I haven’t visited my favorite caregiving website as much as I used to. It’s still too painful. But this morning, I did. And there was a question from someone whose father had dementia, and I found myself answering her question with more detail than I had anticipated.
Mom is sleeping much of the day now. Family members call. I choke back tears. This is a post I drafted on July 20th this year, but never published. Perhaps I wasn’t able to face up to things, or maybe I wanted the process to be private. I don’t know. But I will post it today, just as I wrote it two months ago – typos and all. I know you grammarians will forgive me…
Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass is filled with wonderful and nonsensical quotes, and I have to wonder if he wasn’t paraphrasing some of the conversations he might have heard in an old folks’ home. How about this one: “I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”
I am sometimes astounded at how little a person can eat for an extended period of time and continue to live. To watch my mother’s energy ebb and flow, to see how frail and thin her body is, to witness how hard it is for her to stand and walk on some days and chew and swallow on others. Well, it just breaks my heart! I think she, too, is occasionally caught between wanting to stay and wanting to go.
As for her menu: I do the best I can for her – even if that means giving her eggs and watermelon and peaches and rice pudding and smoothies made with bananas. I am at the point where I have to stop cooking for her, and start serving her the things that she can eat – sweet potatoes, carrots, soft veggies, mashed and baked potatoes, eggs of every type, grapefruit juice, milk and cheese, ice cream and sorbet. One woman on the AgingCare website said that her mother ate nothing but Hagen-Daz for the entire month before she passed. We’re not at that point yet, but I think if that’s all Mom wanted, I’d give it to her!
I know that doctors place a lot of guilt and worry on caregivers for not keeping elders active. They recommend day centers and church events. They say inactivity leads to bone deterioration, and that we should try to keep them moving and involved. My mother was never a ‘joiner.’ She always preferred solitary pastimes: reading, painting, cross-stitch, sewing clothes, cooking, decorating and thumbing through magazines. I recently saw a ‘goal list’ my mom wrote about a decade ago. It included things like, “read all of Shakespeare’s plays, do the Sunday Times crossword puzzles, learn calligraphy.” The item that amazed me was, “Learn to read Latin.” Whoa, Mama! Way to go!
For exercise, she loved gardening, walking and moving furniture. Perhaps that’s what has kept her bones so strong to this point. But now, her favorite thing is to just sit and listen to music, or lay down and sleep. Yes, she will get weaker and weaker, and I do I try to move her around as much as I can, but isn’t that what happens when you get older? Try as you may, the elderly will slow down and one day… well… I loved the comment of yet another AgingCare reader, “Are we supposed to die on a treadmill?”
Mom enjoys sitting with me, hearing my voice, naming composers and symphonies. We have fun singing together, although she lets me do the opera arias alone. She loves to listen to me sing, “O Mia Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, or the Flower Duet from Lakme. I’m sure I wake the neighborhood with my squawking when the windows are open. (Though I did hear someone else singing Puccini in the neighborhood when I was outside the other day; I think I sing it better.)
Yesterday, I mentioned that it was going to be really hot, and she chimed in with a chorus of Irving Berlin’s song,“We’re having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave, The temperature’s rising, It isn’t surprising…da-da da-da-da-da!” I complimented her on remembering the song and she beamed. Then this morning, she knew the melody of an obscure symphony from a single note – and she was right. Oh, was she pleased.
Comparatively speaking, I’ve never had a good memory – not for little things, so people may not even notice my forgetfulness as I get older. If I don’t write something down, it’s gone – seconds after I hear a name or am given driving directions, I go blank. However, I can remember entire concepts and theories, book titles and authors, lyrics and movies – I just can’t tell you who played in it or who sang the song.
I’m not about to get a prescription for myself like Aricept, so I’ll just muddle along with my Moleskien notebook for support. It’s actually quite liberating to admit that you can’t remember. Oddly enough, I have people confiding to me that they can’t either.