Birthday Card Blues

My mother’s birthday is this coming Monday.  And as it is the first one since my father passed away, I want to do something somewhat special.

I started to roll through all the usual things, a trip to her favorite restaurant, some clothing that is comprised of some gaudy printed top and bright colored, flashy pants, and … as I thought about getting her the usual birthday card, I stopped and began to cry uncontrollably.

Since my mother’s dementia has progressed her ability to read has significantly decreased. I got her a card for mother’s day which she never even opened and instead focused only on telling me how much she didn’t like the 4 out of the 5 tops I picked out for her. (Which is absolutely out of character for my mother. She used to be the kind that would rather die than tell someone she didn’t like a gift.)

My gut reaction was truly puzzling to me. Yeah, it’s sad that she can’t read, but I didn’t understand the overreaction. Most of the time I usually just feel the ache in my chest and move on. As I picked it apart (as I tend to do with most of my thoughts) I realized two different things.

The first realization had to do with my weird obsession with birthday cards. For a few years I would actually buy two. One that reeked of sentimentality and the other that was a giant joke. And with the sentimental card I would write a long paragraph about how much the person meant to me. The last few years, as cash has been tight, I boiled it down to one and stuck with my schmaltzy reflections.

Those days are gone with my mother.

That last piece is what led me to the next conclusion…

I want to be a published author and if I ever get off my lazy ass and finish editing my “completed” novel, maybe one day I can achieve that goal. And if I were to do that, no matter the subject matter, I would want my mother to read my book. Which, even now, would be a miracle if she could. She would pretend she was understanding, maybe even put a bookmark in to complete the ruse, but ultimately she would not. The only thing I could do was read it to her. Which would be sweet but… I broke down crying over the idea of a birthday card. How the fuck am I going to read her my novel?

This birthday I will just skip the card, and instead provide her the one thing she has been severely lacking, companionship.

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An Adult Girl

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that my mother’s mental state is very much that of a little girl.

Last night was one of my newly designated evenings to spend with her, in an attempt to lessen the loneliness she feels since my father’s passing. I go over after work, we have dinner, and we do some sort of activity. Lately we have been coloring but for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling up to it last night; however it probably would have been a good idea.

Instead of the usual business we ended up watching T.V. There was a Friends marathon on the Paramount channel. (Had no idea that was a thing now.) It was playing some of the “best of episodes” to celebrate it’s 25th anniversary. (By the way, I need you to kill me, because I am officially old as fuck.)

I thought the re-watch of the show would be good for her because this used to be the show she and I would watch together every Thursday night. My mother loves/loved a comedy. Especially when they’re romantic ones. And I thought maybe the familiarity would be comforting for her.

During the re-watch she would giggle where it was appropriate, almost like she was waiting for me or the laugh track to initiate it. During the commercials she would titter at some of the more bizarre things that I couldn’t understand why she found them so comical. At one point she turned to me during the end of a Chase commercial to ask me if I had had that drink. To which I responded, “nope, I haven’t tried that Chase drink.”

I feel like an asshole sometimes with the way I respond to her strange questions. I am being relatively cruel, but I don’t think she’s even picking up on my sarcasm. She’s very much in her own world.

While I was making dinner she excitedly pulled out a thing of mashed potatoes she had made the week prior. She put them in the microwave and set the time for 5 minutes, which I’m sure is entirely too long but… whatever. She didn’t let the clock run out. She kind of kept an eye on it and turned it off when she thought it had been in long enough. However, then she completely forgot all about them until I remembered that they should be thrown away.

When I suggested tossing them she looked visibly distraught, but then waved her hands and agreed. And as I threw them away she rushed into the kitchen, grabbed the pot I had used to boil hot dogs (her favorite way of preparing them), filled it with water, and then dropped 4 unpeeled, unwashed potatoes in and began to boil them. To top all that off she got an over-sized lid and placed it on top.

I asked her what she was doing and she said she was making them for my cousin (who was supposed to arrive the following morning.)

Once I announced that the potatoes were done (I had no idea, I just wanted to go and didn’t want her using the stove before she went to bed because she’s already left the gas on overnight once before) she hurried in there and started to “peel” the scalding, boiled potatoes with a knife held at a 90 degree angle. Her idea was to literally scrape the skin off. I tried to help her and then she got annoyed with me, splashed them back in the pot and announced that she would continue tomorrow morning. She wanted them to be “ready when my cousin arrived.”

My cousin has this habit of travelling late at night and sometimes arrives/leaves in the early morning hours. My mother, so excited for his visit heard noises at 3 A.M. and went outside to investigate them in her nightgown. She was out there for 10 minutes searching for my cousin. When she had decided he was not there or the one who had made the noises she had heard, she went back inside.

This I witnessed all at 7 A.M. when i was reviewing the recordings to see if my cousin had in fact kept his word about coming to visit. (My family is notoriously flaky.)

From this experience I have learned I will no longer inform her of visitors. Because of it she gets excited and will do dangerous things that could be deadly. All I do is replay the possibilities of where every action she took could have gone wrong.

Coming to you LIVE from the Living Room

The hardest thing to grapple with my mother’s illness is that the woman who currently resides in her body is very much not like the one who raised me. This one is more like a petulant child than anything else. She’s argumentative and obstinate, who will do the exact thing you tell her not to do. It’s irritating and upsetting.

Her “caretaker,” for lack of a better word, (babysitter is more apropos but I refuse) doesn’t start until this coming Monday. The plan was that she was going to come and stay with me until Thursday, but last night she flat out told me she wasn’t going to stay with me. So I countered by setting up camera’s in her house.

I must confess they are incredibly handy. I can see most areas of her home and what it is she is doing, which is constant shuffling. And if I so chose I could get alerts to ANY movement. However, as previously mentioned, she never sits down, so the only camera that sends me alerts is the doorbell. I want to know if she goes somewhere, especially since I told her “don’t leave the house.”

The husband and I have dubbed it “The Ginger Show” ala the movie “The Truman Show,” because we can see what she’s doing at all times. And goddamn is it fascinating. Just the mundane things she does, aren’t so mundane when you realize she is mopping the floor with a padless Swiffer. Or she is readjusting the chairs for the third time, even though they haven’t been moved since the last time she rearranged them. But in my mother’s mind she is more than capable to take of herself. In fact, she is completing every task she sets out to do. However she can’t tell you why she thinks that, but she can tell you why she doesn’t use the things she once used, like a telephone or a T.V. remote. I dub this kind of activity “raging against the dying of the light.”

I know she refuses to see herself as old or infirm.  She doesn’t even believe that she has Alzheimer’s. Whenever she talks about it, it’s always “what you say.” I want to immediately counter with “no, it’s what the doctors say.”

When I switch over to the “live view” of whatever room had the last bit of activity and I just take a moment to watch what she’s doing, I am overcome with this immense sadness. Here sits a woman who is quickly deteriorating mentally, who has no concept of what is happening to her and refuses to admit that she needs help. If I believed in any kind of god I would pray she realizes she can’t do this on her own, but there is no greater power in this universe. Maybe there is and like these Ring cameras he just enjoys watching this shit show. But unlike me, he gets off on the misery.

A Month in Review

It’s weird to think that my dad has been dead for a month now. It simultaneously feels like it’s been forever and then again no time at all. I miss him but at the same time I miss what he was for my mother, a caretaker.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. An aggressive bout of it, it would appear. Everyday it feels like she’s getting worse. Then again it could be because I am seeing all of it, in all of its cruel glory without filters.

I never truly understood how bad it was. My father would just tell me that it was getting worse but never elaborated to how or why he felt that way. Now I do.

For those keeping tally, I have bathed my mother 3 times and cleaned up her “accidents” just as much. She has so far accused my husband of bringing a woman home and fucking her in our bed and has also told us (on a separate occasion) that the power chords in her room were calling her ugly. However she also has accurately figured out who Josh is and what role he plays in my life. To that I say “clever girl” in the voice of Robert Muldoon from Jurassic Park, right before he’s devoured by a velociraptor.

My mother is adamant that she won’t be living with my husband and I. She wants to go home and me “live my life” and she “live hers.” I haven’t even broached the subject of assisted living by the advice of a woman who’s sole job is to place elders into care. That’s about the only thing I’ve listened to thus far.

I’m trying to please too many people in this situation when I have to think about what is ultimately the best choice of action. What that is I don’t know. Well, that’s a lie. A care facility would be best but when I look at the monthly cost, coupled with how much money she has and how little I make to supplement that it seems like a fools errand. Especially given that we don’t know how long she will live.

Getting old in America is genuinely a cruel joke. You work your whole life, scrimping and saving to leave your children something after you go, and instead it is bled dry by corporations who make money off of the infirm. All for the idea of safety, care, and security.

I am someone who couldn’t care less about what my mother could leave me. Her on the other hand is deeply concerned. She repeatedly tells me she wants me to have something upon her passing. Looking to the horizon that will be one other thing she won’t get.

But it’s for the best, considering her disease has already claimed one life and it wasn’t even hers.

Turning Down a One-Way Road

So that’s that. My mother most likely has Alzheimer’s. Or so said the nurse practitioner at my mother’s follow-up MRI appointment. Quite the change of diagnosis from “it’s just stress” we had been told just a year prior. (Not even a full year.) The only good thing that came from the previous visit was a baseline to see her degression. And there is a lot.

The nurse practitioner showed me, and only me, the scale of it. I don’t know why she chose to reveal this information to just me, maybe she thought I wouldn’t have had an overreaction or that I would be able to comprehend what was happening. Whatever the reason, it is what it was.

The decline on her results was sharp. Almost entirely a straight line down from where she had been. I wish I had taken a photo or had them print it out to fully digest what I was seeing. I cannot stress this enough, it was severe.

I posted the results on twitter and the outpouring was so overwhelming. Those that had gone through something similar were the ones to offer their assistance or advice. Even some who haven’t, offered an ear to bend, fully providing (a stranger on the internet) their phone number. I am overwhelmed with love that I don’t even know how to process that. It showed me a world that seems almost counterculture to what twitter appears. It proved to me that at our core human beings are a community and will gather to care for each other.

I don’t think my mother has very long. I arrived at that conclusion by one, witnessing her descent over the past few months (which has been rapid to say the least) prior to concrete test results; and two, being haunted by those three graphs.

The part that frustrates me the most, above knowing I will lose my mother, is that there is NOTHING I can do to stop this. This is a one way road and it’s all downhill.

A Glimpse at Insanity

My mother’s mental capacity is deteriorating at an accelerated speed and I don’t know why. Her delusions are getting out of control to the point that she is speaking absolute non-sense or scary ideas (like “the voice said it and I just knew”). Her visual perception of things is also off the charts. I think I mentioned in the previous blog that she thinks her house is sinking, well she is still holding onto that fact. Even though she has accepted (to an extent) that she’s wrong. She has worked herself into a panic about getting the house clean but in the end only creates more chaos.

I am absolutely at a loss.

Yesterday, my father called me to tell me he lost his cool at her because she got confused about why she had gone into a store. For whatever reason, he sent her into buy a 7 lb. bag of ice. (Why he didn’t just do it is beyond me.) When she went in the clerk came out to ask my dad what he wanted.

The rate at which she is declining makes me think that she is either accidentally ingesting my father’s pills, having her own allergic reaction to her own medication, or there is a brain tumor. At this point though we don’t know. She has an MRI scheduled for the 24th and hopefully that can shed some light into this darkness.

The thing I find most distressing is that she is convinced she is going to die soon. So I have been commissioned, by both parents, to write out letters to her sister’s so that they know how she feels. Yet, when I went to check-up on them today she was talking about more of me writing a book about her experiences. It was so very surreal, primarily because there is almost a strange thread of logic there, it’s just decorated with baubles of “crazy.”

Smoke-briety 

I would consider myself a social smoker, mainly because I only smoke a cigarette when I’m the company of others that partake in the good old fashioned tabaccy. It’s a rare and unusual occasion (typically when I’m super stressed about one thing in particular) that I buy a pack and just smoke by my lonesome. 

I am usually not around those that do. When I am I return to my filthy habit which in turn drives my husband crazy. It is smoking that has been a huge point of contention in our relationship. He sees it as a waste of money and the person with a cigarette between their lips is instantly unattractive. While I have disagreed he is not wrong.  

In the last I would just keep my habit a secret, hiding hand sanitizer and mouth wash in my car to help wipe away the signs of my smoking. But however “good” I thought I was I know he knew. He would hold his dislike of it to himself and allow me to live in a delusion. Yet I still knew he knew. 

With the close of this show I promised myself and him to that I would stop. Not because of health reasons, or that I feel like a monstrous hypocrite when I tell my pops he needs to stop, but because of my vanity. 

When I look at those that have smoked for years, they take on a particularly leathery look filled with cracks and creases that show their age with more lathered on top. I don’t want that to be me. Plus, after this last revisit to cigarette land I felt like garbage. 

So for the betterment of my relationship and myself I will end my torrid affair with nicotine. It’s him, not me. And I hope to never return.