Posts Tagged story

Mom and the telephone

Mom could use the telephone up until the dementia took over and would drive me absolutely bonkers doing it!  They had this very old fashioned rotary dial black phone (thing was so solid and heavy you could’ve hurt someone with it) on a stand in the kitchen with the yellow and white pages phone books underneath and this black personal phone book with all of the numbers of the children, friends, the car repair guy, and her beautician.

In the early stages of her descent she would call me up and ask me to look up a number for her in the phone book (this was before everything was online) and I would be totally exasperated.  “Mom, why are you calling me to look up a number for you?” I would ask.  And that is when the excuses would begin.  Excuses like her phone book was out of date, she couldn’t find the number, the print is too little for her to read clearly, and of course the….”What? You can’t do this for your mother?” comment.

It drove me nuts but I didn’t think much of it other than how it was a pain in the rear to me; I really didn’t try to do something, anything about it.

Slowly it began to change and it wasn’t a good one and sadly I still didn’t quite know what was going on or what to do.  She began to call me and say that there was some man outside in the yard and what should she do.  Or that there was a strange man trying to break into the house would I call the police for her.  Or that she didn’t know where daddy was and was in a slight panic.

Guess who the bad man was that was trying to break into the house, etc.?  Yes, it was dad.

I knew each and every time it was dad who was outside trying to get in.  Why was he trying to get in? It was because almost as soon as he would go outside to take out the trash or get something from the car or anything that involved him going outside, mom would lock the door not remembering he had stepped out.  Sometimes he remembered to take his keys with him and sometimes he didn’t.  It was when he didn’t that I got those calls from mom.

I would try and calm mom down while working slowly and painfully at getting her to understand that it wasn’t a strange man skulking around the place,  it was her husband out there and that she had locked him out – again!  This worked for awhile until the awful combo of dad’s health declining along with the dementia taking more of mom meant things were transitioning from annoying to dangerous.

I don’t recall how I finally convinced my parents to let me have a key to the house – they were both becoming more paranoid and increasingly withdrawn from the world – but thankfully I did because one night I got a phone call not from mom but from their neighbors across the street.  Mom had locked him out again and he hobbled slowly and painfully across the street to ask them to call me.  You see, dad had advancing diabetes (which had not been diagnosed yet) and the nerves in his lower legs were racing straight into permanent nerve damage.  Poor dad must have been so embarrassed because he had been working his level best at keeping moms declining mental health a secret from everyone.

So I made the half hour drive from where I lived telling my family that I had to help dad/grandpa back into the house because he was locked out accidentally.  Mom was all flustered when I opened the door to let me and dad in; I made sure that I made the announcement of “Hi mom, it’s me!” before I walked in because she was also beginning to become a bit violent sometimes in this stage of the disease.

After that time I think dad got the clue to always keep his keys on him.  To help them with phone issues I bought them this big button phone and keyed in all of our numbers so that all they (by this time mainly dad) had to do was push #1 for me, #2 for my sister Eve, and so forth.  When they both entered nursing homes that phone went with dad to his room.

It was a rough patch in the road of being a caregiver; just one of many more to come.  And right now I wish there was a button I could press to hear their voices again on some device; their healthy not sick voices.  I’ve only got one VCR tape somewhere, I hope, that has my parents on there talking to me and my sisters at a family dinner.  It’s the only thing I have of them besides some photos.

Today there are videos on phones and other devices where you can capture your loved ones for posterity.  You can carry those memories with you or have them on your computer or tablet.  I highly recommend that you do because one day you will want to see and hear them again as they once were or to share them with family that never had the chance to know them.

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This is so embarrassing, mom!

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.

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Saw it coming but didn’t see it coming

Back in the day before we the public were made more aware of all of the different forms of dementias (dementia is the general term for a variety of diseases that effect cognitive ability, ie. Alzheimers, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Vascular dementia, etc.) when an older person began to loose their memories it was passed off as just old age or being senile.

Mom began to become a bit “odd” after her one and only son – my big brother – died suddenly after a brief illness; he was only 48.  Mom didn’t attend his funeral because it hurt her too much and she had this serious phobia about funerals, she didn’t even attend her own mother’s funeral when I was a little girl it was that bad.  I attributed the change in her to depression and while that was in there, that other monster slipped in there with it.

When Alzheimer’s was slowly sneaking its way over my mother, the symptoms manifested themselves at first as minor forgetfulness.  She would forget where she put something (don’t we all) she would forget how to call someone on the phone without the name being in her big black phone book, and the biggie that drives every family member and caregiver up the wall – she would repeat herself.

She used to drive me up a wall calling me on the phone to look up a phone number for her.  I tried to tell her to just use the Yellow Pages (yes, I’m really talking back in the day aren’t I) to find said number which would get me either her laughing it off with some excuse like “My glasses need to be fixed” or “I don’t have a new phone book” or she would just give me heck for not helping my mother.  She was good at laying the guilt down.

Now mind you we can all do that repeat thing.  How many times have you started a story and the other person cuts you off by saying “You told me that already…”  we’ve all done it at least once.  But mom was beginning to do it a lot.  I was uncomfortable with it and knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t know what it was and had no idea of where to turn for help.

I told my siblings about mom’s behavior and they just laughed it off declaring that she was old it’s what’s to be expected.  Really? Now that thought just irks me to no end but back then in the late 80’s early 1990’s it was somewhat accepted.  So I kept feeling something was wrong and folks kept telling me it was just her getting older.

PLEASE!!! If you have a loved one that is starting to forget more than you think they should or you have any other suspicions, try and talk it over with someone who will listen to you.  I wish to heck I had done that back then.  But be warned, you may face walls that will get in your way.  Walls like your loved one being in denial (and understandably afraid), other family members being in denial, the spouse of your loved one being protective…and in denial.  Oh heck, denial with a side of being afraid will get in the way!

When in doubt call your local Alzheimer’s Association and they will talk you through your worries and send you information if you request it.  You might also be able to ask your own doctor some questions if they are amenable to it.  But I didn’t know any of that until it was too late and then all hell broke loose.

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