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.

 

Falls

When Mom moved in over a year ago, I set a baby monitor in her room next to her bed, placing the receiver next to my side of the bed in our bedroom.  Since she had just been released from the hospital following aneurysm surgery, I asked her to call me when she needed to get up in the night to go to the bathroom–which she does 3-4 times every night.  But for some reason she wouldn’t call me when she needed to get up.  It’s probably some mothering instinct where she doesn’t want to bother me with her needs.

Mom moved so slowly she was like a stealthy ninja, only granny style.  Because she moved very, very slowly, it was thus very, very quietly.  Sometimes I didn’t hear her at night until the toilet flushed.  Which was little late to be of any assistance in getting to the bathroom.

It’s the little things you forget or don’t think about that can cause accidents.  Having an elderly parent in your home requires a thoughtfulness about where furniture is placed, what is on the floor, how good the lighting is, etc.  I supposed it’s similar to baby proofing.  But in our case it’s Mimi-proofing.  And it requires vigilance.

When she went back to the hospital last October for another aneurysm surgery, I unplugged the night light in her bedroom.  I don’t even know why. I forgot to plug it back in when she came home.  Bad mistake.  The first night home, I made my request for her to call me when she needed to get up.  She didn’t. Instead I woke up to the vibration of something falling in the house.  That something was mom.

I leaped out of bed and ran to her room.  She was on the floor, confused by the darkness, unable to find the door.  Immediately I realized the room was too dark without the nightlight.  I severely berated myself.  Thankfully, mom was not hurt.  In fact, she insisted she didn’t fall, that she simply sat down on the floor when she couldn’t find the door.  I helped her up, assisted her to the bathroom and settled her back into bed.

Fast forward 4 months.  Mom was snoozing in her recliner when I decided to mop the kitchen floor.  I quietly moved kitchen chairs into the room where she was napping to clear the kitchen floor.  In the process I moved Mom’s walker to make room for the chairs.  In my usual manner, I did not bother to put the chairs back as soon as the floor dried.  And I didn’t notice her walker was quite a bit out of her reach should she need to get up.

I decided to take a nap on the couch.  Suddenly I woke to a loud crash in the other room.   Instinctively I knew my mother had fallen.  I jumped up to run into the other room and instead slipped and fell, slamming my jaw on a wooden chair.  My husband leaped up at the same time, picked me up and then ran into the other room to pick my mother up.

She needed to go the bathroom and couldn’t get to her walker so she decided to manage without it.  She fell, knocking over some house plants on the way down.  When everyone got picked up, she ended up with a nasty bruise on her arm; I ended up with a bruise on my shoulder and an aching jaw.

My mother was so concerned about me. As I looked her over for bruises she patted my arm and asked how I was doing.  No concern for herself, just worried about her little 60-year old girl.  We put some frozen peas in a baggie for the hematoma on her arm.  I poured a glass of wine for the ache in my jaw.  I think we both will recover.  And hopefully, I will become evermore aware of my mother’s surroundings to help her stay safe.

 

 

Grace

Some days I feel resentful being stuck at home.  Everything I do seems to revolve around Mom’s needs.  She’s napping in her chair so I need to move quietly.  I need to work on laundry in the basement but must come upstairs frequently to check on her.  A friend calls and wants to go out to lunch but I can’t leave Mom alone.  It’s our anniversary and we plan to go out for a nice dinner, but Mom has an event and needs to go to the emergency room and ends up spending the night in the hospital.  I just realized I’ve been here before–as a new mother!

Looking back in my journal during the time we were deciding Mom should move in with us, I reread my concerns about my life changing, asking God for forgiveness for a selfish heart, wondering how I would be able to be Mom’s caregiver 24/7 if necessary.  I didn’t know what would be required and I had a lot of trepidation.  I sensed God speaking to my heart though and this is what I wrote:  “Karen, you do not have to do this on your strength.  I will bring others along side of you to help you.  I will be with you.  I love your mother.  She is my dear child and faithful servant.  I want her to have a place of peace and rest and safety until I bring her home.  Will you let me use you as part of my plan for her life?  I will be with you and you will see Me work in your life if you will be obedient.”

And that is what I remind myself of when I get to feeling frustrated about being “stuck” at home.  My mother deserves kindness, respect and honor.  She has spent her life serving God, her family and others, making sacrifices about which I most likely will never know.  I don’t want to have any regrets about the way I care for my mother.  Easy to say, often hard to live.  I’ve had to learn to take one day at a time.  One routine I adopted from the first day Mom was with us was to “tuck her in” each night, kneel by her bed and pray with her.  Then I kiss her good night, tell her I love her and I will see her in the morning.  By this I can end each day on a note of grace.

God’s grace–that holy stuff that bestows peace and strength and even contentment.  I need it every day.

 

Space Time Continuum

Mom has had several good days recently.  For the first time since she’s been living with us she emerged from her bedroom in the morning fully dressed.  She had a smile on her face as if she was pleased to surprise me.  I later discovered she had skipped putting on her bra because she couldn’t get it fastened; and she had on two pairs of underwear, but from all outward appearances she was put together.  She even applied lipstick later that morning.

The next couple days she continued to dress herself after I laid out clothes for her.  She even got herself ready for bed, being able to change into her pajamas without my assistance.  It’s tempting to think Mom is “getting better.”  I know from past experience this is not true.  Another time after she had a run of good days, she had a morning where she could not speak intelligibly.  She could say “yes” or “no” but everything else was nonsensical syllables strung together.  Although the aphasia was brief, the confusion that followed was not.

I try to enjoy her good days as much as possible.  Often Mom is very quiet and says little in the course of the day, but when she has her good days she is more likely to chat.  When she’s quiet I never know what is really going on in her mind.  On the more talkative days I discover that despite the appearance of brightness and lucidity there is still confusion.

A couple nights ago my son and his fiancee came over for dinner.  While I was fixing dinner in the kitchen, my mother, son, future daughter-in-law and husband were in the next room talking and playing with Rocky the boxer.  Later when I tucked Mom into bed that night we had the following conversation:

Mom:  When we were at Karen’s house tonight Rocky was kissing Don (my husband).

Me:  Mom, do you know who I am?

Mom:  Yes, you’re Karen.

Me:  I was wondering if you knew who I was because you referred to being in Karen’s house.

Mom:  Well, we ate dinner at Tim’s house tonight (that’s my brother who lives 50 miles away.)

Me:  No, Mom, we ate right here at my house.  We had taco salad.

Mom:  I thought we ate at Dick’s house (my other brother who lives 50 miles away).

Me:  No, we ate here, just in the other room.  You haven’t stepped foot out of this house for 2 weeks.

Mom:  Well, I’m glad we got that straight.

I constantly have to remind myself Mom’s mind does not function like an ordinary mortal’s.  She travels in a space time continuum unavailable to the rest of us.  I wonder where she thinks she is now.

At Home in Mitford

Dementia–the very word makes me cringe and I hate to say it.  There are a number of varieties–Alzheimers is the most dreaded, but there is vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, mixed dementia and so forth.  They each have their own set of symptoms–except for mixed, which borrows from them all.  Mom’s dementia doesn’t fit any of the types.

Now that I am completely past the denial stage and can look objectively at the past few years, I think her mental decline may have started around 6 years ago, but it might have been longer ago than that.  Whatever type of dementia a loved one has, those closest to the afflicted one often seem to miss it at first.  It’s the denial.  You make excuses for the occasional odd behavior or attribute it to something else.

Before she started repeating herself–telling me the same story multiple times, I remember Dad started doing more and more housework for her.  I just thought it was physical weakness, but now I wonder if it wasn’t more than that.  After all Dad was 7 years older.  I remember she would get fixated on some small event in her life or someone else’s life.  She would talk about it over and over until something else happened to take its place.  It didn’t seem like normal behavior for my mother, but my mind wouldn’t take me to some sort of conclusion.

Now my mother’s short term memory is very broken.  Sometimes her long term memory doesn’t work too well either.  Lately she’s asked me numerous times about her parents, for example.  Her mother and father died 47 and 42 years ago respectively.  Before Christmas she told me she was very concerned because she hadn’t bought her parents a Christmas present yet.  As gently as I could I told her they were no longer with us, they had passed and were in heaven.  Very matter of factly, she said, “Well, I guess that takes care of that.” I had to grease the file cabinet drawer with the stories about their passings before it would come open and she could access her memories.  A couple weeks later she asked me why her mother hadn’t come to see her at our house.  Again I told her the story about her mother and she was able to recall her mother’s passing.

It’s the short term memory loss that is the most obvious though.  She will ask me numerous times in a day who will be home for dinner, what day it is, what the weather will be like.  But yet when I buy her something online she will ask me about it every day until it comes.  I never know what she will remember and what she will forget.  For that reason I am careful about the things I say around her.  I can’t let myself think she won’t remember something I say.  And if she asks the same question over and over I try to answer as if it was the first time she asked.

Her memory issues are often humorous.  On Inauguration Day, 2017, we spent the day in front of the TV watching the festivities.  The next day Mom started talking about being in DC the day before.  I asked her what she was talking about and she told me patiently she was talking about how we went to DC for the Inauguration.  I told her we all sat in the Family Room all day watching it on TV, that we had not gone anywhere.  She asked, “Why did I think we went to DC?”  If only I could answer that question.

Mom loves to read.  She is a life long bookworm.  And thankfully she is still able to read and enjoy it.  The catch is, she doesn’t remember anything she reads.  When I finally figured that out I quit going to the library for her every couple weeks.  I bought 4 books in her favorite series:  The Mitford books by Jan Karon.  She can read them over and over and it’s like the first time each time.  Her favorite is:  At Home in Mitford.  It’s the first in the series and introduces all the wonderful characters.  Recently on her 3rd or 4th reading in the past year, she announced she did not like the book anymore.  She said the characters were different and she was going to stop reading it.  It was said with such conviction I picked up the book when she wasn’t around just to make sure it was the book I thought it was.  Yes, it was–no mysterious trickery going on.

A few days later she picked up At Home in Mitford again and started reading.  She just opened the book at a random page and became engrossed.  After a while I asked, “Mom, how are you enjoying your book?”

Her reply, “Oh, it’s so good.”

Memory loss has some benefits for the bookworm.  Every favorite book is fresh and new every time you read it.  And sometimes it can even become a different story!