Are You the One in Charge Here?

Lately, my sweet mother has been more than a bit confused about her living accommodations, referring to our home as “this facility” and “this place.” Not long ago, she swept her hand out in gesture as if encompassing her living space and said, “Are you the one in charge of this place?” I told her yes it was our home and that Wayne and I both welcome her to live here. “Oh,” she replied, “are my meals and laundry included?” I assured her that they were. To which she replied, “Well, they haven’t fed me all day, and I think they’re stealing my laundry. I can’t find it anywhere.”

Not long ago, she was telling Wayne that “someone who works here” had given her some pills. She wasn’t sure who it was, but figured they knew what they were doing, so she took them. It was Tylenol, and it was me giving them to her just moments ago. Oh, and the “people who clean this place” and do the gardening around here just aren’t doing their job. The floors are always dusty. The gardens have so many weeds. “You should talk to them,” she insists.

I can watch Momma’s nighttime activity on a WiFi video monitor that sits on my nightstand. That’s a blessing because I know when she needs something…and a curse because sleep is interrupted quite often. On a few occasions, I’ve come down in the middle of the night to check on Momma because I could see on my monitor that she was crying. Sometimes it’s just confusion about where she is, but oftentimes it is her worrying about how she is going to pay for this place when she can no longer work and earn money. She’ll sometimes tell me that “they” are going to kick her out when her money runs out. On those occasions, I’ll sit with her for awhile and reassure her that she is loved, that she is retired and has plenty of funds, and that we will always take care of her no matter what.

One of Momma’s blue pots

Momma can make you smile with her wild tales about how she came to live here. On Saturday, a friend from church and her two young daughters spent the morning with Momma so that I could attend a Bible Conference with my husband. They had a delightful time, but, oh, the stories Momma told them while I was away. She enjoyed telling how this house was hers and that she shared it with us, describing how we had divided it up into her side and our side. And, of course, she had planted the gardens, adding to them over the years. (Mind you, she has only lived here since May!) She even shared with the girls that she had made her three blue flower pots when she was in kindergarten!

Of course, all of this is very real in Momma’s mind. That’s just a little taste of the confusion and disorientation that happens with the progression of Alzheimer’s. Not only is Mom confused about her accommodations, but also about the relationship of people to her.

“Mr. Winquist” and yours truly

Most days, she still knows us. Wayne is often referred to as “Mr. Winquist” – her term of endearment for him. Other days (mostly in the evenings), in her mind, I’m her sister Carolyn. As we look through picture albums or recall stories from her childhood, she tells tales of her youth as if I had been there too, sparing me the details with, “Well, you know. You were there too.”

My sister has been coming every other week or so to stay with Momma for a few days so I can get a little down-time. A few hours before each visit, I remind her that her daughter Vivian is coming. Sometimes she’ll give me a quizzical look and ask, “So, help me remember. Is Vivian my daughter? Or is she your daughter?”

On one of Viv’s recent visits, Momma came out of the bathroom and was looking for her Mom. Rather than remind her that her mother has been deceased for many years, Viv just went along with her and said, “Your Mom is not here right now. Can I help you with something?” Mom replied, “I just need to find my Mom.” I peeked my head out of the laundry room door and waved. Momma spied me and said, “There she is!”

So, in my mother’s mind right now, I’m her mother. That’s okay by me. She took good care of me for many years. Now, in this circle of life, it’s my turn to take good care of her.

 

“So, how many names should I put in the pot?”

The phone rang on Saturday morning. I answered, already knowing it was my dear mother, and I could almost guess what she would ask. She had a hair appointment every Saturday morning and would go grocery shopping on her way home. “So, how many names should I put in the pot?” That was mom’s way of asking us to come over for dinner.

It was our family tradition most Saturday evenings when our children were tweens and teens. Sometimes we’d hop on our bikes and pedal the 3 miles over to my parents’ home. Other times we’d pile the kids and the dogs in our car or mini-van and make the short drive to Mom and Dad’s place. Our Cocker Spaniels would be hanging their heads out the window, long ears flapping in the wind, their little nugget tails a waggin’, sniffing the air, and dancing with excitement when they sensed we were to Grandma’s street. Sometimes we’d purposely drive by the 105th Street turn-off and the dogs (one dog in particular) would cry and whine until we made a U-turn and turned on the right street. Momma would always have a treat for those granddogs…and they knew it. Sometimes just a dog biscuit or two (my dad always lost count of how many dog biscuits he’d toss them), or a little rawhide chew, other times a pig’s ear for each of them (their favorite)!

And Momma always had something delicious for us. Her barbecue spare ribs were fall off the bone scrumptious, and she made a homemade potato salad that became one of her most-requested recipes. She sometimes made a casserole we all liked; usually something she called Yumasetta (said to be an Amish recipe), or a taco-ish dish covered in Frito’s corn chips, or “Hearty Beef N Potato Casserole,” a recipe that was served at a Christmas luncheon at her church in 1986. On a hot summer’s eve, she made this seafood pasta salad that was better than any I have ever had. Oh, and her potato soup. Oh, my! Her creamy potato soup was SO good that our daughter Beth wanted it on her 15th birthday menu – along with crescent rolls (from a can), deviled eggs, and cherry juice!

Sometimes I’d bring a side dish or a dessert, but Momma usually told me I didn’t need to bring a thing. “Just bring yourselves,” she’d say. I think the kids preferred when I didn’t bring dessert because they knew they could count on Grandma having a favorite treat in her freezer – a Klondike ice-cream bar, which can best be described as a huge chunk of ice cream covered in a thick shell of chocolate. And if Grandma was out of ice cream, Grandpa Boyles could be counted on for a cookie (he always kept a stash in a Tupperware by the back door to share with the kids in the neighborhood, who sometimes affectionately called my kind-hearted dad “Cookie Monster.”)

We’d usually just watch a favorite television show or two together. I can’t remember what all we watched, but recall “The Dukes of Hazard” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” being part of the line-up at one time or another. I mostly remember the lovely feeling of coming home to the house I grew up in, and being thankful that our children had grandparents close by – something I didn’t have when I was growing up.

I have a few of Momma’s favorite recipes filed away in my recipe box. I can almost duplicate her creamy potato soup, but have never come close to duplicating her potato salad. Nowadays, Momma no longer cooks, as I wrote about in my story, “When the Good Cook Can’t” some time ago.

Yes, the table has definitely turned. Momma now lives with us and enjoys meals at our table. My children are all grown up and have homes and families of their own. Now they pile their own kids in their own mini-vans (no dogs, though) and come over and cook for her too, as they have opportunity. We are so thankful that we can do this for her as she wrestles with memory loss related to Alzheimer’s.

Momma, now it’s our honor and privilege to return the abundant blessings you lovingly showered upon us. May we be as gracious, open-hearted, and generous as you.

The Night I Scolded Momma

I’m sick and tired.

I feel really bad. Not just because I’m truly sick (as in a horrible head cold with dizziness) and tired (as in haven’t had a great night’s sleep in what seems like forever). I feel really bad because last night I scolded Momma and sent her to bed. I actually scolded my Momma. I treated her a bit like she was a little child.

To be honest, she was acting like a little child. Coming up with every childlike excuse in the book as to why she was sitting in the kitchen at 1:00 a.m. She had pulled an all-nighter in the kitchen the night before, with me getting up four or five times to check on her. But tonight, I’d had enough. I needed some rest. I told her, perhaps a little too gruffly, that I was sick and I needed some sleep. I told her that she needed to go to bed so that I could go to bed.

“Well, you go on to bed,” Momma chirped, a little too brightly for 1:00 a.m. “I’m not a child. I’ll go to bed when I am ready.” With that, she picked up a book and feigned reading (she didn’t have her glasses on and there wasn’t enough light on to see what she was reading).

I planted my hands on my hips. “No, Momma. You need to go to bed NOW.”

“I need to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.” Momma was stalling. She had already done both of those things.

“Okay, Momma. Go ahead. I’ll set your toothbrush up for you, but let’s do it right away so that I can go back to bed and know you’re safely in your own bed.”

Momma continued to stall for what, in my ill state, seemed like an hour. There is just no point in reasoning with someone who lives in an Alzheimer’s world. She doesn’t understand my concern for her safety. She doesn’t realize that I’m afraid she might fall or wander out the front door. She has no idea that she has Alzheimer’s and that she is now suffering from Sundowner’s, a symptom in Alzheimer’s best described as an upset in the internal body clock which makes her mix up her days and nights.

Somewhat exasperated, I scolded, “Momma. You need to go to bed NOW. If you have to pee and brush your teeth, that’s fine. I’ll wait for you in your room.”

A few minutes later, she scootched into her room with her walker. She didn’t stop in the bathroom, so I asked her (with as much gentleness in my voice as I could muster), “Do you need to use the bathroom and brush your teeth?”

“No, Cindie! I’m not a child.” Momma plopped on the bed, obviously mad at me, then slipped her shoes off and pulled her legs up into bed.

“Goodnight, Momma. I love you more than your realize right now. Thank you for going to bed so that I can get some sleep and get to feeling better.”

With that, I turned off her lamp and closed the drapery that serves as her bedroom door, and then took a different route back to the kitchen so I could turn off the light over the kitchen sink, hoping that the darkness would make it less likely for her to be lured back in there a few minutes from now.

Fighting another dizzy spell as I laid my head on my pillows, I pulled the blankets up over my tired body, then laid on my side and watched Momma on the wifi monitor I keep on the nightstand. She wasn’t sleeping. She tossed and turned and I could hear her grumbling. But she was in bed…at least she was in bed. I picked up my phone and clicked on my Bible app and listened to the narrator read from the Psalms until I drifted off to sleep again.

Why do I share this with you?

This is some of the tough stuff that happens when you choose to provide care for someone with Alzheimer’s in your own home. It’s the reason why caregivers need a break from the responsibility from time to time. I’m thankful for the support system I have in my husband, our daughter Beth, our Friday night caregiver Kathryn, our Sunday morning caregiver Kathi, my sister Vivian, and a sprinkling of friends who help out from time to time. Without them, I couldn’t do this.

And I’m thankful this morning that, with Alzheimer’s, last night is forgotten. Momma still loves me.

 

Setting the Caregiving Stage

I love to get my hands and feet dirty. Try as I might, I can’t seem to keep my shoes or gloves on when I garden. I guess I’m a tactile sort of person who enjoys the feeling of the warm earth squishing between my toes or sifting through my fingers. I try my best to make things grow, but know in my heart that very little of it is up to me.

Landscape designer Tish Treherne wrote an article for Sunset magazine that I really enjoyed. Tish wrote about how she designed her personal garden space around their gorgeous waterfront home. She likes to keep things slightly wild looking by “loosely layering unfussy perennials.” I love her garden design philosophy and enjoyed reading her description of how the plants she chose nestle into one another like puzzle pieces to create a seemingly effortless whole. 

I start planning my garden in the dead of Wisconsin’s winter when the first seed catalog comes in the mail. I get out my Sharpie marker and circle the flowers that capture my attention in the catalog pages and dream about where I’d put them in the garden. I get out my garden journal and jot down a few notes about what I’d like to plant, what I want to move, which plants I’d like to dig out, and what I’d like to purchase.

Whether shopping by catalog, or cruising the aisles of my favorite garden centers, I pay attention to the description of each plant, determining whether I have adequate space or light, or whether I’m in the right planting zone. My dear husband fully supports my need for dirt therapy, allowing me to add to my cart whatever little lovely attracts my eye.

Bug-infested Roses

Even with careful planning, planting and faithful watering, not all of my plantings survive. I have lost count of how many failed butterfly bush and clematis vines I have planted. Likewise, each tulip and daffodil bulb I plant in the fall holds the promise of a gorgeous bloom to follow in the spring, but not all of the bulbs I plant make it. Winters can be harsh, Springs too wet or too hot, cute little critters eat my plants and bulbs, disease strikes, insects munch away. Like Tish said in her wonderful article,

“You’re setting the stage as a designer, but you don’t have total control over what’s going to happen.”  ~Tish Treherne

I often draw parallels for life from my garden, and Tish’s philosophy holds true on that front as well. As I seek to take care of my mother’s increasing needs for care, I am just setting the stage as a designer. With the help of our family, my husband and I turned our dining room into a lovely bedroom for her. She has a special spot at our kitchen table where she can watch the birds and view the gardens. We make sure she has meals that are reasonably healthy, treats that make her life enjoyable. I make sure she receives appropriate medical and dental care, and that she is adequately clothed and groomed. We try our best to ensure her safety by putting up baby gates, installing handrails, building half-steps, using video monitoring systems while she sleeps, and making sure someone is with her 24-hours a day.

I can design a stage for her care, but I do not have total control over what’s going to happen. She may take a fall. She will undoubtedly get a urinary tract infection and have hallucinations which will keep her (and us) awake. If this disease takes the usual sad course, she will lose the ability to walk, talk, swallow, toilet herself, or perform even the most basic of personal care. I have absolutely no control over her future. I have no idea what even this day will bring forth. But God does, and He will give me wisdom for the next step of Momma’s life journey…and mine.

In the meanwhile, we will enjoy the flowers that survived, each moment of restful sleep, the birds playing in the fountain, the September breezes, porch-sittin’ days, visits from family and friends, knees that are sorta working today, and all the other beautiful daily benefits that come from God’s storehouse of blessings.

 

Trusting in God When Mountains Crumble

This morning Momma emerged from her room carrying a photograph and a ballpoint pen. She had an all too familiar look of confusion on her face as she shuffled walker-less to her place at the kitchen table. As she gingerly turned herself and plopped hard in her chair she lamented, “I just can’t remember anything today. What day it is, what time it is, who am I, why am I here? It’s all so confusing. And who is this in this picture?”

I took a peek at the picture to see if I could help. It was one of the pictures my sister had been wondering about. The photo, along with a handful of other pictures of Viv’s children in their growing up years, had mysteriously disappeared during her last visit with Momma. Knowing Mom’s propensity to hide things, Viv had texted asking me to keep an eye out for the photos. I had found the others, but had missed this one.

“That’s your grandson Scotty when he was a boy. He’s a daddy himself now.” Momma sat silently studying the picture for a few moments, willing her mind to remember, but obviously drawing a blank. “Oh, no! I wrote on the back of it!”

Momma’s handwriting was definitely on the back of it, and the picture had been ruined by the tell-tale ballpoint markings. Momma had used the photo as if it were a piece of scrap paper, copying what she had read off of the face of the clock in her bedroom. Momma tried to reconcile what she had written on the photo with what she saw on the clock on the microwave. “No, it’s supposed to be 7:13, not 7:30!”

There was no point in trying to explain that time changes by the second. This was one of those moments in Momma’s changing world of Alzheimer’s where I could almost feel another piece of Momma’s mind slipping away.

I asked Momma if she remembered her name. She assured me she knew it, but wouldn’t say it. I prompted, “Of course, you know you’re Charlotte Peet Boyles.” She looked relieved at the reminder of what her name was as she nodded her head in agreement. I smiled at Momma in an effort to encourage and calm her, but on the inside, I cried knowing she was fearful of what was happening to her.

I find comfort in knowing I am not alone in this phase of life. I follow a blog called “God’s Grace and Mom’s Alzheimer’s.” The author’s own Mama had gone Home to be with Jesus in December of 2016, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Cheryl had been there with her through it all. Now, her mother-in-law lives with her, traveling a similar path in life. Today’s post met me where I am. I share it (click on the link below) for those of you who are in a similar place in life right now – in need of a reminder of God’s grace in the midst of a seemingly impossible trial.

Source: Trusting in God When Mountains Crumble

Life: Just a Few Handbreadths

As I take care of Momma, the familial aspect of Alzheimer’s disease sometimes scares me. That fear isn’t all bad, in that it helps me realize that it is true that my lifetime is just a “few handbreadths,” a “mere vapor” that will pass before I know it. What I do with my days really does matter. Continue reading “Life: Just a Few Handbreadths”

Alzheimer’s: It’s not “a walk in the park”

a walk in the park

something that is very easy to do, and usually pleasant: 
He’s used to hard physical work – this is a walk in the park to him. (Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary and Thesaurus)

Momma and I took a walk in the park at the end of my block today. Actually, I did the walking as I pushed her in a wheelchair through the park, around a little pond, past a Splash Pad play area, and home again. I tried to make it interesting as I pointed out various trees, flowers and critters along the way. Though she enjoyed it (especially seeing the children joyfully playing at the Splash Pad), the walk was peppered with worry and fretful questions.

Continue reading “Alzheimer’s: It’s not “a walk in the park””

Stuff Exchange Blessings

I will probably run out of friends and family before I run out of things to give away. But, in this process, I’m learning much about the value of things in comparison with the value of being a blessing to others.

IMG_0670I’ve been working my way through some of mom’s possessions which followed her from her apartment to her new abode in our home. I’ve been trying to put as many of her decorative objects into use here as I have room, so as to make her feel more comfy and at home. Though she has already been through two other downsizing events in the past two years, we are still left with way more items than she needs (or can appreciate in this stage of Alzheimer’s). As much as possible has been given to family members who have expressed an interest in her belongings. My daughter took on the responsibility of selling or giving away the furniture that was no longer needed (and I am SO grateful for her help). Each day the invasion of moving boxes on my 3-season porch gets smaller as I carve out time to go through their contents. For this, I am grateful. Continue reading “Stuff Exchange Blessings”

Church at the Kitchen Table

Sometimes “church” doesn’t just take place on Sunday morning seated in a pew in a sanctuary.

Last night Momma sat at her end of our kitchen table smiling. Seated around our table were some pretty special dinner guests: my girlhood pastor and his wife, Ed and Diane Fuller, and their son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Dianne Fuller.

I told Momma about the visit shortly after she awoke in the morning. It’s funny how certain future events linger in the mind of a person experiencing significant short-term memory loss, yet other things slip right through like sand through a chicken wire sieve. Continue reading “Church at the Kitchen Table”

A Smile from Dad

My 3-season porch is looking more like a porch than a moving company warehouse. Slowly but surely, the boxes are being emptied, things are finding their home, and order is being made of boxed chaos.

I’ve been spending time sorting through dozens of photo albums over the past few days. It’s been a trip down memory lane – complete with laughter, a few embarrassing moments, rushes of happy thoughts, a few tears and momentary sadness.

My sweet Momma spent countless hours at a little table in her basement putting the incredible number of photos my Dad took through the years into carefully labeled photo albums. Dad took LOTS of pictures. A CrAzY number of pictures. Every time you scratched your nose or stuffed something in your mouth (or so it seemed to me), he was there snapping a photo. But, he captured a LOT of family memories too.  Continue reading “A Smile from Dad”