Mom before she became ill used to be a pretty good housekeeper. Let me rephrase that, she used to make me do a lot of the housekeeping. She had, after five children me being the last at number six, perfected the art of giving a child chores to do while she sat and watched soap operas or visited friends.
Oh she still did their bedroom and the laundry and the cooking but the drudgery chores of dusting, dishes (we didn’t have a dishwasher unless you counted me), and every Sunday whether it needed it or not…mopping the floors. When I grew up and moved away she was still pretty good with the housekeeping but after dad retired he ended sharing in the duties; eventually taking them over when she wasn’t cognizant enough to do them.
One of the first things I started to notice changing in mom besides her memory was her personal appearance. Back in the day mom was a sharp dressed woman. And by back in the day I mean before I was born. She had her hair styled, wore pearls, and the fashions of the day. She even had one of those creepy as heck fox furs where the foxes heads were still on and each head held onto the tail of the next fox. Creepy! But comfort took over fashion and right before the dementia came knocking she was into jeans and sweat shirts or some other style of comfy top.
But for a long long time she never ever missed a hair appointment. I mean you could set your clock to her every other Wednesday hair appointment. And then I began to notice the trips to the beauty parlor became less and less until she stopped all together. She made all kinds of excuses (mostly about the cost) but she stopped going and started to wear baseball hats. Huh?
She was still making the effort to stay presentable but then that started to going downhill too. She’d throw a hat on her head without bothering to brush her hair. The tops she would wear would be old and stained; items she would’ve pitched before or would’ve gone straight into the washing machine. And then it got to a point where she would wear the same things over and over and over until dad or me or my sister would manage to grab the grubby garment and throw it into the washer.
And then even that became a game of cat and mouse as she would actually hunt down the item she last wore and put it right back on, taking it out of the hamper or washing machine if it hadn’t been turned on yet. After awhile dad began to just give in and let her wear whatever she wanted if it made life easier for him. It drove me nuts and was so embarrassing to be out in public like at the grocers and here was mom (who we had to keep an eye on to make sure we didn’t lose track of her) with her hair all sticking out from under a ball cap wearing jeans and a shirt that you could read her most recent meals off of.
I was torn between acting like I didn’t know her and trying to figure out what to say or how to react to the questions and stares that I think in all reality were just my imagination. Dad and I both knew something was wrong with mom but neither of us knew what to do about it other than try and deal as best we could and to keep her safe and content because trying to get her to a doctor would’ve been like pulling hens teeth!
Now when I think about that day in Target where I rolled my eyes at her appearance I also recall that she began to like collecting shirts with funny pictures and sayings on them and at the time she still knew who I was, could talk even if it was repetitive many times, and could still do quite a few activities of daily living. She was still mom even if she was unraveling before our eyes.
I wish I had know more about Alzheimer’s and dementia then and had taken time to help mother instead of being angry and fussing with her. Being a caregiver can be so very exasperating at times…and it worsens when you are doing it in the dark.