’t want to treat for anything. I just wanted her to be comfortable as possible. Random feelings started bubbling up… guilt (who prays to receive such a phone call?), relief (finally, this has gone on long enough), sadness (my mother is dying) and more guilt (did I do enough?). And then, I felt fear. Fear that she would rebound. That this was just another false alarm. My mother has been close to the brink before, only to come back. She’s like the Terminator.

I spent most of yesterday with my mother. She was so weak, frail. But her skin was soft and smooth. I kept rubbing her her forearm. I don’t think I’ve ever felt skin so soft. I held her hand. I told her it was ok to go. That things here would be fine. I prayed the Our Father in Spanish (I cheated and used my phone. I had forgotten the words). I showed her videos of her granddaughter. Throughout the day I gave her water using a dropper. I left when she fell asleep. Ativan is good like that.

 

Parenting Versus Reverse Parenting Or A Tale of Pureed Foods

When it comes to parenthood, there are moments that stick out. Moments where you think, “OK, I need to mentally bookmark this blip in time because it’s special.” I have those moments from time to time with my daughter. I also have other moments … moments where I think, “Huh, I’ve done this before.” Like the ti
me I fed my daughter solid food for the first (and second and third and fourth) time. It reminded me of the many times I sat and spoon-fed my own mother. On the one hand, the idea makes me sad; on the other hand, from a practical standpoint, I know that I need to carve out some time — regardless if I’m feeding my mom or my child.

That moment was one of a handful of other “moments” that I’ve experienced over the past six months. Yes, it’s are different. There’s certainly much more joy attached to the act of feeding my baby. And I must say, dealing with poop is a real pleasure when the pooper is a tiny bundle and not a full-grown woman who, at one time, was very stubborn and rather difficult due to her behaviors … a very common thing among folks with frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

Still, it’s a little surreal.

My mom’s dementia is a little bit like that movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Over the years, she’s regressed, considerably, from adult, to teen, to child, to (very difficult) toddler to infant. Today, she can’t walk; she can’t talk, and, right now, her food looks like the same pureed mush my daughter eats. Only fancier. In some ways, the two are like ships passing in the night…………. developmentally………… they’re both in diapers, they both eat the same type of food, they’re both non-verbal and both require full-time care.

But then, that’s what this disease does, it robs you and your family of possibility. And sometimes it robs you of hope.

A baby, on the other hand, gives you hope; in a child there’s possibility. There’s a future.

For me, there will always be moments, especially, when there are challenges….. like when my baby is a toddler and decides to create a scene. In public. I’ve been there with my mom…… same-same, but different.

I’m not sure if any of this makes me sad or if I’m sort of numb to it all. I think after a while, one becomes very good at detachment. It’s a survival thing. Detachment from emotions that might otherwise leave you in a depressed state for the rest of your life is probably a very healthy skill to develop when caring for someone with frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease…

They’re there, but not really.

They’re alive, but they just stare.

They take and take and take, and, yet, give absolutely nothing back.

At least, with my daughter, while she takes, she also gives. That’s a wonderful thing. Because when life steals from you, to have a little person come into your world and fill your heart, well, that’s kind of a miracle.

Want To Help Someone Who Is an Alzheimer’s Caregiver? Here Are Some Tips

Dealing with my mom was especially difficult, mostly because of the lack of help. Unfortunately, due to of her type of dementia — frontotemporal dementia — it was almost impossible to ask for help because of her behaviors. In hindsight, I suppose, there were small things that could have been done to help lighten the load. The thing is, when you’re in the thick of this kind of caregiving, you are the one who is often sidelined……………………………… you become a prisoner to your loved one and your home. You don’t have time to reach out, check in and let friends and family know that you’re OK.

Caregiving is about survival. It’s about getting through the day (and, sometimes, the night). It’s exhausting work. And here’s the proof: According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $220 BILLION.

So if you know someone who is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia (like FTD), do something. They probably could use a helping hand from time to time, but don’t expect them to call you.

If you are, then you’re kind of being a jerk because it’s not about you. At all.

I found this article by Marie Marley on the Huffington Post blog. It speaks to this issue, and gives you — the friends and family of that person caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia — ideas as to how you can help.

By Marie Marley
Originally appeared on the Huffington Post blog

Nancy is the primary caregiver for her husband, George, who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. It’s exhausting work. She’s on call 24/7 and often feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities, which seem never ending. After four years of this, she’s burned out. She doesn’t have any time to herself and is neglecting her own health. Furthermore, her heart is broken as she watches George’s memory and functioning steadily decline a little at a time.

Sally — Nancy’s best friend — stands by and watches as Nancy becomes more worn out by the day. Sally would like to help but she doesn’t have any idea what to do. Every time she asks Nancy how she can help, Nancy just says, “There’s really nothing you can do.” Sally takes this at face value and after a while stops asking.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15.5 million people are serving as caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s, providing over 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care every year. Carrying out their duties has a negative effect on their physical and mental health. (See my previous article, Alzheimer’s Caregiving May Be Wrecking Your Health, for more details about the impact of caregiving — especially taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s.)

These people desperately need all the assistance they can get. It will help them preserve their own well-being. It will also help them improve their caregiving since no one can be a good caregiver if they’re burned out all the time.

With so many people being Alzheimer’s caregivers, chances are good that you know one – either a friend, relative or neighbor. And chances are that you’d like to help, but like Sally, you simply don’t know how.

Many Alzheimer’s caregivers are deeply dedicated and feel like they should be able to “do it all,” and they are often so burned out they can’t even imagine how anyone could assist them. In addition, they may be reluctant to ask for help because they don’t want to impose upon people and because they’re afraid people will refuse to help.

So if you really want to be of service, instead of just saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” you may need to figure it out yourself and volunteer for a specific task(s).

Here are but a few things you can select from:

1. Help clean the house
2. Take over extras from a meal you’ve cooked for your family
3. Do the laundry
4. Do the grocery shopping
5. Pick up medicines from the pharmacy
6. Volunteer to run other specific errands
7. Mow the lawn and/or do other yard work (assuming the person doesn’t use a lawn service)
8. Visit and just let the person talk about feelings 
9. Drive the person with Alzheimer’s to their daycare center (if they’re going to daycare)
10. Take the person with Alzheimer’s to the doctor
11. Take the person with Alzheimer’s out for a drive
12. Look after the person with Alzheimer’s in your home for a few hours

With a little thought you can certainly come up with additional tasks. Items 9 – 12 are especially important because they will give caregivers some badly-needed time alone to rest and recharge their batteries. But whatever you select, try to be specific and try to volunteer to do it on an ongoing basis. Make sure you will be able to continue your help before you make a commitment.

I can tell you from my personal experience as an Alzheimer’s caregiver for seven years that anything you do will indeed be most helpful. I had no assistance and furthermore, I didn’t even ask my friends to do anything for me. I only wish I’d read an article like this one back when I was a caregiver. It could have made a big difference in my daily life, and would have significantly reduced my stress. It also could have prevented my health from deteriorating as much as it did.

So the next time you see someone you care about serving as an Alzheimer’s caregiver, consult this list, or come up with a task(s) on your own, and simply announce to the person that you are going to do it and tell them when you’re going to start. He or she will probably be greatly appreciative, even if initially hesitant to ask for your support.

Can anyone think of other specific things that could be done to help an Alzheimer’s caregiver?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.

Happy Mother’s Day… Two Weeks Late. Whatever.

Me & Mom
Me & Mom

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. It’ll be two weeks this Sunday. I think. OK, so I’m totally late to the game here. I wanted to write about it; but for me, the day was just another day. Sort of. It was my first Mother’s Day. It was my Mother’s 37th Mother’s Day. She was probably aware of maybe 30 Mother’s Days, give or take …………………………………………… who knows. It’s hard to say. Still, for a long time, Mother’s Day hasn’t meant that much to me.

(if your mother had no idea what day it is, you too might find it really hard to go all out on her behalf; I mean, at that point, it’s more about you, not about her. It feels cheap, even forced. At least that’s how it felt to me.)

After my mom started forgetting things like Mother’s Day, I stopped paying attention to the day. Besides being hurtful, the day is over the top and absurd. I mean, let’s be honest here, if you are so inclined to thank your mother because it’s Mother’s Day, you’re a) thanking your mother for doing her job. b) it’s a little self-congratulatory; moms you signed up for this; and c) maybe you should start thanking your mother on a daily basis.

By the way, C is free advice.

That said, I suppose this Mother’s Day was different. I’m now someone’s mother. I received my first Mother’s Day cards. People reached out to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. Still, it was all very foreign to me. And yet, despite the lovely sentiments, I managed to remain mostly indifferent about it. OK, I managed to ignore (or rather, avoid) the day (and what it means) to the best of my abilities. I didn’t want to feel anything. Because maybe if I actually felt something, if I let the day mean something to me, it would have been a betrayal……………………………………… to my own mother.

I think next year will be different. Two weeks ago, it was just too much to process. Too much to take in. Just another reminder of the past; the horrible, horrifying past.

You see, when I sit down and think about the last ten years and process the loss, the sadness, the disappointments, the grief, the frustrations, the letdowns …………………………………………… to inhale that kind of pain…………………………… I think few people get it. Watching your mother endure this kind of agony, watching your mother pound on glass inside a looney bin………… witnessing horror after horror………………………………… this endless agony, it does something to you; it alters your DNA.

 

Huffington Post Interview

huffpostKathy Ritchie’s mother is living, yet she is mourned for her loss of self. She suffers from dementia.

Ritchie, founder of the blog My Demented Mom, visited HuffPost Live to discuss the disease affecting five million Americans and her personal struggles with her own mom’s diagnosis.

“It is painful, it is a trauma,” she told host Nancy Redd of the crippling disorder. “I have been grieving my mother for a very, very long time.” Ritchie recalled seeing her mother in terrible states, heavily medicated with antipsychotic drugs. The woman was not the mother she knew, and not the grandmother she wanted her newborn daughter to remember. “It’s hard to talk about,” she said. “She was just a really good person.”

Ritchie’s blog opens the discussion to others faced with similar caregiving demands, but it also helps her cope and push forward, knowing her daughter will one day read about her efforts. “The blog captures so many moments and I want her to know the kind of woman her grandma was and what I did for my mother,” she said.

To watch the full segment, click Here.

We’re Young, We’re Poor, & We Need a Cure. Our Lives Depend on It

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.42.56 PMAs I write this blog, I’m trolling Twitter. Just seeing what’s out there in the way of caregiver support, resources, news, etc, etc, etc. Turns out, there’s a lot shaking in our world. A quick scroll on my feed shows Tweets about everything from incontinence and nursing homes to tips on how to be an organized caregiver (“organized” and “caregiver:” two words that don’t really go together). Lots of information. Some of it useful; most of it scary.

(No, you don’t and won’t have enough money to grow old).

While you’ll absolutely find information about caregiving or being a caregiver, much of what’s out there is geared towards Baby Boomers… because let’s face it, Baby Boomers are a hot commodity right now.

Why? They’re rich and they’re going to get sick.

As for the under 40 set, well, we’re sort of preoccupied with paying off our student loans, buying our first home (or drowning in it, as the case may be), finding our dream job, finding Mr. or Ms. Right, making babies, having babies and/or getting divorced.

You know what else we’re doing? We’re NOT saving. Saving for the day we develop a long term illness like dementia.

That said, we’re about as undesirable as they come. And you should be pissed off about that. After all, we’re not safe from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias… there are no cures, no means of prevention. NADA.

Still not convinced? Just Google, “Alzheimer’s and 2050.”

This is the quiet before the Tsunami.

Here are a few things you should know:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is just one of several types of dementias (my mom has frontotemporal dementia).
  • HIV/AIDS was once considered a death sentence; today it’s a “manageable disease.” That’s because a lot of money was thrown into the research bucket and antiviral drugs were developed.
  • Medicare will NOT pay for nursing home/assisted living care.
  • You can’t afford to grow old. According to Genworth’s 2012 Cost of Care Survey, which I found in an online article on Next Avenue,  “one year of long-term care ranges from $39,600 for an assisted living facility to $81,030 for a private room in a nursing home.” (source: Next Avenue; Genworth)
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. (source: 2012 Alzheimer’s Association, Facts & Figures report)
  • Have you ever changed an adult’s diaper? More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  (source: 2012 Alzheimer’s Association, Facts & Figures report)
  • In 2012, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias to American society will total an estimated $200 billion, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. Unless something is done, the care costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will soar from $200 billion to a projected $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by 2050.  (source: 2012 Alzheimer’s Association, Facts & Figures report)

What can you (reasonably) do?

Here’s the myth: Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are diseases old people get. Here’s the truth: People in their 30s, 40s and 50s are developing dementia. Here’s the other truth: This disease will touch your life one day, if it hasn’t already.

Dementia is not an old person’s disease.

2/6/13: Me & Mom

photoWe held hands and she fell asleep. Sometimes, all it takes is touch… a touch that lets you know, you’re not alone on this journey.

Dear Stress, We Should See Other People…

Dear stress...

Reverse Empty Nest Syndrome

http://www.flickr.com/photos/run_dorkas_run/When I walked into the front door of my mother’s home, a little over two weeks had past since my last visit. Because of the influenza epidemic that turned Arizona bright red on the “flu view” map of the U.S., the home issued an edict banning practically all visits until it subsided. They told me that if I was healthy, I could check in on her as long as I wore a mask and doused my hands in sanitizer……………………………. I think they felt sorry for me. I sounded completely lost when they called to say no visitors: “Oh. How long? Really? I, mean, I’m fine. Can’t I just check in on her once in a while? I just worry.”

Unfortunately, my own immune system was obliterated not 24 hours after the ban was put in place.

Great timing.

Before this, the longest I had gone without seeing my mom was, maybe, 48 hours……………. When she spent time at the geriatric psych ward last February, I was told I had to wait for her to be assessed.

Torture.

Letting go is not my thing.

This time, I was too sick to get out of bed. Too sick to get in my car. Too sick to feign good health just so I could see her. I really missed my mom. I felt empty. Alone, really. Even though my mother can’t talk to me, her presence, while it makes me sad on the one hand, also gives me comfort. Of course, in some ways, this is what it’ll be like when she’s actually gone, and if this is a sign of things to come, it won’t be the relief I’m so desperately seeking.

Life without stressing over her wellbeing, her care, getting kicked out, her flooded diapers, if she’s in pain, Medicaid, finances………………………….

I feel physically, emotionally and mentally sick. I am physically, emotionally and mentally sick. Who am I kidding? Sure, this might be the flu, but it’s also years of fighting the disease that has consumed both my mother and my father.

I don’t expect either parent to be alive when I turn 40. That’s four years from now.

A reverse empty nest.

Last Monday, despite the ban, I decided to visit my mom. They said I could. I walked in expecting to be turned away. The thing is, I was really worried about her finger nails. What if they cut her nails too short or what if they didn’t cut them at all and she snagged her nail on something? What if she has a painful hang-nail? I brought my clippers.

I am perpetually drowning in the minutiae.

***

“Hey Patty, I know there’s the ban, but can I please see my mom? I’m not sick anymore.” 

“Hi Kathy, Sure. How are you feeling?” 

“I’m OK. I just miss my mom is all.”

“I know. I would feel the same way. I’ll give you a mask; just be sure to use the hand sanitizer.”

“Should I leave my bag here?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary.”

My mom’s asleep. Her head is hanging to the right like a rag doll. I take a black sweatshirt, fold it up and tuck it beneath her neck. The room is warm and  her radio is playing NPR. Aside from her crooked neck, she looks comfortable. I place my bag on the console nearby and plop down on the arm of her beige pleather chair. She finally wakes up, turns her head and stares at me. I smile. Of course, she can’t see my smile… I’m wearing a blue surgical mask that sits awkwardly on my nose. I squeeze the metal band on the nose in hopes of it fitting a little better (don’t these things come in small?)……………. UGH, now my glasses are fogging up. I consider taking the mask off… just so she can see who I am. What if she forgot who I am? It’s been over two weeks? I decide against removing the mask. Instead, I take her hand and hold it. She can’t really hold my hand; her brain isn’t firing off a signal that would tell her fingers to wrap around my hand.

A few seconds pass and she starts yelling.

“It’s me! Your daughter! I love you.”  She’s either horrified by my presence or saying hello.

Hard to tell.

Mom’s roommate is in the room. I’ll call her Margie, though that’s not her real name.

“Hey Margie, how are you? Have you been taking care of my mom?”

“Oh, sure.”

I don’t want to stay too long, it’s already 9:00 a.m. and I’m late for work. I rub mom’s head until she falls asleep again……………………………. I look at Margie and ask her to take care of my mom.

She obliges, of course.

I walk outside, talk with some of the caregivers, get in my car and drive to the office.

Just your typical Monday morning.

>>Flickr pic by Run Dorkas Run

You’re Not In This Alone

2

The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline provides information and support to all those who HELP! Call TOLL-FREE anytime day or night at 1.800.272.3900

Life After My Demented Mom or A New Year: Time To Think On Death

Clock Work / martinak15
Clock Work / martinak15

It’s another year.

And I am trying to be optimistic about 2013 — optimism is not my strong suit — mostly because, at this point (knock on wood…… the gods can be very cruel), the worst thing that could happen is that she finally passes away………………….

She must be close. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She yells. When she’s not yelling, she sleeps.

I’ve been thinking more about death and dying. What will it be like when she sips her last breath? Will I feel her soul leave her body? Will she die in her sleep? If she dies in her sleep, will something wake me up? Will I feel her departure? Or, will her organs slowly shut down? When will I finally hear the words, “she’s actively dying?”

My lovely yoga teacher Lea suggested I read The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s not what you think. This isn’t some exercise in the macabre. I just want to be ready. To use Lea’s words, I want to “hold the space” when that time comes. I want to be with my mom when she’s “actively dying.” I want to hold the space. I want to help guide her on her journey to wherever she goes.

(She is a saint and, no doubt, will live in paradise)

I want to make her passing as peaceful as possible.

For her.

For me.

And then  my life will start over again.

Who am I without My Demented Mom?

There’s a lot to contemplate in 2013.

>>Flickr pic by martinak15

Sometimes, the Sharpie is Mightier than the Sword … A Caregiver’s Sidekick

Purple Sharpie…. for added whimsy

The days are finally cooling off following a blistering summer, and now it’s time to get mom ready for the chillier a.m. temps. Another blanket…. it’ll probably get lost, like they always do…….. still, I label — like an obsessed madwoman, I label everything, leaving little room for mix-ups, even though mix-ups occur and often. I have decided that it might be a good idea to invest in Sharpie stock………………. if you have a loved one in a nursing or assisted living home, you know what I mean. I can’t tell you how many Sharpies I’ve gone through, labeling my mother’s clothes, only to see them on the back of another resident. It happens. Just let it go. Keep on labeling. Indeed, it’s what we do. Yes, it’s just one intsy-wintsy aspect of what we do, but, truly, spend 30 minutes Sharpie-ing clothes, blankets, shoes and you’ll quickly realize, that’s 30 minutes of your life — wasted……………………………. plus the unintended high (or headache) from inhaling Sharpie fumes. I have lots of Sharpies. Frankly, I think the Alzheimer’s Association should sell purple Sharpies since we all need Sharpies…………. what a great way to raise money — I mean, they would make such fantastic stocking stuffers…………… and with the increased number of people set to develop the disease, well, Sharpies are certainly going to be in demand. Sharpie probably has no idea how valuable their product is to caregivers……………………. and really, they ought to donated $$$$ to the Alzheimer’s Association and/or other organizations around the globe that are committed to finding an effective treatment……………….after all, we’re a unique segment of Sharpie’s business, help a sister out!

When I buy a Sharpie, I buy it for color — will it show up on her clothes or a thick blanket? — and girth. I like thicker Sharpies. They get the job done more efficiently as you can see by the above photograph, plus it holds up when washed repeatedly. Of course, when I’m feeling fabulous, I opt for silver……………….. unfortunately, it doesn’t always show up so well, nor does it hold up following multiple washings, but it just feels magical. I know what your thinking, but hush. It’s my silver lining. Let’s face it, there is no happy ending at the end of this grim fairy tale, no light at the end of the tunnel…………………………. nothing……………………. but this grotesque disease……………. and if all it takes is a silver Sharpie to please me, so be it.

And besides, our days our numbered. My mom has a chest cold with a mucousy cough……….. I don’t know if it’ll get worse.

What I do know is that nature will take its course………………………. her maker will decide what happens next.