Friends

DSC08261Mom has always described herself as a “doer and joiner.” A born leader, she was active in the lives of her five children, her extended family and her community. She also had a group of very close female friends dating from college days. Though muted, this remains true today.

On Saturday we played our usual Scrabble game. At game’s end I suggested a walk—which she loves. I excused myself to use the bathroom and emerged to find her gone. I found her next door in Phyllis’s room happily chatting with Phyllis and Kathleen—her posse as I have come to think of them.

And while I would have loved to take that walk, I realized that Mom is far more comfortable with her friends. I left reluctantly but happy in the knowledge that she has once again found another group of close and supportive friends—a wonderful thing.

Share on Facebook
Post on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Stumble Now!
Buzz This

If I Knew Then…

2.21 purple primroseWhen my father was in the latter stage of Parkinson’s and middle stage of Alzheimer’s, I was not the best care-giver. I was impatient; I regarded visiting as a “something I have to do chore” and I let my buttons get pushed—reverting to adolescent anger more often than I would like to admit.

But if I knew then what I know now, I would have realized that he was terrified. I would have been kinder and much more patient. I’d let him set the pace. I’d be content to sit with him in silence—to be a calm presence that could reassure him that he was not alone. I’d give him a gentle neck massage knowing that touch is important. I’d smile at him and mean it.

This is what I’ve learned from Mom—and while I’ll never get the chance to do this with Dad, it’s what I strive to do with her and all the ladies in Assisted Living every time I visit.

And before you know it, it’s no longer an obligation, it’s an appetite.

Share on Facebook
Post on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Stumble Now!
Buzz This

Philosophy

Visiting can be difficult for many. Why should I visit? She doesn’t know who I am, can’t hear me and forgets I was there the moment I leave. What’s the point? Plus it’s depressing…I hear you say.

But visiting can be a joy if you stop looking for the person who was and enjoy the delightful person who is with you.

Today Mother proved the rule. After an hour of chatting about the weather and the view and what Seattle will be like in 50 years—the usual subjects—the conversation took a philosophical turn.

Mom: “When you are a very old lady—as old as I am now—I’ll be dead you know—you’ll have to call me up and tell what it’s like.”

Me: “ Will you be in heaven?”

“Naturally. I’ll knock on your door to tell you what has occurred and if I don’t knock on your door, you’ll know nothing has happened. That we just lie there—dead, doing nothing. (At this point, she mimed looking dead and laughed.)

“And if everyone who says they are going to heaven went, it would be too full. I’ll stay here.”

Later she began singing “Bicycle Built for Two” to one of her stuffed animals. She remembered every word.

DSC08246Definitely worth the wait.

Share on Facebook
Post on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Stumble Now!
Buzz This

Mischief

DSC08256
Mom and I were walking down the hallway after lunch, when she saw a tray with leftover food/dishes.

“I could sweep all this to the floor she says with a gleeful swing of her arm. Of course, I wouldn’t do that but it’s fun to think about.”

For a woman of fairly strict rectitude during our childhood, it’s interesting to see this side of mother.

Wonder what else is lurking under the surface…

Share on Facebook
Post on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Stumble Now!
Buzz This

How we think about Alzheimer’s and dementia

JRwatercolors_Page_01The prevailing narrative about Alzheimer’s and dementia pretty much focuses on the dark side—loss of self, the empty shell where someone used to be, a once vibrant person reduced to nothing, the sadness of those who witness and mourn their decline—and, of course the fear.

To which I say—yes, the disease is grim and no one wants to contemplate the fact that you might one day join them in the fog.

But that is why I write about Mom and the thousands like her.

When the KING5 story was shot, the producer asked me, “Don’t you think your Mom is unusual?”

I surprised him with my answer, “Actually no, I think Mom’s story is far more common than you think.” In Assisted Living, nearly all of the people on the second floor are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Nearly all are lovely, distinct, friendly, welcoming and joyful people.

Our emphasis on what is lost clouds our ability to see what is there.

With Mom that is a lot: her generosity of spirit, her mischievous sense of humor, her curiosity about nearly everyone and everything—especially the future. Her glorious smile. Her pleasure in all things is intact—perhaps even intensified.

This afternoon I visited Mom. I took bagpipe music—which she loves. Given her deafness, I wasn’t sure if she could hear it—let alone recognize it. Then she began to sing the melody of the piping—something long forgotten bubbling to the surface.

And the fear? I think it’s all about projection—about how we would feel in their place. But we can’t begin to imagine how we might feel in their place.

In a recent article in “The New Yorker,” Michael Kinsley expressed his fear. “There is a special horror about the prospect of spending your last years shuffling down the perennially unfamiliar corridor of some institution in a demented fog… Dementia seems like an especially humiliating last stop on the road of life. There’s no way to do it in style or with dignity.”

Many years ago, when my father was in the latter stages of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, he surprised us with his desire to live. We had been raised to think that—in his place, his condition—life was not worth living. But as he put it, “You have to remember, life looks different from where I am.”

He’s right, Mr. Kinsley and you’re wrong. You should meet my Mother.

Share on Facebook
Post on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Stumble Now!
Buzz This