Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s dementia’

Caregiver Dreams

I never dreamt I would become a caregiver and spend my life as a housekeeper, activities director, nutritionist and companion to my aging mother. Not one of my daydreams involved the minutiae of being a HANC.

Daydreams of Night

Like life lessons, some dreams recur until we learn from them. Others don’t need repetition to impress us. Dreams are powerful messengers that can take years to unravel.

When I was a child, I had a dream so frightening that I woke, as many children do, screaming and shaking.

Recurring dreams

My fairy-friends rested on my fingers and granted my requests until the day I sent them away with insults. Soon after, an enormous frog sat on me; only my hands, feet and head weren’t covered. I was terrified of frogs and thought I was going to die underneath this one. I called out to my fairies who reminded me that I’d said I no longer needed them in my life. I begged and pleaded, but they were adamant. They would do nothing for me. Once I apologized and promised to be a good girl, the frog vanished and I was free.

Pewter Fairy

In 2002, I learned about a television series that dealt with dream interpretation, so I contacted the producer to see if he was interested in the dream that had remained a vivid memory for more than thirty years.

Film Crew

The Dream Team didn’t last long as a show on the Sci-Fi channel, but the interpreter’s thoughts about my nightmare linger.

Terrible dream

The interpreter asked about my occupation and when I said I was a writer and editor, he told me I was in the wrong field. The dream – to him – clearly indicated that I should be in a healing profession such as nursing or massage therapy, since my hands played a vital role in the dream.

hand on tree

The frog indicated a potential for change or the unexpected.

Tree frog

He suggested that the fairies represented my relationships with others and with my spiritual self. He then encouraged me to do some soul-searching to determine if I should pursue a medical career.

fairy

I did not wish to change careers.

The interpreter said he thought that since I had remembered a dream I’d had three decades earlier, this was itself, a powerful omen. He urged me to put serious thought into what the dream foretold.

Blue dreams

I dismissed the encounter as a fanciful lark. My telephone interview didn’t air before the show cancelled and I continued as a writer/editor.

Pages of edited work

A few years later, a friend suggested I join her at a local paint-your-own-pottery studio for an afternoon of creative exploration. When I saw the fairy riding on the back of a frog, I knew it was the only piece for me. It was as if the dream, rather than recurring night after night, manifested itself to me every ten years or so.

Frog and Fairy

Some days, when things aren’t going as well as I’d like, I wonder if I knew, when I was in grade school, that one day I would be a caregiver to my mother. It doesn’t matter what I knew as a child or whether my dream was prescient. All that matters today is that I am able to make a difference in the quality of her life.

Halcyon

Mommasez

One of the best things about caregiving, or being a HANC—in addition to knowing you are providing much-needed Housekeeping skills, directing some new Activities, providing healthy Nutritional options and being a Companion—is having the honor of hearing stories and historical remembrances.

Even more so, are short stand-alone sentences, or what I call Mommasez.

Traveling with mom

Because I now live with my mother and spend time with her, going to doctors’ appointments, to have her hair styled, to visit family and out for meals, we talk on our way to these places. Naturally, we also talk at home.

large man in small chairMommasez things that make me shake my head in disbelief.

“When I am on my deathbed and they hook me up to whatever it is they hook people up to before they die, make sure to pour one last cup of coffee in a bag. I want to die with coffee in my veins.”

laughing woman

Mommasez things that make me laugh.

“People say ‘I’m pretty sure.’ Have you ever heard anybody say they were ugly sure?”

bowls of grapes

Often, current events spark memories from her childhood. One such memory came after I brought her a large bowl of grapes harvested from the scuppernong vine in her back yard.

“When I was a child, every fall, there was a man who would stop our bus driver and tell him, ‘Bring the children back tomorrow for grapes.’ The next day, our mothers would give us paper bags, because we didn’t have plastic in those days. Sometimes, the paper bags would have a wax lining, but not usually. So, after school, the bus would stop at his house and all the children got off and picked all the grapes we could take home. Our mothers made jelly and it didn’t cost anything. Well, they had to buy sugar and jars, but that’s how we did it in those days. We all helped one another.”

Momma says things

Mommasez things that make me wonder.

“No, I do not want to visit my cousin in the hospital. They might lock the door and never let me out.”

Mommasez things that would have shocked me years ago, but I have learned she often wants to see if I will have a witty remark.

shower

“Ooh, this shower is better than sex,” makes me reply, “Obviously you truly have lost all your memories, or you always slept with the wrong men.”

She and I both know she has had sex with a total of two men, each her husband; the second following a forty-year marriage to my father, more than twenty-five years after his death.

laughter

My goal is one belly laugh each day. Now that we’ve settled into our own rhythm, we sometimes achieve more than one good guffaw.

save the world

I have started to enjoy her simple needs without imposing my desires upon her. Relaxed in my instinct to take-over-the-reins-and-aright-the-world, I take pleasure in her happiness. I certainly share her frustrations.

parking permit

My mother is fiercely independent, even in a state of disability. Less than a decade ago, she maintained her own home and worked outside the home. Family members assisted with yard work under her supervision.

Sandberg's canes

She cooked, cleaned, handled her finances and was one of the healthiest people in the family. She recovered from her first serious fall well and managed with a cane.

Mommasez things that are profoundly sad, at times.

large family

“I can die now. I know I will never be this happy again,” she told me the night of her eightieth birthday, six years ago.

That was the first time in twelve years all eight of her children were together, most with our children and her great-grandchildren attending.

Walker

She fell again and broke much more than one bone, as in her first tumble. Still, her independent streak fights her limits. She uses a walker for every step she takes, yet there are times, she attempts chores by leaning on other things, some that are not sturdy or steady. When I offer to take over a task that seems too much for her, she scolds me.

“Let me do what I can, while I still can. Soon enough, you will have to do it all for me and you’ll wish I could do it, even if me have to fweep it twice.”

sweeper

“Fweep it twice,” is a reference to my youngest sister who longed to do anything she could to feel more grown up. When she was four years old, she started sweeping the kitchen and someone took the broom from her and told her she was too small to do a good job, as she had left some crumbs. My sister reclaimed the broom with the statement, “Me fweep it twice!”

Time is precious

Youngsters and oldsters need to feel useful and important. It’s the responsibility of those of us in the middle to help them in their quests. We, who are more experienced or healthier, may indeed do the job faster or better – but we can always sweep it twice. We must remember the important things are not the tasks we do for our loved ones, but the time we spend with them.

kitchen

Momma says she wants to be more helpful in the kitchen and I don’t mind. It’s my job to set her up for success and to enjoy the time we have together. If I’m lucky, I might even hear few more things Mommasez.

I am not a Nurse!

Uniforms and hats

I’ve worn some interesting hats over the years, but of all the hats I’ve worn, a nurse’s cap was never one.

             Ask my brothers and sisters and they will tell you that I am not a nurse. I’m the family erudite. As a child, I played school, not hospital. I pretended to be a teacher, not a nurse or a doctor.

            So, why did I volunteer to become a caregiver? Why am I my mother’s HANC?

Woman on scooter

She needed help with Housekeeping, because her limited mobility prevents her from doing all but basic cleaning and home maintenance. This same handicap, brought on by the fall that broke her hip and precipitated an entire shoulder replacement, controls the amount of Activities in which she can participate.

good food

Her dependency on a walker and her failing memory restrict her ability to prepare Nutritious meals. Although she has lived alone for nearly three decades, it was clear her limitations were preventing her from many social interactions; she needed Companionship.

            She needed a HANC, not a nurse.

woman on phone

Every day requires I employ my Housekeeping and Nutritionist skills, but the need for me to be her sole Companion changes if friends or family call or come to visit.

book

Her willingness to engage in activities other than watching television, crocheting or working word puzzles  is contingent on her energy levels. If her overall health declines, she needs a nurse, not a Companion or Activity director.

She’s had a few bouts of illness. Only one, so far, resulted in hospitalization. That’s when I realized I am not a nurse.

tray of medical items

Nurses run on schedules and panicked calls from patients. My shifts run twenty-four, not eight or even just sixteen hours. Some nurses taught me how to control her pain by adjusting her body and supporting it with pillows. Other nurses taught me the strength in a gentle touch and the power of a calm demeanor. Some taught me they care more for a patient prior to receiving discharge orders than they do for those eager to go home.

pain meds

One nurse displayed a preference for medication rather than providing attentive nursing care.

Unfortunately, I learned my mother respects a nurse’s authority more than her daughter’s opinion. Still, no matter how caring, compassionate and qualified a nurse can be, family is always better.

family photo

Even a family as goofy as mine!

Better you than me

busy as a bee

Being caregiver to an elderly loved one is similar to parenthood. The demands don’t end after an eight-hour shift. Downtime is minimal. Some days, no amount of expressed gratitude can compensate for the private sacrifices and personal exhaustion.

two bees

Married HANCs who choose to provide Housekeeping, direct Activities, prepare tasty, Nutritious meals and offer fulltime Companionship may find privacy especially precious. It’s vital to seize moments of intimacy and search for opportunities to be alone with your spouse while maintaining balance in your care-giving roles.

solo bee

Conversely, it is essential to find time to be alone, with friends and to seek personal activities that sustain and support emotional stability. This is particularly important for the solitary or single HANC.

bee duo

The role of companionship for yourself is no less important than providing healthy meals or stimulating activities and maintaining a well-kept home. Remember why you made the decision to become a HANC but don’t let the decision monopolize your life.

fuzzy bee

            From time to time, you will hear things that affirm your decision.

fat bee

A sister said, “Thanks so much for being there—1,000 times.”

Thistle flower with bee

When a friend learned of our move, he wrote in an email:

“I think what you’re doing is fantastic. I wish I could have been there for my father more than I was at the end.”

bee on flower

A business acquaintance told me, “You are doing a wonderful and selfless thing.”

Florida bee

A brother wrote, “Thank you again for your being there. I am so grateful to you for taking this leap in faith to move in with Momma.”

Marigold bee

A colleague wrote, “You have sacrificed a lot to be there for your mother.”

Pollen hunter

Yet one of the briefest and most profound statements came from my sister-in-law.

Better You Than Me!

The Little House in the Country

City HallI was thrilled when I first moved from my lifelong hometown, with a population of 5,360 – according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau – to Atlanta, with well more than 900 times that.

City scape view

At the time, I needed to be absorbed into the city’s anonymity, to feel the pulse of cultural diversity. Several years later, I downsized the city but upgraded my lifestyle.

House in the suburbs

We moved from a small two-bedroom apartment on a fourth-floor walk-up into a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage. About one-fifth the size of Atlanta, this city was still fourteen times larger than where I returned to report for HANC duties. As a HANC I am my mother’s Housekeeper, Activities director, Nutritionist and Caregiver.

Chef

Much of what I’ve done has been typical for a homemaker or a HANC. Cooking, cleaning, stimulating conversation; memory work; driving to appointments, refilling prescriptions, answering the telephone and coordinating with family and friends who want to visit; these are all things that for more than a decade, I have resolutely eschewed.

Why am I now thinking of sewing myself an apron?

World Book encyclopedias

I have fought to be atypical in all my endeavors. I never thought I was superior, yet I felt somehow different from others. One sister has called me the family dictionary for ages. A friend told me my knowledge is encyclopedic. A co-worker nicknamed me the breathing style guide. An employer thought I had moved to South Carolina from Chicago or Manhattan, because of my demeanor and lack of strong southern dialect. No wonder I sought to escape my small town.

            Yet, here I am.

Award

Thomas Wolfe wrote,

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

    Yet, here I am.

I left my little house in the country for one of the largest cities in the U.S.A.

NAMPA AWARD   The whole enchilada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filtered by my environment, I’ve lived my dreams of writing and editing.I am pleased that I seem to have achieved some level of glory and fame. I have no desire to escape time or memory. In fact, my mother’s fading memory is one of the things I hope to help her preserve. As Alzheimer’s begins to scar the surface of her recollections, I went back home, to my family, but not to my childhood.

place setting

I miss the culinary delights that are typically found in large cities, the hidden spots frequented on rare and special occasions. I do miss my friends, the bonds forged while working on our individual novels and short stories or as we groused about deadlines or unmet expectations. I miss my infrequent lunch and after-hours buddies.

Photo outing

I will have to find new photography field trippers and cultural outlets. Now, instead of one or two grandmothers, I am surrounded by them within my own family and it feels different. Good, but different.

house in the woods

I did not return to the Little House in the Country  as a child, seeking anything but peace of mind. For myself, primarily, as I ached every time I had to leave my mother, knowing her health declined daily. For my mother, secondarily, because in order for me to have peace of mind, I needed to provide her with a level of care and companionship that might ultimately improve her condition somewhat.

children in summer

I did not consider that I would provide peace of mind to my large family, but I have. Each one has conveyed in his or her own way how grateful they are to know that our mother is no longer alone.

I tend to act quickly to situations. I try to be prepared enough that I don’t overreact, but at times, I don’t work out all the scenarios. I had not considered how my transition to HANC-dom would impact others in the family. I just knew I had no option but to go home.

House in the country

My parents built The Little House in the Country and we moved into it when I was in the sixth grade. I was over-dramatic when I thought I would never see my best friends again. I thought I hated the new house and who could blame me?

two missing

I have four brothers and three sisters. The house had four tiny bedrooms. Now, it has two! The day we moved in, the house was “dried-in,” which means it had a sub-floor, four exterior walls, a roof and studs for interior walls. The electricity had been turned on and the plumbing was installed. There were no walls or doors inside the house. We had no privacy so my mother stapled sheets to the studs around the bathroom. Little by little, cardboard walls were also then stapled to the other rooms. As time and money allowed, sheet-rock was installed.

Worden parents

My mother told me she had moved frequently once she married my father and when they moved into the newly-built, but unfinished house, she told him,

“This is the last time I am moving. If you want to live somewhere else, you will have to do it without me. I am not leaving this house until I am dead.”

            She has “made do” with whatever she could and has improved The Little House in the Country as much as she has been able.

flowers

Now, it’s my turn. The city girl has come home to her roots and I rejoice when I find grubs or red wrigglers in my compost bin! A recent trip to buy a simple piece of hardware turned into a field trip for me, when I started setting potted plants and hanging baskets into the shopping cart. My urban-bred husband shook his head and waited.

outdoor flowers

I spent hours arranging and repotting dahlias and mums near the mailbox and I fretted over which soil to use for the rosemary and pepper.

rural house

I traded in my small country home for an equally small apartment in a thriving metropolis that was later traded for a spacious home in the suburbs and I pursued my career as city editor. Returning to my roots, I have swapped all I held dear for what is most precious to me. With that, came The Little House in the Country.

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Hit the wall, but don’t let it hit back

It’s not uncommon for a HANC to hit an emotional wall at some point. Keeping a tidy house, directing activities, planning nutritious meals and providing fulltime companionship will take its toll. Wall with flowers

Doing all this while maintaining a career and relationships can add to the stress level of even the most well-balanced person, but to attempt the feat while caring for a beloved pet that becomes ill, relocating your entire household and “coming home” after nearly a decade-and-a-half away can prove exhausting.

wall corner pin and tan

If you don’t rest and take care of yourself, your body will give out in any number of ways and you will be forced to take a break. Be mindful of your physical, emotional and mental state unless you want to suffer the consequences of fatigue, colds, headaches or other maladies.

small bricks

  • No move ever goes exactly as planned or expected, even when you have options for contingencies. Unexpected problems will emerge, such as the old air handler that fails to perform during unseasonably hot weather or the elevated utility bill resulting from the faulty appliance. Cars break down, oven doors fall off, pests invade, rain seems never-ending; yet you are the one who must hold things together for everyone else.
  • Expecting the unexpected can help HANCs cope with computers that fail or cell phones that break. Accepting Murphy’s Law makes it easier to cope and respond appropriately when things go wrong. Then the family has a sense of calm cohesiveness.
  • Problems arise when HANCs expect too much from themselves and are less forgiving of their own mistakes than they are of others. With so many responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember to take time for yourself, time to play, relax, to do nothing. Don’t be too stubborn to listen to the advice you give others.
  • Realize that the housekeeping aspect of your new job does not require miraculous transformation of a marginally kept house into a magazine cover shot. Take care of the necessary daily chores and reserve some of the deeper cleaning for another time, after you have settled in fully.
  • Perhaps the most important part of being a HANC is the activities director portion, but this does not mean you must plan every waking moment of each day. Some days, it means making no plans at all, but being open to what the day brings. If the weather changes, be prepared to change your plans accordingly. Sometimes, an activities director needs only to provide simple conversation and gentle reminders about recent events. Too many changes and too much commotion can be overly stimulating and frightening. A good HANC knows where to draw the line between keeping busy and being a busybody.
  • Learn as quickly as possible how much activity the person in your care can handle at a given time and don’t push beyond that limit. A walk outdoors might be all you can handle one day, but the next day, a drive or shopping trip could provide interaction or the chance to meet old friends. Don’t rush and don’t put your desire to fill the needs of being a HANC before his or her need to do whatever is important at that moment.
  • If the person in your care has memory issues, don’t let your personal frustration drive you to impatience. Allow time and encourage memories by urging conversations with friends and relatives. Give hints and recollection prompts and know that the other person is more annoyed than you at the declining memory.

wall and pipes and sky

Can you tell Fran about what we did yesterday?” might be too generic. Try, instead, “Will you tell Fran what you thought about the farmers’ market?”

Don’t quibble over details, but help with dates and time management.

“Remember, we went to see Sally after you had your haircut. Yesterday was the day we went to the museum.”

reflection of wall

The activities you engage in are to help deter boredom and keep the mind of your loved one stimulated, not for your own entertainment. This can be difficult to remember at times. It can be harder to implement when you are also trying to maintain a healthy balance. If you feel you are close to hitting an emotional wall or at your physical limit, take a moment to collect yourself. A few minutes alone in the shower or a short walk outside might be all you need. Put some space between you and whatever is frustrating you. If your loved one is too demanding, make a promise to yourself to take a break as soon the current crisis has passed.  Keep your promise.

sunset wall

  • By providing a healthy diet for the person in your care, you are also ensuring your own nutritional needs are met. Just be certain your specific dietary needs don’t clash with medical needs. Don’t force anyone to adhere to your menu preferences. Introduce new foods gradually. Make suggestions, not requirements. Don’t preach about snacking, but make healthy choices readily available and be sure to set a good example with how you eat. Keep a water bottle handy, especially when leaving home. Don’t forget to drink water, yourself.
  • Companionship could well be the second most important facet in any HANCs position or life. By growing in communion with the one in your care, you may not add years to a life, but you will certainly add life to those years.

road walls

Knowing your job as a HANC means you understand the obligations, but does not lessen the responsibility to take care of yourself.

fence wall post

Enjoy the journey and stay off that wall.

Labels? Who needs Labels?

     Not long after we moved in, I woke at 5 a.m. to the sounds of gagging and rushed to my mother’s bedside.clock        When I spoke with my local sisters, I was told that she has been doing this for years. About every three or four months, she becomes intensely nauseated and must be monitored for dehydration.

Jane, my oldest sister, said, “The doctor can’t find any reason for this. He said, if she insists, he will put a scope down her throat and see if he can find anything. I got scoped and they found I have a hiatal hernia, but there is nothing they can do about that.”

We agreed it would be worse for our 85-year-old mother if we forced a scope down her throat and they found something but there was nothing they could do for it.

Elderly woman

         It’s bad enough to be a parent and have to sit by while your child is suffering, but when the one who wiped your nose is ill, the feelings shift to a different level.

     Not long ago I called her for relationship advice. I’ve always sought her advice on things related to parenting, cooking, sewing and so many other topics.  If I  called her when I felt ill, she always had homespun advice.

     Scrape an apple for diarrhea, eat a spoon full of sugar for hiccups.

An apple a day

Drink a cold glass of water with baking soda for digestive disorders.

cold water

Give the other person space.

I need my space

She was always right, too. So, when she called my name in distress and looked to me for help, I traded in my HANC hat for a nurse’s and became the caregiver.

What is the proper first-aid to administer to your mother when she is throwing up?

First Aid Station

When my children were sick, I kissed their foreheads and wrists to check for a fever. I rubbed their backs to ease congestion and relax them.  Today, I held the pink, plastic hospital pan under Momma’s chin and waited. I had a cool, wet washcloth ready and stroked her cheek when she thought she’d finished, but I wanted to do so much more.

While she napped fretfully, I emailed my brothers and sisters a quick update.

cup of trea or coffee

My brother, Joe, who lives next door, came over for coffee at 8, but before he could finish his first cup, I had to return to Momma’s room for another round.

over the counter medications

I couldn’t go back to sleep and I dared not make much noise, so I wondered what I might find in her large medicine cabinet of ingredients with names I cannot pronounce that might bring her relief, should she vomit a third time and I wondered why she was sick.

My sister, Bernie, suggested Benadryl might ease Momma’s upset stomach. “It can’t hurt her.”

doctor prescribed medications

      I wasn’t certain, so I checked her shelves that are stocked with over-the-counter and prescription medications as well as with herbal and folk remedies. I found one Jane had marked with a sharpie: Nausea. I was relieved to see it could be taken sublingually.

memory patvch

Along with her Exelon patch for “mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease” and her daily and nightly prescriptions for various other age-related issues are two other prescription bottles. One is an antibiotic she must take prior to certain dental procedures and the other is the prescription for nausea. When I moved in, with Jane’s approval, I discarded the prescriptions she no longer takes, since they had all expired.

Nearly an hour after her second episode, and moments before I found the prescription, she vomited a third time. After she calmed from that, she placed the small pill under her tongue where it dissolved and was absorbed into her bloodstream and again, she napped. Another hour later, she woke up, still queasy, but stronger and thirsty.

label

My friend, Turner, suggested her problem could be a side effect of her blood thinner. She’s such a smart woman!

 I discovered some interesting things about the rat poison doctors have prescribed for my mother.

warning label

Warfarin side effects that require immediate medical attention are:

  • Severe bleeding (This is why we have to guard against injuries and bruising, which could disguise internal bleeding.)
  • Black stool or bleeding from the rectum
  • Skin conditions such as hives, a rash or itching (This is a problem she’s had once since I moved in with her. Now, when I see unexplained whelps and rashes, I will know it’s not a spider bite or allergic reaction, but a side effect to her medicine.)
  •  Swelling of the face, throat, mouth, legs, feet or hands (only once, her left knee was swollen)
  •  Bruising that comes about without an injury you remember (We tend to recall every time she bumps herself and we always watch for easy bruising to follow.)
  • Chest pain or pressure (This occurred today, with the vomiting.)
  • Nausea or vomiting (This seems to be under control, but she is still very weak.)
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms (Once, before today, I thought she had a fever, but the thermometer did not indicate an elevated body temperature.)
  • Joint or muscle aches (She constantly complains of pain in her knee and other areas, so she takes an OTC pain pill.)
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty moving (Some days are much worse than others)
  • Numbness or tingling in any part of your body (she has recently complained that her hands are falling asleep.)
  • Painful erection lasting four hours or longer (at least I don’t have to worry about this one!)

Although rare, warfarin can also cause skin tissue death (necrosis) and gangrene requiring amputation. This complication most often happens three to eight days after you start taking warfarin. If you notice any sores, changes in skin color or temperature, or severe pain on your skin, notify your doctor immediately.

Less serious warfarin side effects to tell your doctor about:

  • Fatigue (Some days, she complains that she is just feeling lazy. I wonder. . .)
  • Gas (I thought this was just my cooking.)
  • Feeling cold (She complains of feeling cold, even on the hottest days and did not want us to buy a new air conditioner because she liked the heat.)
  • Pale skin (This is something we can blame on our family tree.)
  • Changes in the way foods taste (Ah, so, now things are beginning to make sense. She was prescribed to take Warfarin; a side effect of Warfarin is that food tastes differently and sometimes it doesn’t appeal at all, therefore, her “appetite” is considered down and voila! another prescription is written for an appetite stimulant…oh, the western medicine plot thickens.)
  • Hair loss (Only her hairdresser knows for sure.)

check these symptoms

     I have since checked all her medications to see what other side effects might present problems. Maybe I can keep my HANC hat on longer and avoid the nurse/caregiver hat in the future.

     Twelve hours after the first sound of discomfort, Momma was weak, but no longer vomiting. She didn’t have much to eat or drink, but I kept offering ginger ale and water.

     We may not like reading the warning labels, but they can certainly help understand why those in our care suddenly start displaying strange symptoms.

 

     Labels! We DO need those stinking warning labels!

Boy hugs space man

 

 

 

     I’ve noticed a tendency toward stomach upsets when she worries – especially about finances. Her life has been turned around since we moved in. Although she appreciates our help, she can’t deny we’ve changed things in her world and in her routines. The changes, while good, can still be stressful and stress causes all sorts of dis-ease.

 

     Maybe she needs to hug a space man or maybe she needs a little space, of her own. It can’t be easy to suddenly have the noise and activity of a family after so many years of solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings in Old Surroundings

    We’ve passed our first month on the calendar as HANC (Housekeeper, Activities Director, Nutritionist and Companion) and some days it seems we just arrived at my mother’s house. Other days, it seems we’re settled in and our routine is time-tested and sturdy.

As difficult as it is to move, relocating more than 300 miles away is even more trying. We were both fortunate that we weren’t also moving to new jobs and the challenges that provides. Although Curtis has worked remotely for many years, this move did present its share of slowdowns for him. I was a little better off with my job not needing quite the level of technology that his requires and I was able to get right to editing soon after our move.

     Of course, it’s always a struggle to move, but to move into a fully furnished house that has been home for nearly 5o years was a first for both of us and somewhat unsettling for my mother.

     She’s been living alone since my father passed away in the early 1980s with little exception.

     Not long after my father’s death, my brother David joined the military and she was completely alone for the first time.  From time to time, she’s hosted her children and others who visited for a week or more, but she’s mostly been alone.

 

 

     More than 20 years later, she remarried. A year later, shewas a widow and lived alone, again.

 

 

 

     Now, here I am, with a husband and a very vocal cat, disrupting her life. She thanks us several times most days and apologizes for not being able to fully express her gratitude. 

 

     Other days, she exerts herself as the homeowner and defies me to make any changes – even to the kitchen, which she said is, “yours to do with as you please.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re all spreading our wings, trying to see what we can do to “make this work.”

Great Blue Heron flies over lake at sunset

 

     One of  the first dramatic obstacles was finding a workaround for her aging air conditioner. For months, we thought Momma had been adjusting the thermostat, and there is some truth to that; but her adjustment wasn’t the only problem with the fact that many afternoons, when my sister, Jane, came to take Momma for her appointment at the hair salon, she’d find the house was in the mid 80s.

      When we visited in April, my husband, Curtis, thought it might be helpful to install a programmable digital thermostat, rather than the old-style mercury slide she’d had for years. The digital didn’t help much. Two months later, when we moved in, we found the house was still stiflingly hot. So, we called a repairman to come service the unit. The next day was one of the hottest days on record in this state and the 18-year-old unit could not keep up with the heatwave. When repeated calls to the repairman went unanswered, we called others.

     One came out and did a more thorough service job and by the time he left, the unit was cooling again. Our comfort was short-lived, however. The service call could do only so much. Hot air was leaking in through the un-insulated attic and old windows. We could literally feel the hot air coming in through some cracks.

     The first line of defense was to purchase a window air conditioner as an auxiliary unit. Once that was installed, thanks to Curtis and Matt, we realized we still needed to address some of the larger air leaks, Curtis and I put a sheet of insulation inside the hall, covering the gaping area surrounding the attic access and could immediately feel a coolness. Still, the hot air comes in, but we’ve learned which doors to close to keep the house reasonably comfortable – also, we rely on ceiling and floor fans to move the air through the house.fan

 

 

 

 

 

     I’ve had to readjust my daily goals. Now, I’m satisfied if I can unpack just one box  instead of hoping to complete a room. That way, I’m not exhausting myself every day.

 

      I also discovered one thing that helps me with stress – and there is more than enough of that to go around! Today, I had an incident where I was overwhelmed and Momma made a snarky comment.

night fire

      I decided I needed a fire. I wanted to burn things. We’ve had some rain and I felt my fire pit was safe, so I carried all the paper I could find outside. I also gathered some limbs and twigs and added old wooden shelves from the open shed to the inferno. The paper burned and the wood smoldered. I put some things in the better storage shed and I sweated. I kept moving and moving and moving.

bed made up

 

 

 

     By the time I’d moved things and burned things and was too tired to move any more, Momma had gone to bed.

 

      I missed saying, “goodnight” to her, but I didn’t lose my cool with her, either.

 

Black and blue butterfly

 

    

 

     Like the butterfly that landed on the window air conditioner and needed to warm in the sun before taking off, I needed the warmth of the fire and movement before I could remember why I am here – for my mother.

     My family and my life have changed dramatically. No longer am I a simply a wife and newspaper editor with weekends free to explore, shop and lounge about. Now, instead of concerning myself with what to prepare for dinner for my husband and myself, I must consider all three meals for us as well as my mother, whose medications, more than her health, make dietary restrictions a matter of life and death.

      A few months ago, it wasn’t important whether or not I skipped a meal. Today, I can’t risk it. Last winter, I needed only to worry about my own health and welfare (and my husband’s) but today, it’s vital that I not only maintain a healthy lifestyle for myself, I must also take steps to ensure my mother’s life is as stress-free as possible, too.

     I am a HANC. I manage the housekeeping, family activities, nutritional needs and provide companionship for my mother.

     Returning to my childhood home, I am making new beginnings for all of us, in old surroundings. The adventure has started.

Two Weeks as a HANC

When we visit our parents as adults, we want to believe everything is under control, as it was when we were children.

     We may see or smell things we’d rather not, but to keep the fantasy alive, we tend to ignore them.Gransmomma and siblings

   Usually, we make a point to clean something or do some yard maintenance on our visits, but mostly we visit, because our parents want to spend TIME with us, not watch us work.Clock in town square 

     Once we are back home again, we can pat ourselves on our backs for whatever we did. We might tut-tut to our spouses or siblings and think about what must be done “one day,” but we don’t want to believe our parents are anything less than super-humans. We want to remember them as strong and independent, virile and always capable.

Matt's guns

 Those of us with large families hope someone else will inevitably step up and take charge.

      For me, living more than 300 miles away, I had no option but to allow my sisters and brothers who lived closer to do just that. Each did what could be done  around schedules and personal requirements. Each filled a special role.

     My role was to visit as often as my job allowed and do what I could during the few days I was “home.”

     Over the years, our mother’s physical capabilities have declined and her memory lapses have worried us more and more. We have talked one-on-one with each other, but never as a collective family about her increasing need for more companionship, better nutrition, help with housework or more diversions to help her focus mentally.

variety of produce

     Once, my sister’s husband was driving Momma’s car, with Momma on the front passenger’s seat when Momma became startled by what she thought was an oncoming car.

      Momma decided for herself that she would no longer drive.

      She didn’t suffer the indignation of having her driver’s license taken from her, but she told me she misses not being able to trust herself behind the wheel of a car. She still loves to “take a drive,” and told me after her recent trip for bloodwork, “This is fun. I don’t care if it is just to the doctor’s office and back. I like to get out of the house.”

Oak tree lined dirt road

      Now, that we are living here, I can take her for a drive any day of the week. We don’t even need a destination.

 I hope to do more of this kind of driving once we are unpacked…at least, maybe after I have finished cleaning the kitchen. Goals are good.

redundant swiffer

     I try to clean, organize and unpack a little each day and I hope we aren’t confounding her, though sometimes, I think we must. There have been some incidents that make me know we need to be here and I am tempted to take over, but she loves her independence and I must remember she handled all her daily-living activities long before we moved in. She is proud to load or empty the dishwasher, but I do all the meal preparation – sometimes with her nearby. She still is able to do laundry, and I am pleased to allow her that chore. Today, she patched a pair of my shorts that had ripped. I would have probably worn them, ripped and all, until I could no longer do so. She enjoys doing needlework and I may end up in patches, but each one is lovingly stitched.

 quilted

     She is headstrong, but reasonable.

    Some changes make her wonder, “Why, after all these years, do I need to do that?”

As long as we explain what we are doing and why we must do it a certain way, she accepts the changes with grace. She just needs to know why.

 

     For many years, she has lived in a house with almost no insulation in the walls or attic, which makes her air conditioner work harder than it needs to. It also makes the house extremely hot during the summer. She’s on blood-thinning medication, which means she is relatively comfortable in a house that is warmer than 80 degrees. What she doesn’t seem to understand is that at 84 degrees or even 90, as it was one day, her thinking is impaired. She was very grouchy during the hottest days. She didn’t want us to purchase a window air conditioner, but when I told her we needed to, so I could cook and clean, she accepted it. We paid for it, but she’s not always certain she didn’t buy it.

    

     We can’t easily open most of the windows to allow a cross breeze and the roof has no venting for the heat. I noticed her mood improved when we were able to cool the house to anything below 78. She has started wearing a knitted shawl in the early mornings so I can do my household chores in more comfort. We compromised without even discussing the problem.

      At times, she smiles when I do something my father used to do or that she once did, but can no longer do. Nostalgia can be good.

     She has been writing her memories in a variety of notebooks and they are random. She knows there is no “book order” to them, but I hope to share them, soon.

Journal pages blank

     She retells stories, not remembering that she may have told the same story, almost verbatim, a day ago – an hour ago – five minutes ago. We do our best to listen and react as if it is new. Sometimes, she stops herself or asks us to stop her if she is repeating.

     Sometimes, she simply forgets things. “I never” and “I know I didn’t” precede many declarations. Whenever I remind her, respectfully and gently, in detail, she usually says, “Oh, yes. Thank you for reminding me.” It must pain her to know that her memory is slipping away from her. She often says, “I pray all my children can live long lives, but I do hope you can be healthy and not like me.”

      The worst for me is when she and my husband each want my attention at the same time and neither knows the other is also speaking to me. Some days, I just want to cry. Some days, I do.

 mom and son

 

     This is but one day in our new life adventure. There are many challenges and many rewards. When I moved out of this town nearly 15 years ago, my mother managed a hotel and was one of the most amazing people I knew, physically, emotionally, intellectually and there were few women whom I felt compared to her. I still feel that way about her.

I wanted to live an adventurous life in a city and for three years, I did just that. Then, we moved to a smaller city and my life became that of a suburbanite career woman. I immersed myself in my job and was content to visit my family whenever I could, but I also contented myself to vacation in more exotic venues as often as money permitted.

       Now, I have returned home to a more bucolic life and it’s good.

 

torch

     As I listened to a whippoorwill while standing between two tiki torches that kept the mosquitoes at bay  I thought about today’s achievements in addition to my editing and writing. It is good. It is very good, indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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