About Me

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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.

Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973