About Me

My photo
Spokane, WA
This profile photo is my mom and me at the beach--she is 26 and I am about 18 months. LOVE the joy!! I am a mom of three and a teacher; being a teacher means I have to go back and cut the f-bombs. There were a few. Because Alzheimer's sucks badly. This blog, for nine years now--skipping a few while I was too cheap to buy my domain name-- helps me un-peel and process the endless layers of sad woven with weird and--impossibly--comedy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Like Ike

Some perspective on the day after the election. Barack Obama was the last president my mom voted for. Accordingly, this was the first time she didn't vote in a presidential election.
By November 2008, she was probably not of sound mind to vote (neither, in my opinion, are thousands of Americans residing below the Mason Dixon Line...another topic entirely) but I thought, and in some bursts of random clarity, so did my mom think, it was super important she got that ballot in. Thank God for mail-in, because she tried to find her polling place in the primary of 2008, and ended up in some really weird businesses. People called me.

Anyway, when I went to see her and give her the new pair of shoes, and a new stereo-both purchased by friend Connie- she was in the feeding room. It is rare that I visit and it's not a meal time. So the feeding room is the place where the invalids are..those with neuromuscular diseases or severe disabilities; who need help to be fed, obviously.
What bothered me more than the fact she was in there..and what the mound of orange mashed potatoes was--a white/sweet potato hybrid? was that she had long, unruly black whiskers on her upper lip. Can't we at least keep her trimmed?
I had to leave a few times. Once to go to the bathroom (there is a toilet for guests only) and another to put away her shoes and stereo, a gift from Connie who was with me last time but not this time. Upon both returns into the feeding room, my mother was surprised (and by that I don't mean surprised. No open mouth. What is it? Slightly changed focus and maybe a slight facial shift) and pleased (again, a liberal word that supposes something different than it was) to see me; Twice she even held my gaze for 30 seconds at a time.

It was lonely without another person to bounce off, to witness. It''s hard to go after Chris and I visit her together, and it's hard to go again without Connie making deeper meaning from subtle movements than I can anymore. I idly chat with the aides, who for some reason all have pierced eyebrows? I still care about elections, and try to see if that will get a response.
 "Barack Obama, mom? Anything? Bill Clinton?" Nothing. "Reagan? (Please, she would have responded in some way if she could to that one) um, "Jimmy Carter? Richard Nixon? John F. Kennedy?!" Jesus. "Ike Eisenhower?" She turned and looked at me and mumbled something. "I like Ike?" She smiled.
Seriously? Is she 10? She was born in 1946, so she was seven when he took office, and a teenager when he left. She could have "liked" Ike, except I don't think she did. Her dad would have, but my mom had started to realize she didn't see things the way he did by the time she was in high school.
I told her I had to go make some phone calls for the gubernatorial candidate. Because I had promised. I remembered how she made some calls with me at the Spokane Democratic office in 2007? 2008? It didn't go well, and I think she ended up doing some other office work, but she did go with me.. Oh, hell, it's so difficult for me to glean any spiritual awakening from this slow, ugly rock into sleep.
I don't know what to say or feel.
I'm just sad, and that continues to sneak up on me.
I was subbing the other day, for instance, and some teacher had a sweater identical to one of three sweaters my mom used to wear all the time. All the time. That's what Alzheimer's and dementia patients do as they get worse..wear the same thing over and over. There was the blue, yellow and white striped cotton crew neck and the cotton-poly red and black striped turtleneck. They so annoyed me. I didn't know how astounding it was that she could still put a sweater on by herself.
So this teacher had the cardigan version of that blue, white and yellow one. I think it was Casual Corner brand. Cotton. More of a spring sweater, really. At least 12 years old.
I saw her and got the tight feeling in my chest. Just walking a second grade class to the lunchroom, all our hands behind our backs, and suddenly my heart was breaking. Then came the shortness of breath; the inconvenient low-level omnipresent grieving.
The Charlie Brown-like emotional black cloud brought on by a frumpy striped button-up hovered for 20 seconds, and I breathed (the smell of lunchroom chicken nuggets) deeply and shuffled back down the hallway to the classroom.

Sharing the Burden: A Childhood Friend's Perspective of Demented Demise

Every time I go to visit my mom with other people, it makes it a little more social. And I find it impossible not to quote John Hughes here: "Demented and sad, but social." Of course, when he wrote it for The Breakfast Club, it was a super sarcastic quip. The description could NOT be more literal in this case.

After my tale of "The Music Experiment," my mom's former middle school/high school BFF (with whom I am a regular opponent in "Words with Friends") offered to go with me to visit Lynn. What follows is her perspective of our visit. Connie Cody Welch has offered very generous and thoughtful responses to all my previous blog entries, but I didn't know she processed and wrote in a way that is so similar to mine. That made it all the more poignant and heartbreaking. Especially when she said "...how desperately Lisa loves her." 

Niagara Falls.

It made my dad and brother cry, too. Here it is:

Visiting Lynn

Five decades of friendship – precious.  It was autumn 1959 when Lynn and I first met. Suddenly it’s autumn 2012.  How did fifty three years disappear so quickly?  Flashback to the start of our 8th grade year in Missoula, Montana; accelerate to the present as I reluctantly guide my mini-van toward a nursing home in Tekoa, WA.  Lisa, Lynn’s vivacious daughter whose hilarity matches one of the things I always liked best about her mother, rides shotgun.  Lisa tells me what I might expect when we arrive.  I’ve been the absent best friend the last few years. Lisa’s blog has kept me informed of Lynn’s spiral into this nightmare called Alzheimer’s.  This summer Lynn and I have each had our 66th birthdays.  We’re old enough for Medicare but way too young for this diabolical disease.  Life shouldn’t equate to this.  Damn.

Suddenly Lisa directs me to turn off the highway and we approach what resembles an old one story motel. The sun warms an almost empty parking lot as we get slowly out of the car.  We’re the only visitors today.  I fumble with the car keys, paying meticulous attention to locking the van.  My hands tremble.  I wonder if tremors shake Lynn’s body; if she’s aware of them.  Lisa walks slightly ahead of me.  Her usual bounce is absent as she opens the door and points out the faded d├ęcor, circa 1970. 

It’s a small facility – this no frills place that houses mostly Medicaid/Medicare patients.  I like the smallness.  The low ceilings and undersized rooms remind me of the cozy old house where Lynn was raised.  At the end of the entrance hall is a nurses’ station. Lisa is greeted warmly by the caregivers.  It’s obvious these ladies like her.

As they chat, I turn a corner and there she is – my middle school friend, the one who always made me laugh so hard my sides hurt; the friend whose naturally highlighted blonde hair was always perfect and whose gorgeous skin never suffered from acne.  She’s slumped in a wheel chair – parked in an alcove that reminds me of where we lurked when assigned 8th grade hall monitor duty.  I morph into a 13 year old and drop to my knees beside her.  Lisa stands on the other side of her mommy.   I speak her name.  “Hey Lynn.  Hey girlfriend,” I say in a voice that doesn’t sound like mine.  Slowly she turns her head to me and I’m convinced there’s recognition in her faded blue eyes.  She smiles.  Her smile has always been half mystery, half whimsy.  It hasn’t changed.  She laughs a little, turns and looks then, at her daughter.  Lisa and I are both crying.

Several caregivers observe our reunion.  Their smiles reveal a sweet tenderness toward Lynn that reassures me of my friend’s safety in this strangely surreal place.  Everything happens in slow motion, yet my level of awareness pushes me toward sensory overload.  Random pictures of captured memories roll black and white across the screen saver of my mind.  I want to ask Lynn if she remembers when we rented a tandem bike at the Dairy Queen on North Higgins.  Or the time we floated Rattlesnake Creek in inner tubes; or our first formal dance and the outrageously pastel formals we wore, or . .   If she remembers?  What am I thinking?  This wonderful, witty, artistically gifted woman no longer remembers how to dress herself.  She doesn’t feed herself; she no longer walks; nor does she speak.  She’s unable to care for her personal hygiene, nor does she understand when we speak.  Her daughter wonders if Lynn even remembers who she is.  There are days she’s so unaware of where she is the nurses say she’s “not present.”

Today, the staff informs us, is one of Lynn’s “good days.”  She’s present today.  Lisa and I both thrill to the occasional eye contact.  We greedily claim Lynn’s smiles and laugh with her when she laughs.  Is she actually experiencing joy?  Does she sense how desperately Lisa loves her; how sweet it is for me to find her in a place where she’s safe; obviously cared about? 

We move from the hall into what must be a TV room.  Never mind the sort of storage room clutter, or the layers of dust on a dilapidated old desk in the corner.  Here we have a measure of privacy and fairly comfortable chairs.  Lisa navigates Lynn’s chair between ours so we form a seated triangle.  I bend toward Lynn and she reaches for my face, patting it lightly.  She tugs slightly on my earrings, reaches for the pendant of my necklace.  She shows me her hand, massaging her right ring finger with her left thumb.  I acknowledge that she, too, once wore rings.  One was abalone on sterling silver.  I brought it to her from Newport, Oregon the summer before we started high school.

I tell Lisa my total conviction that her mother knows her.  There’s something intangible about the recognition passing between them.  Am I imagining this because I so want it for Lisa?  No, I think not.  Maybe, to sense this, one has to recognize the many signals that slip unseen between mothers and daughters.  Three grown daughters of my own have heightened my observation.  For now, on this singular October day, my friend knows her daughter.  That fact stands alone, deserving celebration.

Gently Lisa removes one of her mom’s shoes and begins to massage her foot.  The gesture is so sweetly tender I look away to hide my tears.  As Lisa puts Lynn’s shoe back on we notice how tightly it fits and agree to shop for a new pair later in the day.

Kneeling now in front of Lynn’s wheelchair, Lisa leans into her mother.  Lynn reaches out, running her hand through Lisa’s luxuriant red hair, flipping it up and to the side. Lynn laughs softly.  We talk girl talk then, Lisa and I - mostly about hair since mother and daughter both have these terrific manes and mine’s not altogether shabby. 

Because Lynn is more present than not, we stay longer than planned.  Lynn passes through various stages – agitation, absence, minimal awareness, laughter, an attempt to speak.  Best of all, she is still funny.  She pats my face and suddenly laughs, turning away from me.  “Ohhhh oh ohhhh,” she says.  She turns again, reaching once more for my face.  Smiling slightly, she says, “Wrinkled.” Lisa and I break into laughter.  It’s true that I’m wrinkled and she definitely is NOT, but still.  

Lynn is growing tired.  Lisa and I haven’t had lunch and the afternoon is disappearing.  Lisa pushes the wheelchair back to the alcove and we stop to say good bye to the staff.  Several of the caregivers surround us, obviously pleased with how well the visit went.  I’m encouraged to visit again.  Lisa stands directly in front of Lynn as she reaches toward her daughter, curls her fingers back and forth against the palms of her hands and very plainly says to Lisa, and to Lisa only, “Mommy.”

A moment in time.  A moment meant only for Lisa.  A moment Lynn gifts from her heart to her daughter.  A gift Lisa will have forever.  No matter how many good days, how many not-so-good days lay beyond, Lisa owns this moment.

We walk halfway down the hall toward the exit.  Lisa no longer holds back her sobs and I wrap my arms around her.  We don’t speak.  What would we say?  We walk slowly to the car and sit there in silence.  It’s quiet in Tekoa, even the birds are silent. Finally one of us mentions lunch and we realize we’re starving.  We head back to Spokane and listen to a comedy tape, neither of us ready for conversation.   The restaurant we chose is empty in this limbo between lunch and happy hour.  We have a two martini lunch and, slightly buzzed, go in search of a pair of perfect shoes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Clothing Drive

Smoky mountain not all majestic
This was written in mid-September. There were lots of brush fires on the Palouse.

A nurses's aide told me at the last visit that my mom needed clothes. So, I went on a shopping spree for size large cardigans shirt jackets, long sleeved shirts and sweats. Many of them matched each other. Just because you can't speak in clear sentences or  move yourself around in a crumb-riddled wheelchair doesn't mean you have to give up all efforts at looking nice, right? A few were even Eddie Bauer. (I also found 4 attractive pieces of clothing for myself, and a few for my daughters.)

Sophia carries in Lynn's "new" sittin clothes.

I took Sophia with me because she had a slight cough and stuffed up nose and I'd kept her home from school. I'd explained to her grandma didn't know anyone anymore, plus she hears all my descriptions of visits. She was gracious and stoic during the weird visit. A few older women reached out to her and made cooing sounds. She obliged them with friendly pats on the arm.
"Good thing I have a stuffed nose because I can't smell the pee," she confided matter-of-factly.
I'd brought the CD player outside to do our new routine of listening to Lynn's jazz, but the player wouldn't work: "NO DISC"
So I found one AM radio station and Helen Reddy was playing. That I knew all the words to was a surprise to me. I sang, because what else do you do.

Turns out my mother's room mate, who prefers to go by "Betty" (again, just because you're bed-ridden doesn't mean you can't have preferences and whims) is nearly 90 years old. High maintenance for the staff, compared to the non-talkers (She looks 78, I'd say.)
She is deaf in one ear, and compensates for it by yelling at everyone. But once I let her know I was a teacher and a journalist, she totally loved me. I was just glad she was lucid enough to speak. She described my mom's sleep habits, a few times she'd fallen on the wheelchair dismount and added that she could tell "Lynn still had spirit." She let me know about a few times she'd spoken sensibly at night.

Then Sophia asked to please leave. So we did.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Being There with Les and Diet Cherry Pepsi

          SO. Thursday, I took my mom the spooky doll, thinking it might get a glimmer of recognition, and just because it's hers. I also brought Alex's portable CD player (he doesn't use it anymore; he has an Ipod) and the zipped-up jazz library.
          She had vacant eyes. Has. They used to be blue gray, and now they're just gray.
          When I walked in with the doll, she responded to neither of us any differently than other objects; inanimate or animate. (Food, other people.)And I say that, today, attaching less meaning to it than before. I'm not slapping the front of my hand to my forehead "uuuuuugh my mother doesn't knooooow me..."But it does suck.
After small talk in the common area, where scrubs-clad workers were cleaning up after a late breakfast or early lunch, one of the nurses took the boom box and said she'd put it in her room.
          My mom's roommate is probably ten years older than my mother (most patients there are) very hard of hearing, very sick (confined to bed) but lucid; giving specific updates and directives. "I need to be changed, and I've got about half the water in the bottle, and could you please hand me a tissue and this book..."
          Seems like that would suck even worse than just floating around? I have to think so, because yes, even at the end of the life-long journey to "look good" and "have it all," it's about comparing.
Geez, I have little functioning brain power, but, whoo! At least I'm not as bad off as THAT guy. He gnawed off his own foot..." Total gallows humor. I'm sure it was a War injury. Or maybe Diabetes.
I'm awful.

          So I rolled her outside, having gotten a helpful tip about releasing the back of the chair so that she can lean back and I can move the wheelchair without having her little slippered feet drag along. She's still carrying the doll, and I have my purse, and a Diet Cherry Pepsi from the vending machine.
I have a flashback to when I used to push my twins around in a double stroller, heaving my purse and diaper bag to the left and opening doors with a right hand (or pinkie finger if holding something else in my right arm), holding it with a hip and pushing the door open with a foot while I throw in the rolling chair into the doorway.
Anyway we went outside, but most of it is reserved for the smoking shed in the back cement yard area. Half of the patients cant hold their own cigarettes, so the aides have to hold it for them. My mom isn't even bothered by the second hand smoke, which says volumes because the only thing that bothered her more than smokers was meat grown in factory farms.

          I decided now would be a good time, away from the smoke, to listen to the music, so I found an outlet at the end of a small sidewalk and left her here to get the boom box and music. Just like this.

          While I'm getting the boom box, take a small break and go back to 2010 to check out me, my brother and my mom TWO YEARS AGO in July. She was living independently, with someone coming in to buy groceries and help her pick up; she had an automated pill dispenser at the time. That's it. Fricking fast decline.

I look thin there. So does Chris but he always does.

          On this day we also went, after our innocuous trip to Riverfront Park, to tour assisted living facilities and a few Dementia Care units-so Chris ( who lives in California) could be a part of this rich pageant called early onset AD.
At one, which ended up being more like the place she is now, for people really far gone and out of money (we hated it and couldn't wait to get out of there) my mother was doing her normal person routine; turning on the charm with the front desk/tour guide person: "Oooh, I really like the way your flowers look our here, nice decor, heh heh, Well, we need to get going now, my son's just here to visit."

          But the best place, the place to which we (my brother, the previous court-appointed guardian and I) were planning to move her (Clare Bridge is the HILTON of dementia care in Spokane) was very stressful to my mom. She told Chris: "I would rather kill myself than live here."
So, we stopped the plan.
          And then she spent all her money on home care and then it was gone, and her condo wouldn't sell, and then she qualified for Medicare and there was only one place--an hour outside of Spokane- that would take her when she was kicked out of her swanky "retirement community" for months of non-payment.

          And here we are back at the cement slab with Les McCann and Diet Cherry Pepsi.

           I plugged in the boom box in our own outlet at the end of a small sidewalk, and I played it. I tried to play Tony Bennett, but it turns out that it was a DVD and that I lied about having brought the CD collection, I only put two in my purse.

          She heard the Les McCann (Greatest Hits) but didn't respond strongly; just looked the direction of the music box and tapped her left foot.

          I skipped forward a few tracks (God I hate this music) and she dropped the doll. Then she reached down to the stereo so I picked it up for her and she held it in her lap. I won't say that peace overcame her, or that I had evidence that she was getting any specific brain-building (like some version of the classical music for babies theory) or spiritual benefits, but I can say her focus charged, or that she simply had focus. And I sat there.

          I thought about all the hours I spent with Alex in my arms. Or when I was trying to wean him from being nursed to sleep, how I laid on the floor with my arm weaved through a rung on his crib (until he was deeply asleep enough to dare move my arm) I had no where else to be in the world then. Now I had other places to be, sure, but not for a while, so I stayed and watched her. She got less nervous, and seemed to be relaxed as she closed her eyes. When she seemed to be losing her grip on the stereo, I tried to move it off her lap, but she kept holding on (like my toddler with his half-asleep death grip) So I kept my foot beneath the stereo so she wouldn't drop it, and I moved my hand to the handle a couple times, too.
         One time, she took my hand. Not assertively, but still. And I held it for about five minutes.
          I told her I would come once a week to listen to music with her. I may have lied, but I will go more often. No one else can do that. Just sit, and watch while she sits and listens. I saw her expression, once, for about 20 seconds, but then it went back to fog. I cried for about five minutes, spiralling down the "my mommy's gone" hole and then took several deep breaths to regain my composure, because, Hell. Why do that for long if I can help it? And then I drove home, but actually felt like I did something. Even if it was just being there. And it wasn't as heart breaking as I thought it would be.
Except that I'm lying again, because it really fucking is.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Unhappy birthday, Sad Jazz and and a Ghost in the Cheese Section

          I haven't written in a long time. I just can't story tell when the grief and loss is heavy. But right now I am cleaning out my hideous office and that involves emptying all these hoarders-type piles of commemorative things and Creative Memories archive-quality bags of expensive paper. Oh, and the contents of my mother's wedding albums, graduation and grade school photos, my baby books and a few beautiful photos of her pregnant with me and with her hands on my face on my wedding day and I have to move away from this room because mementos make my chest feel tight. Her cousin, my second cousin, went to visit her and said she's doing worse than my grandmother. Breathe

Here is what I wrote a few days after I went to see her on her birthday:

        "Knowing there is nothing she can wear, really~ since at our last visit she was changed into a hospital gown for bedtime (that had a shit stain and was allegedly going to be changed after we left)~ I decided to not buy my mother a birthday gift, other than a small, vibrant purple plant from Trader Joes' cheap floral department.( I got myself a bouquet, too, in advance, for the sad effort of visiting my mother) a decadent chocolate stuffed cupcake and a Mylar balloon. 
         Sighing heavily as I made my way down the hallway, past the faded 1970's era framed  Jesus, the familiar stench of stale gravy/overcooked broccoli/pee/antiseptic greeted me.
        My mom didn't though. 
        She's now wheelchair-bound and alternately excited, gleeful, or just worried-sometimes momentarily terrified- about my presence. Last time, which I couldn't write about because it sucked so bad, and I wasn't used to the new new bizarre normal) my daughters were there and she liked to see them. She smiled at them, and said the word "Lisa." Not to me or them, but still, awareness existed. When her cousin Cindy visited last month, she was reportedly excited and knew exactly who she was immediately "Hi Cindy." This time though, two weeks later, she was ~impossibly~ worse.     It was nearly 7pm and it's apparently  difficult for her to stay  awake past then. So she was tired and reclined in her shoddy wheelchair. She had her eyes closed like she was pretending to sleep, or thought she was hiding. Maybe she just wanted to be left alone. She doesn't wear shoes anymore. Just over sized socks and they're dirty. After her very sweet nurse (and the nurses aid who always hugs me and tells me she loves me) took the Mylar balloon and batted it around, she opened her eyes, but still wouldn't look at me. Glimmer or recognition? Acknowledgement? Nope. Concept of birthday? No. Anything beyond neutral presence? No. The nurse explained that her medicine hadn't changed much, except there were a few medicines she didn't need anymore. Namenda and Aricept I would guess. Since slowing the progression is no longer a possibility. 

Wasn't interested in the plant, wouldn't touch me back. So, I left. It was not a happy birthday.

I haven't visited my mom since her birthday. More than one month ago. And for that fact, I am both relentlessly guilty and feeling like people around me are judging:

"See that woman, she may look like she's got it together, but do you know her children stay up way past an appropriate bedtime...and...I heard she hasn't even visited her mother in the nursing home for more than a month!"


The people having that conversation are apparently characters from a pre-Civil War lawn party in Gone with the Wind, but anyway...

Still getting the crap from the office into the outside hallway, and finally outside into the Tahoe. (Are the piles of physical things we don't want to deal with a reflection of those things inside we don't want to deal with? You don't have to be a therapist to figure that out.) And are tiny fragments of memorabilia all over the place where I am writing? Yes.


So I'm going through this big CD case filled with jazz and blues albums. Chris and I referred to jazz and blues, especially the really upbeat stuff with lots of piano and horns as "Flippy Toes" music because of an episode of Flintstones where Fred was hanging out with musicians and one of them had a name like that, or it was it that Fred (as a bowler) was "Twinkle Toes" and we got it mixed up? I don't know, but it made my mom laugh, and not many things did, so we said it every time she played an album. Mostly she listened on headphones though so she couldn't hear us making fun of her music.( And she wanted to be left alone. A fact that I found sad as a child but now understand as an aging mother myself)

I was going to give away the Ella Fitzgerald and Les McCann, never the Miles Davis..although I'd never listen to that..Blues and jazz isn't my most favorite genre, but now I have no hope of listening to it--even live. Within minutes I feel that familiar kicked int he chest feeling. I cried at Zola one night dancing with my friends. It wasn't even jazz, just a woman with vibrato in her voice. Someone Lynn would have enjoyed. The music is a complete manifestation of my mom at her prime. She would even go ALONE to see blues or jazz. Anywhere. Even a doo-wop or a spaced out woman randomly dancing makes me melancholy (Missoula natives will understand that is because of the Top Hat..my mom's favorite hangout circa..1989-199? whenever she stopped drinking..and then a few times she dragged my European New Wave-loving ass there too.)

But I couldn't even let go of them. I was just holding onto the CD case. Hugging it. Wave of sadness. Chest tightness. Forced movement into the garage where I drop items that don't know what to do with. Her small HD TV with a missing remote is there, too. Should I try to bring in a stereo and see if her 4 second attention span will expand for a Mel Torme song? Maybe she needs her music even if she cant conceptualize what it is. I know there would be some illumination from music..that's what all the research says..but maybe that's with less comatose patients?

That was a few days ago. Tonight, I was at my grocery store and I saw a ghost of my mom's former self. 

Sorry, lady, that I took a photo of you contemplating sour cream or cheese. But with that fleece and blond/gray bob haircut, you looked just like Lynn. 2009 or 2010, in the decisive months before she used to worry the staff at Rosauers with her too-long confused wanderings.

I had to text a photo to my brother so that he could acknowledge that she looks like our mom from the back. (See at RIGHT)

Is this what will happen, like when a loved one dies? You see them in your dreams (2-3 times a week, never in her current state, always pretty and walking) I suppose I'll keep seeing Ghosts of Mommy Past, just shopping for cheese; all synapses firing. Not noticing the disheveled adult child 10 feet behind, snapping a cell phone photo and crying over corn tortillas in aisle six.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Breaded Veal Cutlets

A good friend of my mom's observed when I was "reporting" about my mom's "status," the other day that I was stoic about the whole thing. I insisted I was not~when I hear the term "stoic" I think of a large intimidating older woman, perhaps of German or Slavic descent (even though stoicism has Greek roots I think)with a grouchy look on her face and arms crossed. But here's the definition: "A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining." 
So I guess I am stoic, or like most people, I am in little bursts. While I'm talking, explaining, describing. The alternative is crying in the sugar packets. Like I did on my most recent visit Sunday.
That little glimmer of recognition is even slighter, if that's possible. My mom seems remotely..hmm, not glad,,she still acknowledges my presence. In perhaps a positive manner? (She was just given a Hydrocodone to deal with her pain, since her arm isn't healed yet from falling last month.)She tried, it seemed, to appreciate having me and the girls there. She laughs at things..don't know what..but just generally laughs. Which makes her likable among the staff.
One of the nurses was going to give her some food from the Brunch "buffet" but I saw that the entree choice was "breaded veal cutlets." 
"Um, no, she can't have breaded veal cutlets," I blurted. "She was a member of PETA and an animal activist for 25 years..she used to give out pamphlets from Farm Sanctuary about how veal is raised."
"Oh, yeah, I don't want that," she agreed.
"Oh my goodness, that's important to know, we should know that," replied the nurse.
I went over to the food area and said "Can I please have some Rosemary potatoes for my mom?"
And I turned around and began to sob uncontrollably over the sugar packets at the drink area of the counter. This woman in a hairnet asked if I was OK.
"Um, yeah, I'm just grieving over the fact that I have to explain to people that the woman who is now a former shell of herself but used to be my mom was an animal activist and she can't eat veal."
"I'll be fine, I just miss my mom. I'm pacing ,myself, you know, with the grief."
I cried for maybe 5 more minutes. Then I took a deep breath, wiped my tears and snot on my upper arm and walked back to the table.
The woman next to me, Pat, I think? She asked my mom if we were her family. (I've seen her tons of times, but whatever) My mom didn't respond so I said, Yes, I am her daughter and these are her grand daughters.
"She doesn't look old enough to have grandchildren," said Pat.
"Yes, she doesn't look old enough to have advanced stage Alzheimer's either," I know, kind of bitchy for me to attack the poor wheelchair-bound neighbor.
"That's true," she said. And then told me she had had MS for 30 years and talked a little about the ebb and flow of her symptoms.
"Yeah, the disease process sucks," I said.
And maybe 10 more minutes and the visit was over; my stoicism now fully intact. Actually, I cried some more in the car. 
Then I listened to David Sedaris "Squirrel Meets Chipmunk"  about the bear who gets all this mileage out of telling her friends and neighbors about her extreme grief over losing her mom; avoiding manual labor for nearly 6 months because she's so distraught. The animals all start rolling their eyes and avoiding her. 
It made me laugh, because I needed to, yes, and the parable also reminded me not to be too dramatic, but mostly, laughing--even HARD laughter..forced and maniacal and inappropriate is better than crying uncontrollably. But I suspect I'll be doing both, intermittently, for a long time

Monday, January 16, 2012


By the way, I went to see Lynn on Christmas Eve. Not since. I suck. It's somehow easier not to visit when I'm pretty clear she doesn't know who I am. It's actually both easier, I should add, and way freaking harder.
I brought a fruitcake, but not even one I bought from a grocery store bakery. One I bought from BIG LOTS, (along with cheap but attractive adhesive gift tags). She used to joke that she was one of the very few people who liked fruitcake. I also brought her a framed family photo but she didn't recognize any of us..that's not fair, she couldn't name any of us, but I wasn't exactly quizzing her. That's mean. Like testing my daughters on words they can't read yet. "You know that long A sound..WHAT?!"
I knew I had an out, because it was Christmas Eve and I had to get home and do the parent thing for my three kids.
She had fallen the day before, cutting and bruising her right eye, and her arm and shoulder. While conflicting reports had her walking and/or tripping and hitting a corner and/or a flat edge, there was a very lucid, sort of attractive woman (with awful, gnarled legs she has to massage and move around all the time. I think about how shitty other muscular and neuromuscular conditions would be sometimes) who told me, very clearly, that my mom was running when she fell. She actually saw her.
In any case, the nurse had told me the day before that a portable x-ray tech would drive up from Colfax by midnight to find out if she had broken it, but since it was "the holiday" (It's like a 10 day thing here. Christmas Eve afternoon through January 2. Apparently even small-town hospitals observe it) no one came. So it hurt her badly, and she was in a wheelchair, because it hurt too much to walk around, and they didn't want her to become re-injured. So our visiting routine was different. Normally, she walks away and then I go find her.
Sitting in the wheelchair immobile made her seem even more unbelievably old..although remarkably her hair always looks great.
She would forget she was in pain, and then wince, and then forget. She was nicely engaged so she wasn't focusing on it too much, because I was sitting with her at the dinner table and we were laughing at a belligerent neighbor. OH MY GOD the old people eating around me. The guy on the left yelling and slamming his plate..the sweet old guy on the right had a speech impediment but ready smile.
Christmas is a holiday for the young and healthy. Didn't really matter. Like "Hope" on Shawshank, "there's no use for it on the inside."
But I shared the awful fruitcake with the lady next to us who always compliments my clothes. I mean, she's wearing an oversized military coat, mismatched clothing and a vibrant knit hat, so I mean, really, she's easy to impress, but still.

My mom's old roommate Patty was so glad to see me she squealed with delight. and put her arms out to be hugged. She's about ten years younger and has a teeny bit of dementia, but her other physical ailments are so plentiful that it's low on the list of concerns.

I hugged my mom and said "I love you," and she said "Oh, that's nice of you to say." I took it to mean she may have thought it out of place, exchanging such informal pleasantries with a young fruitcake-bearing, somewhat familiar guest and not, say, a daughter. But I don't think she gets the concept of her being a mom and grandma anymore..so..maybe I'm a friend. Not a very good friend, though, since I haven't been back since.

Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973