When Home Seems Strange

Our weekends are usually easy going affairs.  We do some housework and yard work.  My husband has some hobbies he enjoys–beekeeping and woodworking.  We especially enjoy cooking together on weekends.  My son and his financee usually show up for at least one meal and my youngest daughter is around at different times during the weekend as well.  So folks are in and out of the house.  My mother watches all of this from her blue leather recliner by the picture window.  She observes and makes her mental notes, comes to the table for meal times, reads her books and watches Rocky.

A few weekends ago on a Sunday night as it was nearing her bedtime, my daughter, husband and I were sitting with her and she asked me why we kept going to different houses over the weekend.  I told her we hadn’t been to any other house, that she was currently in our home which was now her home as well.  I told her it was her bedtime and she asked me to take her home so she could get ready for bed.

Instead of correcting her I told her I would take her home, helped her up and guided her to the bathroom.  After her evening toiletry I led her to her bedroom and helped her into her pajamas.  But there was no fooling Mom.  She “knew” I hadn’t taken her anywhere and wanted to know why we were in a stranger’s house.  I showed her all of her things in the room, her photos and furniture and tried to help her understand it was her room.  As I tucked her into bed she asked me if I would be sure to gather all her things when we went home the next day.  As we prayed together she thanked the Lord for all the people who let us use their houses over the weekend.

I wonder what it must be like for Mom to think she is in a strange place when she goes to bed at night.  God must repair her mind a little bit during those hours of sleep because she knows where she is when she wakes up in the morning. I cannot remember a morning when she hasn’t gotten up with a smile on her face and a quiet joy settled over her soul.  It reminds me of the verse from Psalm 30, Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.  Thank you, Lord, for the joy.

Happy Birthday, Mother

Since Mom has been having a lot of trouble knowing/remembering what day it is, my daughter suggested we put a little white board near her and update it every day with the day of the week and date.  Mom often asks what is for dinner and who is coming for dinner so I put that on the white board, too.  If there is any event occurring or a caregiver coming that is noted as well.

The other day I was updating her board and said aloud it was May 10.  Mom said brightly, “It’s my grandmother’s birthday!”  Actually it was her mother’s birthday.  Maybe I should have just gone along with her, but instead I corrected her and told her it was really her mother’s birthday, my Grammy.

Interestingly, I recently asked her when Grammy’s birthday was and she could not tell me.  I had been googling my Grammy’s name and to my amazement I found a photo of her gravestone.  It had her year of birth and death but not the actual dates.  I wanted to get the dates before it was too late.  I was sad to think I might not be able to find out.  A few days after I asked Mom about it, she looked up from the book she was reading and said, “Mother’s birthday is May 10.”  Knock me over with a feather.  The filing cabinet drawer opened and out popped a folder.

Back to the current May 10 though.  Since Mom didn’t seem to know the difference between her mother and grandmother I wanted to know where I was fitting into the family tree that morning.  I asked Mom how she and I were related and she replied, “You’re my cousin.”

Mom has very few cousins.  In all my life I’ve rarely heard her mention cousins.  The ones she had lived far away and she didn’t grow up visiting or playing with them.  Maybe she’s secretly wanted a close cousin–now she’s got one.  At least for the day.

Later that day an old friend called her.  They had a good back and forth conversation–something I don’t often get with her.  In fact, I look forward to her phone calls just to hear her conversing with someone.  I heard her tell her friend it was her mother’s birthday (bravo, Mom).

After the phone call Mom asked me if I had her mother’s address because she wanted to send her a birthday card.  I told her Grammy had been gone a long time–nearly 50 years–and she was in heaven now.  “Well, I guess I won’t send her a card then,” she replied matter-of-factly.  I told her maybe her mother would be able to hear her birthday wishes in heaven.  Mom looked up and said, “Happy Birthday, Mother.”  She would have been 111 years old.



The Wedding Decision

My son is getting married in 2 weeks.  It’s an event my family has been looking forward to celebrating for many months.  The ceremony is taking place about 100 miles south of us, in the hometown of the bride-to-be.  We decided some time ago to get motel rooms for the weekend since my husband and I will be hosting the rehearsal dinner on Friday, and we will want to stay until the very end of the reception on Saturday.  The question then became:  What is the best way to get Mom to the wedding and back?

My brother volunteered to do whatever we needed to help us out so we could enjoy the festivities.  At first the plan was for him to spend Friday night at our house and bring Mom on Saturday to the wedding; then bring her back to our house Saturday night and spend the night again with her.  The fault with this plan was how to get Mom ready for the wedding.  I don’t know who would object more to helping her get on her pantyhose–my brother or Mom.  She cannot get them by herself and heaven knows she will not consider herself dressed for a wedding without them!

The next idea was for me to come back home Friday night so I could help Mom get dressed Saturday morning and bring her to the wedding.  Then my brother would bring her home after the reception and we would stay behind.  But the more I thought about missing Friday night with my family and the opportunity for all of us to be together–including a daughter and her husband flying in from the west coast–the less enthused I became about that plan.  This kind of family event is rare and I did not want to miss any of it.

The other consideration was my mother’s well-being.  What a long day it would be for her.  It takes her nearly 2 hours to get ready to go anywhere after she wakes up; then there would be the long ride to the ceremony; a couple hours for the reception; and finally a long car ride back home on the I-95 corridor, which can be very unpredictable in terms of traffic issues.

After talking with a couple people who love her well and understand her current physical and mental limitations, I came to the conclusion it would be best for Mom to forego the wedding and have a caregiver stay with her on that day.  It’s heart breaking on several levels to make this decision.  Mom doesn’t always understand her limitations–physical or mental.  She knows she’s forgetful, but I don’t think she understands she has dementia.  Her memory and cognitive skills are so impaired she has no idea how much she has forgotten.  But she does know my son is getting married and she’s been looking forward to the wedding in her own way.

A few days ago I talked to Mom about my decision she would not attend the wedding.  Although Mom expresses very little emotion, I could tell she was not happy about the idea.  I explained the reasoning behind the decision–the long drive, the long day, how difficult it would be for her, etc.  My mother, ever graceful, conceded it was probably best.

That night she talked to my aunt who is my dad’s sister.  She was one of the ones I talked to about Mom going to the wedding, and she encouraged me to let Mom stay at home.  Mom told my aunt I had decided she would not attend the festivities.  I could hear my aunt on the other end of the phone telling her she thought it was the right decision, all things considered.  When Mom got off the phone she relayed the conversation to me. As I put her to bed that night she said, “Karen, you made a wise decision about me not going to the wedding, and you were the only one who could have made the decision.”

I wanted to cry.  My mother hasn’t been able to converse like that in months–to make a statement that required a thoughtful process where she took my words, my aunt’s words and came up with her own response to them.  And there was a truth in her statement that she didn’t even understand.  Because part of my decision was based on a selfish desire to enjoy my son’s wedding weekend unfettered by the care of my mother.  Yes, I was the only one who could make the decision that would impact me as much as it impacted Mom.  My dear, dear mother, a lady full of grace and trust.  Although you have lost much, the grace still shines.

Mealtimes with Mom

I spend 3 hours each day sitting with my mom at the kitchen table.  Let me explain:  it takes Mom at least an hour to eat any meal I put before her.  One scrambled egg and a piece of buttered toast–1 hour to eat;  a bowl of oatmeal–1 hour to eat; a bowl of creamed broccoli cheddar soup–1 hour to eat.  You get the picture.  She rarely ever finishes a meal.  I think she gets tired of eating, or rather chewing.  She puts a fork or spoonful in her mouth and chews and chews and chews.  It’s hard to get enough calories into her.  I sit with her while she’s at the table to encourage her to eat and remind her to swallow.

I used to give her a protein drink in the morning with protein powder, whole milk, an egg, coconut oil, ground flaxseed–around 650 calories.  She dutifully drank it every morning.  But now she can’t.  I don’t know why; the speech therapist doesn’t know why.  She would take a gulp of the drink and hold it in her mouth.  I had to coach her through each mouthful.  Finally it got to the point she just refused to drink it anymore.  That’s when I switched to my version of a high calorie oatmeal with ground flaxseed, coconut oil, maple syrup and topped with ice cream in an effort to get calories into Mom.  Unfortunately she can only eat half of it.

This is a new trend in the past few months.  From what I’ve read it’s one of those things that develops as dementia progresses.  Recently when I was helping her bathe I realized she was starting to look skinnier than I was used to seeing.  I weighed her and discovered she had lost 12 lbs since Christmas.

Mom has a sweet tooth so I started buying premium ice cream for her to get some extra calories each day.  I told the rest of the family it was off limits for them.  After dinner, long after everyone else has finished and left the table and the dishes have been cleaned, Mom finishes up her meager meal and says she can’t eat anymore.  She gets up and moves to her comfy chair.  I dish her out a generous portion of ice cream and hand it to her.  She takes it with a happy smile and thanks me.  Guess how long it takes her to eat that bowl of ice cream–5 minutes.  Now that’s the mom I’ve always known.


The Dream

Mom has had a recurring dream for the past couple months, a number of times each week with some variation but the same theme.  In it her father appears and wants her to come with him.  Until her most recent dream, she has not gone with him for various reasons–once because she couldn’t find her shoes.  Last night though, she did go with him to his house.  She went to bed there and then I appeared and woke her up.

The dream is disconcerting to me.  She never dreams about her mother, though they were very close.  She often forgets her mother has died and asks me why “Mother” hasn’t visited her.  But she rarely talks about her “daddy.”

I think dreams can often have meaning, though certainly not always.  I think they can be prophetic (perhaps rarely), a message from God, a confirmation or a visual representation of something going on in a person’s life.  I’ve had the latter.  I do not like to think much about what Mom’s dream may mean.  But if it does mean something, I think it’s obvious.

I will think of it as a reminder that my mother’s days may be short.  I will make the most of every day I have with her.  I will be kind and gentle with her.  I will trust God to take her home in His perfect timing.

Rocky, the Boxer

My mother enjoys dogs.  She grew up with a dog which was dearly loved.  Although my Dad was not keen on the idea of having a dog, he gave into Mom early in their marriage and they got a dog which they named Tippy.  Apparently Tippy got into a lot of trouble, and Dad got rid of him sooner rather than later.  That was the end of dog ownership in their household.  Although my brothers and I dearly wanted a dog, it was not to be.  As adults with our own families, both my brothers and I have had dogs.  As any dog owner knows they become an important part of the family.

As we were preparing for Mom to move in we bought an adorable, female beagle puppy.  We had been dogless for a few years and the timing seemed right to add a furry addition to the family. We thought it would be especially good for my mother.  We named our new, little pet, Josey Wales.

We had about 7 weeks to get Josey settled in before we moved Mom into our home.  In addition to house training Josey during that time, we also had the only bathroom on the main floor gutted and remodeled to be more accessible for Mom’s needs.  I was working part time at home as an accounting specialist to a small consulting firm, running my photography business and managing the books for a couple other clients.  I was feeling pretty frazzled.  And dear, little Josey was most uncooperative.

Mom stayed with one of my brothers during the bathroom remodel.  Just before she moved in she had aneurysm repair surgery.  I picked Mom up directly from the hospital and brought her home. She was very weak and had a urinary catheter.

I wish Josey had had a urinary catheter because that dog refused to house train.  I took her out hourly, took her to the same spot each time and praised her for “doing her business.”  I brought her in, set her in the kitchen, which we had cordoned off from the rest of the house, and she would squat and tinkle on the floor.  I don’t know if she was stubborn or clueless, but I was at the end of my tether with her.  My mother needed a lot of assistance and Josey was requiring too much time and effort.

After consultation with my family we decided to rehome her.  Within 12 hours she was resettled with a family who had been looking for a beagle.  I felt like a failure, but knew it was the best for all of us.  Since then I’ve read that beagles can be very challenging to house break.  She just needed more time–time I didn’t have.

But the idea of having a dog in the house for my mother’s pleasure persisted.  I decided to do what I failed to do the first go-round:  pray about it.  And so I did very specifically.  I asked God to bring an adult dog into our household, a dog that needed a good home, one that was housebroken and already trained in various obedience commands.  I promised not to go looking but to wait until His timing.  I jokingly said I was waiting for a dog to appear in our driveway.

A couple months later a friend texted me and said she had a co-worker who had to give up her beloved 6 y/o boxer because she had moved into an apartment and dogs weren’t allowed.  The dog was named Rocky and he was currently staying with her parents.  I told my friend I was very interested and she provided contact information to me.  I texted Rocky’s owner and we went back and forth one evening with my questions about Rocky.  A boxer was a little bit bigger than I had thought we wanted but otherwise he sounded perfect.  The next step was a phone call to Rocky’s owner where we chatted some more about Rocky.  I wanted to know more about the dog, and I’m sure she was vetting me as a potential new owner for her “sweet puppy.”  We set a date for her to bring Rocky over for a meet and greet.  She said she was going to bring over all his things because she wanted us to take him right then and there if we wanted him.  It was going to be a difficult good-bye for her and she wanted to get it over with.

On Easter Sunday, 2016, she pulled into our driveway, opened the back of her car and out hopped Rocky into our driveway.  If you’ve never met a boxer, you might not know they are the clowns of the dog world.  Rocky leaped and ran around the yard, ran up to us and greeted us then ran back around the yard with joy and abandon.  He won our hearts immediately and we said we would take him.

And thus Rocky moved into our home and our hearts.  He has allergies and constantly sneezes all over our oriental rugs, he has scratched up our new hardwood floors which we installed just before he moved in, he sheds so much I have to vacuum 3 times per week.  But we love him.

And he loves us, too.  When one of us comes home, he is beside himself with happiness and does this wiggly thing where his head swings around to his tail and he does this little boxer jig.  He warns us before anyone comes to the door and barks loudly and fiercely.  But we know it’s just his way of saying, “Hey, someone is at the door, please open it so I can make a new friend.”

And Mom loves him.  Even on her worst days, when her communication is at its poorest, she can ask, “Where is Rocky?”  Sometimes I’ll hear her say something when I’m in the other room, so I’ll call to her and ask her what she said.  She responds by saying, “I was talking to Rocky.”  She’s asked him how he likes her hair after I’ve set it for her.  She tells him to come over so she can pet him and is fairly convinced he is here to watch over her.

Good dog, Rocky.  Thank you, Lord, for bringing him into our lives.

What’s for dinner?

Mom’s memory is very short.  It makes for some comical conversations.  Recently Mom called her sister, DJ, and the following conversation took place:

Mom:  What did you have for dinner?

DJ:  Billy made some soup for us.

Mom:  We’re having soup, too.

Me:  No, Mom, I’m making pizza.

Mom to DJ:  We are having soup.

Me:  Mom, I’m making pizza.

Mom to me:  I told DJ you were making pizza and you told me it was soup.

Me:  It was the other way around, Mom.


2 minutes later

Mom to DJ:  What did you have for dinner?

DJ:  Billy made soup.

Mom:  We’re having spaghetti.


Sometimes she really confuses me.