Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The heartbreak of dementia

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

On a recent visit, Mom was in a sour, cranky mood at our arrival, and Dad warned me to stay away from her.  "She's in an impossible mood," he declared. I smiled, remained pleasant, and set about making a fun little lunch for us -  getting out the placemats and the napkins, preparing sub sandwiches, some potato chips, and even a splash of "Fresca" for drink. Nothing fancy, but, welcomed favorites. I tried to entice Mom to the table, but she simply stared at me blankly or responded angrily ("NO!") to any question I asked. Finally, I asked cheerily, "What about Fresca? Would you enjoy a glass of cold Fresca? I remember how much you love this!" and she sneered at me and said bluntly, with vigor, "Run along!"

I had to turn my back to her so that she wouldn't see me laughing. Both the caregiver and I got a chuckle out of that. My father, however, did not. "Why does she speak like that!?" he demanded, "That is so rude!"

I suggested that we simply ignore her for the time being and enjoy the lunch. The caregiver took her to the bathroom to wash her hands (before the lunch which she declared she didn't want!), and I suspected that once she came out of the bathroom, she would emerge a new woman with the whole incident forgotten. Sure enough, when she came out, a much more pleasant person was inhabiting her skin. "Oh my! Turkey sandwiches! That sounds delicious!," she declared when she saw us seated at the  table. She sat down with us and began to settle in happily to the meal.

It's important to act as if the tantrum never happened.

Then the phone rang. The caregiver read the caller ID and called out to my father, "It's Time Warner calling, must be about your cable account, do you want to answer?" Dad stumbled to get out of his chair, saying, "I need to take that call," but he couldn't move quickly enough and he missed it; the call went to voice mail, and he was now the sour, cranky one. He was so frustrated.

Mom and Dad were playing tag team with their moods.

Dad could not settle back into the company of his daughter and son-in-law without resolving the issue first. Lunch for Dad was abruptly over. He wondered what they called about...did he forget to pay the bill? He didn't know how to retrieve the message plus he is hard of hearing and probably couldn't have heard it if he had. His vision is poor, too, so the caregiver read the number back to him, and he dialed it, only to receive the automated message - "our network circuits are busy at this time, please call back." Then began a fruitless series of call backs by Dad, with increasing anger at every repetition of the automated message. I suggested, "Dad, they were probably just calling to sell you a fancier package...just an ad, really, " but he is convinced his account is in arrears. He barks at me - "I bet I forgot to pay the bill! Your mother cannot live without the TV!" (This is funny to me, because it is he who cannot live without the TV, but I do not show any amusement on my face, only patience and understanding.)

Honestly, he tries to call the company for another 30 minutes. It is very painful to watch.

His lunch was forgotten.

What is so sad is that he can no longer discern that this phone call is really not a problem at all. Annoying, yes...but put it aside and chat with your daughter, enjoy their company. Take care of the issue at some other point in time; better yet, let them call back.

My mother, age 88, has full dementia - no knowledge of who I am, no memory of times we shared, no ability to converse anymore. My father, also 88, has Parkinson's - and, sadly, this disease is coupled with the possibility of dementia...he is slowly growing into the same type of mental hell. Honestly, I think it is worse for him, because he is at that place where dementia is beckoning - he is painfully aware of his memory slipping, becoming very anxious at times, beginning to repeat questions over and over, less sure of his short-term memory.

They are in the very best of living arrangements, under these circumstances - living in their own independent home ("cottage") within a retirement community, with a full time caregiver.

On this visit, I see how challenging life is for Dad now. He is no longer able to keep facts and dates straight, no longer sure what needs doing. He was not going to accept any intervention from me and yet he is no longer sure what he has done or not done. He was going to resolve this himself, he was in charge, and yet the solution is just beyond his grasp. There's the catch-22 - he won't hand it over, nor will he solve it himself.

This is the raw pain of aging, the raw pain of short term memory loss, the raw pain of losing control and independence.

It's difficult for all of us.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A new school year begins!

A new school year begins!

Here's a photo of my empty classroom, just after the floors were shined and before all the furniture was dragged back in. It exemplifies


I know this is going to be a fabulous new year!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

She's here

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Sweet girl, so fragile, so impulsive. She's here. One small plastic bag of clothes, a laptop, and a phone. What are the five things you would grab if you were fleeing? She just took off. Hurt, frustrated, spitting angry, driving eight hours and mentally chewing through every slight, every unkind word, every thing her parents ever did or said. Of course, they love her dearly. Her Dad, so strong, always certain, always steady - he must be off balance now...thinking, what the hell? Where did this attitude come from? What was she thinking? How dangerous! To simply take off like that. Her Mom, like me, having had a troubled relationship with her own mother - now having to live out this dear child's rejection. Oh, I feel certain it is not a forever rejection. It's a heartfelt, 24 year old, nobody understands me period of rejection.

I'm in the midst of this mess. The thick of it. I feel strangely serene, sure. We need to shelter her for now. She needs to be here for a bit. The little girl in the spare room. Nothing fancy here. A bit of a retreat, I hope. A few days to look at things differently. Or longer? She spent less than an hour with us last night and went upstairs. I woke up thinking, she's going to need to wash those clothes soon and she doesn't know where our washer is. She knows not this house, she knows not the cereal, the downstairs shower, the toothpaste supplies, the dailyness. I'll be gone to work very early, without seeing her. What to leave a note about? We love you. Be well. It's going to be okay.