Bad daughter by Tracy

Yesterday afternoon I was a bad daughter. Selfish. I dared to just peek through the stained glass to see if there was movement, making sure I wasn’t seen until I could analyze the situation. Her whereabouts, her agitation, her sadness, her mood. Stained glass isn’t known for its transparency – I’ll have to step around.

Breathing a sigh of relief when I noticed she was snoring softly in her comfy chair and not wanting to wake her to avoid an emotional visit, my husband and I crept in and sat down. I observed her for a few minutes while my husband quickly tuned into the sports channel that was on.

I paused a minute thinking, “Sports? She doesn’t like sports. Turn the channel!” Then I remembered that her beloved show “Murdoch” had her thinking there were murderers running around and people trying to poison her and we had to avoid that. Then the not-so-benign Weather Channel had her worrying anxiously about hurricanes, tornadoes and snow storms. Maybe the Sports Channel would be the best – but hockey was kind of rough, boxing definitely violent, skeet shooting has guns – let’s hope there is a lot of golf!! Golf is benign. I hope.

I decide to move around a bit and water her plants which were looking quite dry.

If she doesn’t wake with this movement, then we would bolt, I determined. Once that was done and my husband was wheeling around the room in her wheelchair (do boys ever stop playing?!) she still hadn’t ceased her soft snores.

I gave my husband “the look” (we had hoped for this scenario in the car and planned a quick escape) and we took off, feeling guilty for not waking her for a visit but feeling like we escaped a bullet. I consoled myself with many thoughts as we made our way out – she has a very hard time waking up and it takes a lot of time and effort; she needs her sleep; she looks so peaceful (no mumbling or agitated movements), the aides will wake her for supper soon and lastly – she won’t remember if we were there or not. Maybe she will know I was there because I left a magazine about the royal couple and new baby. Hopeful thought, but unlikely she’ll even realize it was a new magazine.

It is far more likely that she will be looking for her own baby later that night.

What a bad daughter I am.

I determine I’ll visit her the next day. Better start psyching myself up now. Why is it that my heart aches and tears are falling from my eyes?


Jail Birds

“Quick! Let’s go!” my mom says moments after I arrive. Oh no, I thought. She wants to go home. How will I dissuade her this time?

“Mom, we’re not going anywhere. I am here to visit with you.”

The care worker attempts to get my mom settled back in her chair. “See, Evelyn, your daughter is here to see you.”

“I’m the daughter!!” she says indignantly. We share a chuckle over her head as we settle her into another chair.

“Yes, you are a daughter, but I am your daughter.” I remind her.

Clearly agitated, she gets back up and out of her chair and begins to walk around. I coax her back to her chair so we can visit. She begins to talk non-stop punctuated by agitated movements. This continues for quite some time.

The conversation (or monologue, I should say) goes something like this:

“Are there babies under that, uh, um, bbddtubbb ______ on the bed? The dog – on the fridge, uh, has to go for walk – where uh, ggubdd – man with the  uhhhhh – gbder – Let’s go! We gotta get out of here or they – the uh uhm  nnurge will be mad. Cream in the car babies are crying.”

I break in and ask “who will be mad?”

“The van is behind the hospital. Go get it. I hope you don’t go to jail, too. They’re not g4gjrjeiw be happy.”

Me: “Why will they be mad, mom?”

“I took the cart, I stole it. We gotta go.” She gets up again. Again I ask her where she’s going and that we weren’t going to leave. This is her home.

After watching her move about the room, moving things and replacing them, I suggest we go down to the dining room.

“Oh no! We can’t go down there! Those people will put me in jail.”

I reassure her that no-one is going to put her in jail, that it is supper time and I will walk down with her. After much laboured walking and her typical holding onto the walker too far ahead of herself and nearly falling several times, we almost make it down the hall. Just when I see her spot at the table and think we are nearly home free and surprise, surprise, no-one has put her in jail, she says:

“Do they need these boards?” pointing to the floor boards. “We could pull them up and go underneath the dining room before they put us in jail!”

Oh, please. If only I could.


Flap, flap, flap

The Care Home my mom is living in is very quiet and peaceful for the most part. While sitting in my mom’s room, you really don’t hear much at all. You may occasionally hear voices or the clunk clunk of walkers, but you don’t hear the typical hospital sounds such as the incessant beeping of monitors, clatter of meal trays, nurses, doctors and aides talking as they walk down the hall.

But there is definitely one sound you do hear. Flap, flap, flap of soft soled slippers treading up and down the hall. One thing that Alzheimer’s patients do is shuffle their feet. They rarely take large steps, firm and steady. Their steps are more tentative and quaky. You can’t get away from the shuffle of the slippers. My mom’s next door neighbour, Nick, is a constant walker. He is searching for someone or some place he cannot find, a memory of a different time or a loved one he has lost. He seems destined to wander indefinitely because one thing that Alzheimer’s patient’s have in common is they don’t remember when wanted. Memories may pop up surprisingly vivid, but lost again the next minute. I often wonder – how is it they remember to search for something they can’t find? Is there an ingrained knowledge or knowing that compels them to keep looking or to keep asking the same thing over and over? Is there an importance or a fear attached to the need to find the person or thing? It can’t be importance, because then they would remember their loved ones. Perhaps fear is more compelling than love? I wonder.

Alas, I am off topic and my lighter dialogue went deeper than intended.

Back to the flop, flop, flop of slippers. In the quiet stillness I hear Nick walking around, and being the curious sort I am, I went to sit outside my mom’s room in the “sun room” to watch where he was going. He began walking down the hallway towards his room, went inside and did several laps of his room. Then he came out, hand on the handrail and walked to the next doorway where he stopped and turned to face the wall. Then he continued walking in the same spot for at least 4 minutes. So weird and just a little freaky. Then he turns back, walks into his room again. I quickly got up and went back into my mom’s room as I continued to hear the flap, flap, flap of his slippers circling his room.

Mom was thirsty so I said I would go and get her a drink. I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to help myself to a glass of juice for her and no aide or nurse was around to ask so I went ahead and poured herself a glass of apple juice. But I felt a little guilty and turned to see several pairs of eyes watching me warily. (I now know I can turn a head – at least in a senior’s home lol.) I smiled and said hello to each of them and then beat it back to mom’s room. As I am nervously making my way down the hall, I pass a doorway and see a woman standing there just watching me approach and walk past. I say “Hello” but she doesn’t even respond. Her head swivels as I go by and her eyes are kind of vacant. A shiver goes down my back. Then I hear flap, flap, flap. It’s only Nick I tell myself. But the flap, flap, flaps pick up pace and my heart beat begins to match it. I can’t look behind me – I’m frozen in my forward motion. The apple juice sloshed over my hand as I jolt a little and pick up my pace even more. The flop, flop, flop has begun moving even faster. I reach the end of the hall before I turn left to my mom’s room. I have to know – do I have to lock the door once I get there? I’m starting to breathe heavier, whether it’s the fast pace for this unfit body or the fear of finding any number of horrors behind me, I don’t know. I begin to turn the corner and cast a quick look over my left shoulder and there was Nick. At the far end of the hall. He is walking intently, his slippers flap, flap, flapping quickly as he makes no progress at all. Sigh. I should have known, but there’s sometimes something a little creepy about this place filled with old souls all lost and searching and unhappy, locked in this world they don’t understand and don’t feel safe in.

Breathing more easily I enter my mom’s room and hand her the glass of juice. She takes a sip and quickly spits it back in her glass. “It’s poisoned!” she says with distrust. Inwardly I sigh. I just solved the mystery of the flapping slippers – now poisoned juice? There is seldom a dull moment when visiting my mom.

A Busy Mind

One thing I am quite surprised about is the number of thoughts my mother shares in a short time period. Sometimes she will sit quietly or she will eat quietly but then there are other times that she is clearly thinking constantly. Today was one of those jumbled thought-following-thought monologue that she often uses to communicate.

The thoughts go something like this: “These people are terrible here! They won’t help you and they won’t give you a ride even though you ask them. No one will be your friend. You ask them and they say “No, we won’t be your friend.” I went to visit Queenie today (passed on over 20 years ago) but I don’t know, They wanted me to go some place to buy some thing but I said ‘no, I can’t do that today.” They don’t feed you around here and when they do it might be poisoned. There’s murder going on around here! I don’t know who, but there is. They are terrible. Things have really changed around here (what – in the 1 month you’ve been here?) Ever since those little children drowned in the States the other day. (Who said ‘squirrel!!’) I said I had to go to work but no one would take me. I never get to choose what to eat.” I said, “It must be nice to have someone cook for you so you don’t have to cook at home!” “Not for me it isn’t!!” That little bit of dialogue about cooking was one of the few turn taking parts to the conversation. She just wants to talk and she seems to resent my questions or expressions of concern. A listening ear I will be. The negativity can be a bit overwhelming, though. I left feeling more than a little sad and discouraged. She isn’t able to hear my own concerns or understand my stories. That mothering role has been lost.

If I ever wondered if the window she sees through is a simple, cloudy pane of glass I now know it can sometimes be more like a tapestry of carefully shaped and vibrant colours of a stained glass work of art. I may not understand how the pieces fit together and maybe it doesn’t even matter if they do. They are the rich memories and experiences she has lived all the years of her life and they are hers to remember. How they come bubbling through the brain that can’t make connections, I can never predict. I guess I could consider that some of the adventure of visiting my mom.

I just had a baby!

Time for a lighter story!

While visiting my mom yesterday, my husband and I were telling her about the royal princess that was born to Will and Kate. I even showed her pictures of the new baby on my cell phone and we cooed and marveled over this perfect baby. We visited for a while longer and then I thought I would phone my sister, Jamie, so that she could talk to mom. They chatted for quite a while and then Jamie handed the phone to her young son, Lucas. The next thing mom says had my husband and I cracking up I nearly peed my pants!

We hear my mom say “I just had a baby but I’m doing pretty good. They should let me go home tomorrow.”

At this point, my husband and I are laughing so hard that he’s crying and I have to go water the daisies. When I come back she is now talking to Zac, another of my sister’s sons, and says “I had a baby! You have a brand new baby cousin!! I know it’s real because in the bathroom there’s a sign that says wash your hands before leaving the bathroom!” My husband and I are nearly rolling on the floor and she says “Tracy and John are laughing, but I have no idea what they think is so funny.”

Oh my! Drying my tears of laughter even now. These tears are better than the sad ones in a million ways. The sun is clearly shining through the stained glass and there are prisms of rainbows creating a happy place in our hearts. Thank you, Lord, for laughter!

Today she is cognizant. Unfortunately.

It sounds like a horrible thing to say – “Today she is cognizant. Unfortunately.” Isn’t being cognizant what we hope for every time we visit? That she would be present or “in her right mind.” That we would have meaningful conversations with her? That she would remember my name and the names of my family members? We could all laugh together and pretend she hasn’t been put  (cast off or institutionalized, jailed, abandoned) into a care centre where she will never “go home” from.

Maybe it is better when she doesn’t know what is going on or where she is and it doesn’t matter all that much because her brain in misfiring and she is happily in another place or time.

Today she knew exactly where she was and she was desperate to go home. She thought I was there to take her home and when I said we weren’t going anywhere she sobbed. It wasn’t a little cry where a corner of a kleenex would be enough. No, this was a pass the box over and get some more kind of sob. It was so very hard to see. I held her in my arms but she wanted to know why. Why couldn’t she go home? The other people in the home said they were going home and why won’t her own family take her home?

I tried to give excuses – the doctor, her cough, her foot pain, etc. But she wasn’t going to accept that.

So, with tears running down my face I told her that this was the best care for her, that she wasn’t doing well at her home to which she responded that she can take care of herself and make a salmon sandwich.

I didn’t tell her that she didn’t know where anything was in the kitchen or even where her bedroom was. I did tell her that when she was there that she asked several times a day to go home. She said but “my family is there.”

I said that we were visiting her every day at the care centre to which she responded it wasn’t the same. She wanted her home.

I said, “Remember when dad had his heart attack?” She did. I said the doctor was concerned about his health caring for you.

She wanted to know why they couldn’t hire someone to come in the home and care for her. I said we’d need at least 2 people plus dad to care for her at home over 24 hours.

I said that she left the house in the middle of the night and that we were afraid she would get hurt. That this care home was what we thought was best for her.

She sobbed some more. I told her that this was hurting us very much, too. That I wished it could be another way.

We’d sit in silence for a short while and then she would cry some more.

I asked if it was really so terribly bad here? She said no, but it wasn’t her home.

“Why did this have to happen to me? Why would God let this happen to me?” she asked. My words of “we live in a broken and hurting world and these things just happen” didn’t bring much peace to her anguished heart.

I think that Home is in the heart. It is wherever loved ones are. When she says she wants to go home, she doesn’t really know what that looks like but her heart is searching for loved ones remembered in her heart – not her mind, but in her heart. A deep, desperate desire to be at a place where she is with loved ones passed on and present. I can’t get her to this place, I can’t take her “home” where she is longing to be and it hurts like hell.

The only one to bring peace to her jumbled thoughts and longing heart is God and I don’t think she knows Him. And where is the peace and comfort I so desperately want? Where IS God?

Reverberations on Glass

The shock waves are still reverberating across my mind and through my heart. If someone were to place their hand on me I imagine there would be shock waves radiating from me. Kind of like when you put your hand on a window while a train is passing nearby. You feel the movement of the glass as it vibrates but does not give way. This was another one of “those” visits with my mom.

My one sister was away with her family when the day came to bring my mom to her “new” home and so she hadn’t yet been to see her. Another sister and I arranged to accompany my sister and her husband. I had just gotten through my spiel on how easy it was to come and visit her as we opened the door into the unit.

I couldn’t see her at first, but I could hear her voice talking loudly. I went in a little further and was initially shocked, and later horrified, to find her in the far corner of the room, facing the corner, in a wheel chair and talking loudly to a tall plant. Once I shook off the initial shock, I hurried over to her and greeted her, turning her around to face everyone. We sat down on the nearby couches and attempted to have a visit with her. This was one of the times I would describe her as being “out of it.” She would stare at each one of us as if she wasn’t too sure who we were or maybe she was looking right through us and seeing someone else entirely. Either way it was freaky and disconcerting in the least.

Eventually we convinced her to take us to her room to show it off. She did not want to go down there as she thought we were there to take her home. We managed to persuade her and made it to her room. Once there, awkward conversation continued with her telling a range of nonsensical stories. She then needed to use the washroom and so I attempted to help her into the washroom and out of her wheel chair to use the facilities. She refused to get out of the wheelchair. I gave her suggestion upon suggestion and just became more and more frustrated with her lack of cooperation. I pushed the “red button” and waited to see what happened. A nurse responded fairly quickly and told us that they have been using the lift on mom to get her out of her chair and onto the toilet. Albeit another shock that she was this immobile already, I was reassured to see that the lift was very gentle and effective.

It’s been only 10 days and already she is dependent on a wheel chair, is talking to people who are not present in reality and must use a lift for bathroom duties. This was all very upsetting and the reverberations are being felt days later. How many reverberations can a stained glass window take until it cracks or shatters? How many reverberations will my heart withstand?