Mom speaks words of wisdom and she doesn’t know it.
It’s wisdom for her daughter.
To let it be.
I’ve been reticent to write about mom for several weeks. Her dementia has been in a darker place of late, filled with anxiety and worry and sadness. It was only this past Thursday, when I paid a special visit to the woman who still clutches the ratty black sweater, that she seemed in a better place. Mom appeared more alert than she had been, she complained about the food (always a good sign), and asked if I had met a man so I could get married and have children.
Mom? I’m too old to have children.
“Oh? How old are you?”
“Did your brother get married yet?”
No mom, not yet.
“He should get married. It’s a sin to sleep together without being married. Why doesn’t he get married?”
I don’t know, mom.
This brought a chuckle to my heart as I hadn’t heard it in a while. If you’ve read prior posts about mom, this is one of our recurring conversations. It was good to see the feistiness that continues to exist somewhere inside this woman’s psyche. However, my own inner being was quietly speaking, “You can’t make it happen, mom. Let it be.”
Prior weeks had not brought any chuckles. I was concerned that sundowning or another UTI (she had one over her birthday week in August) was causing mom to have moments of excessive anxiety over money and being alone. She would generally call me mid to late afternoon, several times if I didn’t answer, leaving the occasional message of “Hello? Hello?” One of the aides called me one afternoon as I wasn’t able to answer mom’s call due to being involved in a project at work. She asked if I would call mom right away as she was positive someone stole money from her purse. An excessive amount of money. Mom wanted the aide to call the police. The aide was unable to calm or reassure her that nothing was taken from her purse. Mom has an occasional habit of digging in her checkbook, trying to make sense of it, pulling her checks and register out of her wallet, and then telling me that her checkbook is “a mess.” I’ve let mom keep her checkbook in her purse so that she has some semblance of independence. Whether or not she can do anything with it doesn’t matter. Having it in her hands does.
When I called mom about the so-called missing money, she was in a terrible tither, her voice wavering. She was sure that someone stole $2,000 from her wallet.
No, mom, no one stole money from you.
“Yes, they did. I had $2,000 in my wallet.”
Mom, I was there two days ago and you did not have that much cash. Your money is in checking and savings.
“Are you sure? I thought you said that’s how much money I had in my wallet.”
We continued with a very difficult conversation with me attempting to calmly explain the status of her assets and mom wanting to insist that someone went into her purse and took money out. The aide had told me that she was upset about this since the morning hours, carrying her purse with her to lunch and keeping it close by at all times. After a lengthy conversation, mom finally calmed down and accepted the word of her daughter that no crime had been committed. With subsequent visits, mom has barely made mention of the security of her purse, which has been a positive sign. I considered taking her checkbook home, where I might convince mom it’s safe, but I quickly nixed that idea. She would forget by the next day that I had taken it home and for several weeks would be calling to report her checkbook missing. I know this because it happened with her savings book. I took it home with me for ease in some of her banking processes, but mom called for weeks to tell me she could not find the book. The fact that I have her savings book has either finally cemented itself under the gray hairs or she has completely forgotten its existence as she very rarely speaks of it.
So, with respect to the sanity of said daughter, the checkbook stays. I say, let it be.
Another type of phone call has occurred the last three weeks. A little something to instill feelings of guilt and break my heart.
“When are you coming to visit? You haven’t been here in a very long time. I’m LONELY.” *she said with a quiver*
I’ll be there this coming weekend.
“How many days until you are here.”
A few mom (I was avoiding an exact number). I have to work this week and then I will be there.
“That’s a long time. I’m lonely. I have no one to talk to.”
Bad daughter had been on vacation and the last two visits had only been long enough to take care of financial business, deliver a few items of necessity, and have a 30 minute conversation. I have worked on not feeling guilty about the length of visits when the rest of life is full, but that conversation had me in tears. Thankfully, I was able to stop on Thursday, on my way home from yet another computer training session. Mom had a visitor and I found a smile. I’ve had many pangs of guilt over the years of taking care of mom and dad – Am I doing enough? Should I call more? Should I visit more? – but I have slowly learned that it’s important to let it go, let it be. It’s simply that mom’s emotional, quivering voice is difficult to overcome. I feel sadness for her, for her situation. I want to fix it. And that’s the worst part. There is no fix. I’ve said this before…if I could only give her vision, hearing, or a sound mind. One of those three, although I would lean toward the sound mind. On a recent visit, in between vacation trips, mom didn’t remember Evan, her husband. (The aides at assisted living relay that she’s been calling for her husband and asking his whereabouts. One aide said she tries to choose her words carefully when telling mom that Evan passed away over three years ago.)
Mom bore confusion when I changed the subject matter and began to talk of her mother.
Your mother was a good cook.
Mom stared, unknowing.
Do you remember your mother? She was an excellent German cook. Do you remember the dishes she used to make?
A spark of memory appeared. “Yes, she made goulash.”
And weiner schnitzel. Do you remember?
Another blank stare. And then…
“Are any of my brothers or sisters here?”
No, they have all passed away.
“Aren’t you my sister?”
I’m your daughter, Mary.
“Oh…I thought your name was Josephine (the legal name of her sister, Jeanne).”
I didn’t say anything. Let it be, Mary.
Another lesson from mom – there are times when dementia’s truth is the truth. One cannot argue it or deny it. It is bold and unwavering and will wag its finger at you. It beckons me to hold reality from or lie to my own mother in order to squelch confusion, anxiety and worry. At some point, I want to nod my head and say, “Yes, it’s Josephine, I’m here. Yes, your son finally got married. Yes, I found a man and I’m pregnant.”
Perhaps not that last sentence, but you understand, right?
Mom does speak words of wisdom to me in our interactions and in her emotional anxiety. Wisdom in how to have patience and converse with someone who doesn’t remember yesterday; how to look at the elderly and those with dementia and Alzheimer’s with understanding and empathy; to nod agreement with a woman who denies a red sweater that she’s had for many years; wisdom in how to be unconcerned when someone clings to something that you would have thrown away long ago; to give grace to someone who can’t stop complaining about crappy food; to never give up what you love…to taste it until the last drop; to have persistence and keep fighting, fighting, fighting. And when there is nothing you can do, nothing that can change what today is about, to let it be.
“Where will I live when I die?” That was mom’s question to me today, during our visit. She was talkative and fairly alert, that being one of her seriously-delivered questions.
What do you mean, mom?
“You know, where will I live? What city?”
In Oshkosh, right next to Evan.
“Oh, where does your brother live?”
“Why doesn’t he live closer?”
Because he works there.
“When is he getting married? What is he waiting for?”
Did I tell you that I went dancing Friday night?
Some things I have to let be.
Postscript: Mom has been doing much better. The aides tell me she’s keeping the door to her room open, sitting at the lunch table longer, and has had periods of greater independence. The brandy manhattans are a little less regular and she’s switched from sweets to salty snacks. (She needs to lose weight, you know.) I haven’t had an anxiety-ridden phone call in over a week and it appears that mom is in a calmer place. I hope and pray it stays that way for a while.