Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blog 70: She's Sexy and She Knows It

My mom was all giddy when I spoke to her on the phone the other day.   I knew the reason why as soon as her caregiver told me they hired another person, and it’s a man.  That explained her giddiness.  Ever since Mom became ill with Alzheimer’s she has taken a renewed interest in men.  I remember how she fell head over heels for a young caregiver in his twenties at the assisted living facility she was in a year and a half ago.  It’s almost like she is a young schoolgirl in love again.  She misunderstands the care and attention she receives from them as if they have romantic feelings for her.  It’s not every man, only the ones who are very sweet and caring towards her and engage in playful conversation.   You can’t blame her for that, isn’t that what most women like? Alzheimer’s hasn’t changed that part about her.  

My mom was once a very sexy woman with a gorgeous body and beautiful face.  Men adored her.   That, I know.  I think she knew she was sexy when we were young girls, though she never acted that way.  She was very modest.  She didn’t fall for men as easily as they fell for her.  I do remember watching her get all dolled up when she went on dates after my parents divorced around 1969.  I just sat on her bed and watched her put on all that stuff before she even put her dress on…bra, panties, garter belt, stockings, slip, perfume, powder, make-up, and rollers in her hair.  I thought, geez, I don’t ever want to grow up if I have to put all that stuff on!  I only wish I had pictures of her then.  She was not one to take pictures, so all of that is only a memory I have.  It is no longer a memory of hers, so I am keeping it safe for both of us.

Here's a picture of my mom and dad.  I'm not sure of the year but I think it was after my birth in 1956.  My mom went on to have four more daughters but she never lost her beautiful figure.  I showed her this picture three months ago and she said her name and my dad's name, and acted as if it wasn't even her.

Just moments before talking on the phone with my mom, I could hear her yelling at the top of her lungs as this new man was walking her down the hallway to change her diaper.   I hate using that word and much prefer to use the term undergarment, but the reality is she can no longer use the toilet, and so she goes in her diaper and has to be changed like a baby.  And sadly, my mom doesn’t see that as a total embarrassment as she would have just a couple of years ago.  What choice does she have anyway?  She doesn’t even know herself anymore.  She used to always say she had a shy bladder and she never wanted anyone to be around when she used the restroom, let alone a man.  Life is different for her now. 

I chatted with this new caregiver and got his name before he gave my mom the phone.  He speaks good English, so I am happy that I will be able to talk to him more easily about my mom.  I told him I will be visiting my mom next week and I look forward to meeting him.    Soon I will get to see my mom again.  Excitement and apprehension is what I always feel before I see her.  I know, I know, my mom may not recognize me when she sees me.

Mom took the phone and we had our usual, yet very unusual, conversation.  However, she was laughing more, right from the get-go.  She was giddy, maybe love struck again?  Does she feel sexy?  And you know what?  I hope she does.  I am certain she had already forgotten about getting her diaper changed just moments earlier.  As I said in a previous post, Mom doesn’t make much sense anymore.  Her voice is exactly the same and I so love to hear her voice.  Most of the time I just talk and ask her if she is still there and she responds with a ‘yeah’.   I sang ‘You are My Sunshine’ like I always do and she made some la, la, la sounds.   I told her that her granddaughter, my daughter, is getting married next year.  I’ve told her that many times before but of course she doesn’t remember.  It’s really heartbreaking that she won’t be able to attend the wedding, though I try not to think about that.  Mom asked me if she has a baby yet.  I was surprised to hear her say something that actually made sense.  She used to tease my daughter and her boyfriend about when they are going to have a baby.  Then I asked her if she could name her daughters because she seemed to be just a little more ‘with it’ than usual.  Of course she couldn’t, and all she said was, “There’s a lot of them in the garage.” 

It was good to hear my mom laugh and be happy, even though it’s sad that she is not the same.  I guess if she’s going to have Alzheimer’s and dementia, she might as well enjoy herself and be happy in this mixed up world of hers, because it's better than being miserable.  I certainly don’t want her to be as sad as I am that she is drifting away and losing herself and all of the memories of her daughters and everything else about her life.  If she feels sexy, then I can smile, because that will make her happy.    

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blog 69: Feelings of Guilt | Talking on the Phone

Sometimes I like to make personalized cards for the special people in my life.  Here's a simple card I made for my mom on Mother's Day.  On the front is a picture of one of my paintings... 

It’s been three years since my move to Arizona.  So much has happened during that time, with Mom’s illness and the family struggles since then.  I’ve often beat myself up with feelings of guilt for even leaving Iowa in the first place.  What could I have done differently?  Would I have been able to keep Mom in her home longer?  Would I have been able to save our sisterhood?  I guess I’ll never know the answers to those questions. 

I do believe that I could have done a better job than what my sister has done in communicating with all my sisters and letting them know what’s going on with Mom.  I would not have isolated anyone.

I also believe that if I were in charge, Renee and I would be in huge conflict, just as we are now, but for different reasons.  So I think I just answered one of my questions. 

My mom chose me to take care of things, and I feel I let her down.  Way before she had Alzheimer’s she told me she never wanted Renee in charge of anything.  She told me that the day she had her Will prepared.  Her words keep resonating in my mind.   When am I going to be able to stop torturing myself for this?

Everyone tries to make me feel better.  My kids, two of my sisters, my friends, my mom’s sister, my mom’s friends and other family members, all tell me that it’s not my fault.  I didn’t create the problems that Renee created.  I didn’t know what Renee was going to do.  I couldn’t predict the future, and I believed Renee when she said she was going to do the best job for Mom, and that she was going to make sure we were all well-informed of every decision she makes. 

I don’t mean to be picking on Renee.  I’m sorry to keep bringing it up.  I know in her mind she thinks she’s doing an excellent job.  I sometimes wonder though if she is also beating herself up for the decisions she’s made.  I wonder.  I know she loves Mom just as we all do.  It’s just that we are so different in our beliefs.  I do know that Mom would be furious with her for some of the things she’s done, and on the same note, she’d probably be furious with me for letting it happen. 

All of that is in the past and the only reason why I am bringing it up now is that I have often wondered what I could have done differently.  Was there something I could have done to save our family and to grant some of those wishes Mom had?    

Kathy and I talked about some of these things on the phone the other day.  She’s so easy to talk to, and so is Annie.  Thank God I have them to talk to.  I asked Kathy if she ever calls Mom.  She lives a distance away from her and only travels to see her about once a month.  She said, “Oh no, Mom can’t talk on the phone anymore”.   I don’t even need to say where she heard that from but it’s the same person who told me that.  The thing about Kathy and Lynda is that they hear that and they automatically believe it to be true without even questioning it.  That’s where I am different.  I will try anyway, and when I do that it appears that I am challenging ‘authority’, meaning, ‘Renee’.

If I believed what Renee said, I wouldn’t have known that I can talk to mom on the phone.  If I tell Renee that I want to try to talk to mom, she gets mad at me.  That’s the problem we have with each other. 

It’s sad that Kathy believes that Mom can’t talk on the phone anymore because she is missing out on hearing Mom’s voice and having those sweet, touching moments with her.   Mom is missing out on hearing her daughter's voice, too. It’s her choice though if she doesn’t call and monthly visits are enough for her. 

I live too far away from my mom and I couldn’t bear to not have any contact with her between visits.  I can only get back to Illinois about every three months.  Just hearing her voice is all I need to feel comforted.  She used to only hold the phone to her ear for about 5 minutes before she would set it down, but for some reason the past few months she has been keeping that phone to her ear for 30, 40 and 50 minutes at a time!  I truly believe that she needs that comfort, that connection with me, with anybody who is on the other end of the line.   Otherwise she just sits in her chair, day after day, with hardly no visitors.   Loneliness is a feeling even Alzheimer's patients can feel.  

Mom’s two caregivers quit and now there is a new caregiver.  She gives Mom the phone and then leaves the room, so I have to do my best to keep her engaged and on the phone.  Somehow I’ve figured out how to do that.  She is better on the phone when no one else is in the room anyway.  Her phone skills are definitely not what they used to be, as her attention span, vocabulary, and communication skills have declined considerably.

Every time I talk to Mom I sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to her.  She used to sing it with me but not anymore.  The other day I sang it to her and I heard her crying.  I said Mom don’t cry, I want you to be happy, and she said she didn’t know what was wrong.  I hate that when she says that.  My mom knows there’s something wrong with her.  I think she has things she wants to say but she can’t get the words out.  It literally breaks my heart.

Once in awhile Mom says something that shows me that she is still that caring Mom she always was.  She asked me the other day how I was feeling.  I thought that was sweet.  I usually bring up things that I feel that she will remember, that are embedded in her mind.  She’s forgotten so much.  She did choke up when I mentioned her great grandson’s name.  She does remember that boy, and the feelings showed. 

I’ll be going to see my mom soon and I already know she doesn’t know my name.  She says my name sometimes but she doesn’t know that’s whom she’s talking to.  I believe she feels a familiarity with me and she feels comforted by my voice.  Kathy said that Mom doesn’t seem to know who she is anymore when she goes to see her.   Times are going to get harder. 

I know that deep inside my mom she will never forget us.  She has emotions inside of her that she can’t express but I can see those feelings of tenderness in her eyes.  We are a part of each other and never to be separated.  She senses that and is comforted. Mom will always love us until the day she closes her eyes and takes her last breath.  I believe that, even if she looks at me like I’m a stranger, she will know me deep in her heart.  I am comforted in that.  She will take with her all the love and wonderful memories of her daughters and her grandchildren, whom she loved with all of her heart and soul, and they will follow her in death.  We will have all of that love and those memories in our hearts too, so we will never be parted.   

"A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”