Funny Friday

If I can, I want to make my posts on Fridays lighthearted.  She may not intend to and certainly has no idea, but mom can be quirky and make me laugh.  The best times are when she is like this and she laughs at herself.

This week, I have been trying to finish off some garden projects so when Frank comes home, we’ve hopped in the car to dash off to the nearest home improvement/DIY place to get supplies.  One afternoon, I told mom to get ready to come with us.  She jumped out of her seat and hurried to the kitchen.  I turned and asked her where she was going and she said, “Upstairs!”.  She realized where she was and laughed at herself!  See what getting her excited can do?

This weeks favorite anecdote was during one of our daily walks.

Mom putting on the shoes she won’t give back to me.  She says she loves them and they’re the best!

Mom’s social skills are waning so when we see folks from the neighborhood walking, I gently reminder her to smile, wave or say hello.  She spotted a familiar pair of older ladies walking towards us, looked at me with her graying eyes and said, “Jog!” and started jogging!  The ladies passed us and we exchanged a pleasantry while mom tried to look like Harriette Thompson (the oldest woman ever to run and finish a marathon).  The minute she was satisfied that the ladies were past us, mom stopped and said, “Enough!”  Her vanity will pop like a heated popcorn kernel and not only surprise us but make us smile for miles.


By the way, she walked two full miles today.  Well done, mama!

This one thing

There is a story in the Bible that I love.  It is the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus comes to visit them and has a meal in Luke, at the end of chapter 10.  Martha is scurrying around (like I would be) trying to be a good hostess especially since it is Jesus visiting. Mary chose to sit at the feet of her beloved friend.

Our mom was like Martha – she scurried after her girls and pushed us to finish tasks until they were done.  Of course, all three of us rebelled in one way or another – mostly because we were challenging her authority.  But, should I follow that thought, it would be tangential to what I mean to write about.

Although mom loved to read, she was most happy when she was busy.  I could not say whether she loved the tasks, but they kept her occupied.  So, at any given time, you would catch her doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking or cleaning.  She rarely sat because there was always something to do.  It is no wonder she tried to fight off giving up everything she liked to do.

At our house, she is the dishwasher.  She hunts down dishes and has her radar on for coffee mugs, frying pans, little snack plates, and yes, even paper plates.  I don’t know if you know anyone else who does this, but she washes paper plates!  I try to tell her that these are disposable, but all I’ll get in her deeply Filipino accent is, “See, huh!  You can still use this!”

Frank and I used to share this chore and I think he misses it more than I do, but he understands that she NEEDS this.  She needs to stand at the sink and feel the running water over her gnarled fingers.  She needs to feel like she has accomplished something.  Then comes the tinkering.  She dries what she can and puts them away wherever she can find a space.

I kind of feel bad about having her do all the dishes, but it is the one thing she is good at that she can still do.  Just like Jesus said about Mary sitting at His feet, this one thing shall not be taken away from mom.  She was just at the stove peering into a pot. Her eyesight is not bad, it is just not good so she couldn’t tell you what was in it, but I bet she was wondering if she could transfer the stew and wash the pot!

Oh mom!

There was a piece of me that resided in guilt.  No matter how I tried to justify myself, I came away with the same burdensome weight.  I think I understand this so I’ll try and explain.  Mom was diagnosed with dementia about three years ago.  It was not a good time – it never is.  She’d call me in tears telling me all that my sister and brother-in-law were accusing her of.  Then I’d get a phone call about mom getting lost by driving south instead of north or putting metal in the microwave, or leaving the stove on for hours.

Mom sure could talk up a believable story back then.  Her coping mechanisms are still pretty sharp until she starts waxing eloquent about life “back then” and all her past gets scrunched up.  So, I believed her (notice this is past tense).  I believed her because I never saw what my sister saw.  I never really did my research.  I never took the time so spend enough time with her to see the deterioration that was slowly taking our mother away.

Could we have done something to at least slow this down?  My sister deserves all the credit for how well mom is doing presently.  She invested so much time and effort to make mom comfortable, but we still have to live so we all had to work.  My portion came through a guilt trip and now that I see mom 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I wonder what would have happened if we instituted some of what we are doing now earlier.

This condition is disarming.  Mom is disarming.  You can ask her how she likes her food and she will say delicious every time.  You ask her how she is doing and she is fine all the time.  She can look up from her plate and say that she will change her diet to include some of the things we are eating.  Her favorite thing to ask for is the recipe.  Folks, she has not cooked in years nor can she plan a meal or understand when mealtime is.

So, the guilt was like a trailer being pulled by a locomotive.  The train lead us down familiar tracks, but more often than not, we were on new ground almost daily.  I’d chase after the train scrambling to look up what the new ground meant.  How come she couldn’t tell some colors apart?  How come she couldn’t smell (this is bad when something is burning!)?  How come she was never hungry, tired or sleepy?  How come she could snap back with a retort and mumble about all the injustice I am dishing out but she couldn’t sort out whether it was morning or evening.

One day, I had to tell her that we could not use her debit card for a couple of days.  She obsessed about that until she simply cut it up.  Just yesterday, she was studying her arm and laughed.  “Look!”, she told me after I asked her what was funny.  “I can see my vein when my arm is down and it goes away when my arm is up!”  Oh mom!

She’ll probably get to heaven before I do and I know the first thing she will tell me after she exclaims, “Thank God you made it!” will be why, how, and when.  Why her.  How did it happen and how the condition worked.  And finally, when – when God showed her what happened during her time with dementia, could she see how much we loved her, cared for her, and missed her?  She’ll say yes, especially after you let go of the guilt.

The lasagna story

One day last week, we visited a friend in a rehabilitation facility.  I have seen mom’s reaction around older folks especially if they are in wheelchairs or using walkers so I knew this would be a difficult visit for her.  Mom is getting skittish about being home by herself so I tried to prep her for the visit since she would have to tag along.

I told her that we had a dear friend who broke a couple of bones and was recuperating and getting physical therapy.   Her reaction to my prep work was priceless.  She quipped, “If there is a job opening, I would like to work in a care home!  I feel for those who can’t help themselves!”  Well, my heart smiled as I told her she was wonderful for thinking this.

Her bravado faded as we walked through the hallways past rooms with folks shuffling around, some moaning in their beds, and many simply sitting in wheelchairs wearing bibs, nodding off in front of the television.  She clutched her purse tightly to her chest and stayed close.  She was wide-eyed during the whole visit and tensed up during the walk out.  The whole time – there was a palpable fear in her posture and in her eyes.

Then yesterday she got a phone call from one of my aunts.  Bad news.  A cousin’s mother is in critical condition and is in hospice.  Mom got off the phone and told me the news, but added, “she is old anyway – when it’s your time, it’s your time.”  By the time she got downstairs and sat down for lunch not 10 minutes later, she had forgotten all about the call.  I think she sometimes chooses to force unhappy thoughts out or pushes them over the edge into the abyss where all her information has disappeared into.

Now for the lasagna.  Sunday afternoon, I had put two pans of lasagna into the oven.  It was our turn to feed the teenagers at church and all we had time for was frozen lasagna.  All was well until I tried to transfer one of the pans into the carry container.  The whole thing slipped and the hot mess splattered all over my kitchen floor and onto my legs!  I shouted out in pain (hot cheese and sauce burns!) and quickly tried to see if any of the lasagna remained in the pan.  Nope.  It was all over the floor.  Mom and Frank came running!  Mom was holding the bag with other supplies and got flustered.  I didn’t mean to get short with her, but I was afraid she’d slip on the sauce so I told her that I’d deal with it.  She hid.  She put herself in the laundry room and stayed there until we called to her.  She got scared!   We tried to reassure her that all was okay and that it was taken care of but for much of the afternoon, her eyes were big as saucers.  There it was again – fear.

Her fears are something new for me.  Her stubborn streak and tantrums are fairly simple to deal with but fear?  Fear of being left.  Fear of what being old brings.  Fear because she can’t cope.  Fear because she can’t process information fast enough.  Fear of the new and unfamiliar.  Fear that we may be so angry with her or each other that a conflict arises.  Fear that becomes a monster because though they are the same as our fears, she has no idea how to wrestle with it or how to rationalize it away and worst of all, to tell us she is scared.

So, we pray for her and keep our household calm – as calm as possible, but stuff comes up – or in the case of the lasagna, it falls apart on the floor.  Gotta run and rescue my coffee mug – mom is on the hunt for something to wash!