Mary Poppins – Still Making Housecalls

Momma’s eyes light up when Kathryn shows up each Friday evening. As Kathryn hoists her burgeoning backpack off of her shoulders and settles in at the kitchen table next to my mother, I look over my shoulder as my husband and I leave for our weekly Friday evening of respite and sense that I will not be missed at all. These two friends have already started in on their fun.

I’m pretty sure that our mom’s caregiver Kathryn is a real-life Mary Poppins. Much like Mary’s carpet bag filled with surprises, that backpack of Kathryn’s is always stuffed with hand-selected items which will help my mother “find the element of fun” for the next five and one-half hours. Together they  eat supper, then work puzzles, color in their coloring books, have fun with hidden picture books, make a craft together, and a host of other things. Kathryn will read a storybook with mom, bring her a book filled with beautiful butterflies and flowers to page through, or even read a Bible passage together.

I’m so very grateful that early on in our caregiving journey with mom we decided it would be money well spent to hire a caregiver to help us out on a regular basis (actually, my very wise husband insisted). Mom is by no means wealthy, but Social Security and a modest pension gave her the resources to pay for a little help, so we chose to have someone come in twice a week for a few hours. When she was still living in her own home in Milwaukee (82 miles away from me), we chose Rent A Daughter to help us fill the caregiving gaps when family couldn’t be there to check in on her. Once we moved her to Fitchburg, we chose Home Instead to be our caregiving ally.

Some might argue that it is too expensive to hire someone. From my way of thinking, a few hundred dollars a month is less expensive than having my own health suffer because I never get a break. Preventative medicine, if you will. And it’s definitely less expensive than the cost of assisted living or a nursing home.

Whenever I have the opportunity to encourage someone who is heavily invested in caring for a loved one, I always encourage them to find a trusted substitute caregiver. Even if finances to pay for outside help aren’t an option, I encourage caregivers to reach out to friends (a retired senior), family (for us, our daughter, eldest granddaughter, or sister), a good neighbor…anyone who can give a little break from the physical, mental and emotional rigors of daily caregiving. It might not be for five hours, but even an hour or two away can make a difference.

Another sweet caregiver named Kathi comes on Sunday mornings, allowing us to have six hours to be able to teach our respective Sunday School classes, attend our worship service (my brother comes too), and enjoy lunch together with my brother. Mom doesn’t usually feel much like being social in the morning hours, but spunky Kathi’s positive can-do spirit also manages to keep my mother content and socially engaged during our time away. When we return, we usually find them seated at the kitchen table watching the birds at the birdfeeders and coloring together. And as an added bonus, Kathi always makes sure my dishes are done! Gotta love that!

The blessing of finding TWO caregivers who bond so well with my mother is most definitely Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Disappearing Friendships

I caught a glimpse of an old friend at the gym today. I don’t think she saw me pedaling away on an exercise bike while she attended a nearby group exercise class. My face immediately smiled when I saw her, then my heart sank with sadness just as quickly. You see, my friend had walked out on our friendship a few years ago. I never understood why.

I still don’t.

I’m usually pretty timid and non-confrontational – but, as I pedaled, I imagined myself boldly giving my old friend the “what-for.” How could she just leave? Never look back? Never say good-bye? Never again tell me that she loved me and cherished our friendship?

Of course, I didn’t really say it.

Today’s ‘disappearing friend’ experience made me wonder about the friends and family who ‘disappear’ from my mom’s life in her world living with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. As her memories fade, recollection of friendships forged over many years vanish too. Some of her dear family and friends still send cards. She loves to receive them in the mail (and will read them over and over again, each time as if it is the first), but she really can’t remember the person who sent the card. Sometimes a tiny glimmer of recognition glistens in her eyes if I pull out old pictures, or show her that friend’s photos on Facebook, or retell a story she once told me about this friend.

Not a care in the world when you’re coloring!

Alzheimer’s is cruel. But, I’m thinking it may also be a form of grace in old age. You see, my encounter today with my own disappearing friendship brought up lingering feelings of deep hurt and resentment, highlighting my own need to exercise forgiveness in relationships. With Alzheimer’s, my momma’s hurt feelings last only for a moment. Then she picks up a coloring book and her colored pencils and the hurt just vanishes.

Missing the ‘Old Life’

“What do you miss most about your “old life”? 

Michelle Daly posed this question for caregivers on a recent blog post. It’s hard for me to choose just one thing, so I’ll mention the ones that come to mind first.

I miss sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. I’ve been sleeping with a video baby monitor on my nightstand long enough now that I’m learning to tune out Momma’s “normal” noises and harmless sundowning activities, such as rearranging her drawers and taking inventory of the contents of her purse. I have learned to tune into her needs, such as times when she needs extra help in the bathroom, or when she’s afraid and confused. So, I am getting more sleep, but uninterrupted, monitor-less sleep would be nice.

Me and my guy

I miss impromptu ANYthing, but especially the little spur of the moment daytrips with my hubby. Those days when we would just hop in the car and end up at Devil’s Lake for a hike, or down on the UW Campus on one of the walking paths, or just meandering through an out of the way garden center. Fun times.

Momma loves Pastor Jeremy and his family!

I miss having people over for dinner. But I’m working on that one. Momma’s usually social self is impaired by her Alzheimer’s frets and fears, making taking her anywhere a chore and very stressful for her. But, the hostess in her loves to have people come and visit with us over lunch or supper, so I’m trying to incorporate more social time with others into our week. Last night our friends Jeremy and Anouk came over for a pizza night with their two children, Mia and Isaiah. Such fun!

A blast from our past – my twisty grandgirls

But what do I miss most? If pressed, I’d have to say “time with my grandkids” is the thing I miss the most. No more impromptu slumber parties, ‘Fun Fridays’, trips to the library, or excursions to the zoo or a nearby park that usually end with a trip to Culver’s for frozen custard.

Violet & Charlie in a friendly game of Othello

Tonight four of my grandkids came over for pie and ice-cream and a little visit. From the moment they walked in the door with their mom and dad, they were clamoring over what we would DO together.  The grandsons wasted no time in pulling out some classic board games. The boys took turns playing “Battleship!” with me, with George getting a little help from big sister Violet. Later, our five-year-old George brought out a chess set and asked for help in playing it. Even though this particular chess set has a few pieces missing, his Papa and Daddy helped him learn to make moves and we delighted in his gloating over captured pieces. Granddaughter Violet and her brother Charlie played ‘Othello,’ another favorite game of strategy. I even got in a few hands of ‘War’ with Henry. When I wasn’t playing one of the games, I was just watching and smiling…beaming, actually.

Momma and her little friend Mia enjoy coloring together.

I love these times with family and friends, and wish there were more of them and that they could be longer. But tonight, I’m just grateful for our little get-togethers. Momma loves to color and will gladly share her coloring books and colored pencils with her great-grands and little friends. Seeing children laugh and try new things brings a quiet joy to her eyes. The memory of their visit will soon disappear, but the contentment and joy linger in her heart just a little longer.