Saturday, November 19, 2016

It’s About the Dementia – not about the Cranberry Relish

I’m sad today. I was supposed to have lunch with my mom at Parkside Village where they were having an early Thanksgiving buffet with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing. Probably even cranberry relish. Not that I’m a big fan of cranberry relish – but it’s an “official” Thanksgiving meal if there is cranberry relish.

But I don’t have turkey. Or mashed potatoes. Or stuffing. Or especially cranberry relish.

Why? Because when I arrive to get mom for lunch, she doesn’t want to go.

My first clue that the day isn’t going to go as planned happens before I even reach the nurse’s station. I am met by an aide who tells me how glad she is to see me.

Uh oh.

Well, it’s not that people aren’t just stinkin’ delighted to see me all the time, but that particular aide has never said that to me before.

So that is my first inkling that there is trouble afoot. She then tells me that mom refuses to get out of bed, refuses to take a shower, refuses to eat breakfast, and refuses to get dressed.

That’s a lot of refusing from a 92-year-old and, frankly, it sounds rather like a temper tantrum a 2-year-old might have let alone someone 90 years her senior.

So then and there I realize we are probably not going to see any turkey or cranberry relish today.

I mean, it’s one thing if you pop over to a friend’s house to pick her up for lunch and she has inadvertently overslept. Unless she’s your most diva-ish friend who requires 2.3 hours of hair and makeup prep time, she could probably grab a quick shower and be ready to head out the door in a few minutes.

But a 92-year-old with dementia? “Quick” is a word that will not be uttered at any time. Ever.

Cursing myself for not having prepared a back-up lunch plan like slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and throwing it in my bag before leaving home, I sigh as the aide and I head down the hall to mom’s apartment.

There, we find her sitting in her rocking chair all bundled up in her flannel nightgown and blue puffy robe that has seen better days. Heck, it has seen better decades, truth be told. But mom refuses to part with it.

The aide, finding mom at least upright and out of bed, heaves a sigh of relief and leaves the room.

So I sit down in the chair across from mom and ask her if she is interested in having lunch with me as I’d made reservations and everything. But she says no.

So, sighing a little myself, I hand her the daily newspaper to read while I start “fussing.”  This is Jane-speak for gathering up old newspapers, collecting dirty coffee cups, making her bed, setting clothes out for her to (hopefully) change into, and generally making myself busy because I know I have a couple hours ahead of me of sitting in a sweltering room trying to stave off hot flashes. Which is almost impossible to do when the thermostat in there is set on “sauna.”

After about a half hour of mom constantly asking what day and time it is, I gently tease her about how late it is and coax her into getting dressed for the day. It is now a little after twelve-thirty in the afternoon.

But the sad part is, I realize that mom no longer knows how to get herself dressed and ready for the day. She looks at the clothes on her bed and then looks at me and asks me what she should do. So I tell her I’ll help her.

But seeing her like that breaks my heart a little bit more.

What happened to that strong, intelligent woman I’d known my whole life? The one who raised four children and who almost single-handedly kept my dad’s defective heart beating in his chest almost 50 years after it had wanted to give out on him in his early 40s. The one who could stretch a dollar until it cried “uncle” and the one who could tell if one of her kids was fibbing just by the inflection in their voice when she asked them a question. And this was, mind you, when she wasn’t even in the same room as the fibber.

I then thought about mom in her later years – the woman who loved meeting new people and who couldn’t wait to pack a suitcase to go on their next adventure. Whether it was to some exotic location or an Elderhostel at a university to learn something new – or simply to head to one of their grown children’s homes for a visit – she was the first to suggest a road trip because she couldn’t stand sitting still for too long.

And now I couldn’t get her to walk down the hall with me simply to have some lunch.

After I help mom get dressed and I hang her ratty blue robe in the closet, we sit down again – mom in her rocking chair and me in the upright purple chair across from her. I look at this once proud and dignified woman who now can’t even get herself dressed and I try to keep the sadness from my face.  She looks up at me and raises her hands in supplication and says, “Now what?”

I smile at her gently – and this time we both sigh.

After a while, I start gathering my things and I tell mom I have to leave to run some errands. I hug and kiss her goodbye and tell her I love her.

She asks me when I am coming back and I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow. At 2 o’clock.

She can no longer tell that I’m fibbing.

Because, you see, I don’t know if I’ll be back tomorrow at 2 o’clock, but it appeases mom to have me say it. She won’t know the difference if I show up at 1 o’clock or at 3 o’clock. Or if I don’t show up at all until the following day.

But I blow her a kiss as I head out the door. And, because she can hold on to this thought for another fleeting moment, she quickly says, “I’ll see you tomorrow at 2 o’clock, dear.”

And when I shut the door, it’s all I can do not to start crying as I walk down that long hallway to the nurse’s station and then out to my car.

And, oh, how I wish the tears were because I didn’t get any cranberry relish today.