Just Letting Life Happen

Tonight Mom wanted me to drive over to visit her before bedtime. 

I knew this was risky. At that time she’s predictably exhausted, cranky, and obsessive about writing down all the things she needs me to do for her the next day.  Needless to say, when I’m tired, I can get a bit defensive about not being able to ever complete her endless daily lists of things she wants done immediately, that she can’t do for herself anymore:

“Fix elastic in all my stretched out pants; call physical therapist; ask doctor why I’m having terrible nightmares; bring a warmer comforter; find a remote control I can understand; send Mary my new address and phone number; help me order a new cardigan; is my cousin Norman still alive? not sure where he’s living; bring crackers; find better ice pack that won’t leak; fix phone cord so I can hear; tell whoever lives above me they’re too loud at night; where did all my underwear go?; put tennis balls on walker, but please don’t cut them yourself; make podiatrist appt”

(Just a small sample from this week.)

That combined with my exhaustion after work and the 40 min. drive there doesn’t usually make for a very good time, and we both tend to end the visit feeling icky.  Not to mention that recently I’ve been working on a huge landscaping project, which involves intense physical labor on a steep shoreline hillside.  Granted, it’s wonderfully therapeutic to swing a pick axe and toss huge stones down into the lake at this agonizing point in my life, but it also takes its toll on my capacity for sweetness in the memory care unit once my body is maxed out for the day.

My first impulse when I see Mom is to get her up out of her chair and have her practice walking, which I did automatically again tonight.  Fortunately, I’m occasionally blessed with some perspective on my desperate impulsive self, and realized mid-walk that she was exhausted and in pain, and I was in no way enhancing her evening or her quality of life by jettisoning myself into personal trainer mode at 7PM.

Fortunately, I had remembered to bring a movie, to help transport her out of the anxieties in her head; to help us just be together and not talk so much when it wouldn’t be meaningful at that time anyway.  I also had picked up a pint of pumpkin frozen custard for us to split, which made her smile.

Something I’ve become acutely conscious of lately is how much Mom and I inadvertently beat ourselves (and each other) up by always trying to change things in life, rarely being able to accept them as they are.  The females in my family have never been any good at sitting back and enjoying life, and it seems that if there’s anything really meaningful I can do to help Mom at this juncture in time, maybe that’s our biggest task.

There’s plenty of good to say about change, but it needs to be balanced with acceptance for there to be any kind of true peace. 

The movie I popped in was “Fifty First Dates”.  Since Mom’s still aware of her cognitive shortcomings and will laugh at them on good days, I thought it might be appropriate.  I hadn’t seen it for years, and forgot how goofy it was.  Mom laughed a few times at the dirty jokes, but then started rolling her eyes.  “Is this movie just completely ridiculous, or is it me?” 

I eventually turned it off, but being distracted from her concerns for almost an hour had clearly relaxed her, and she didn’t go through her usual whole list of questions that I get each visit:

-when is my discharge date from this prison sentence?

-is there any cure for this?

-will I always feel this way?

-why can’t I just go off all my medication?

-how did I get to where I am right now?

In my heart, I know that all her lists and all her questions are a completely understandable cry for help, while she’s wondering how the heck her life turned out this way and how she can get things back in control.  And though I do believe she realizes that the answer is probably “never”, she’s going to keep fighting all the way.

Some days, we can keep whittling away at her endless questions, and some days we just need some shared silence, because really, there are no good answers, and the more we can accept the adventure as it comes, the more we might get through this with our smiles intact.

This entry was posted in caregiver stress, support, and respite, dementia and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Just Letting Life Happen

  1. Laura says:

    reading your observations reminds me that I am hearing repeated questions & demands that I didn’t expect to hear – I knew she was a bossy soul but we didn’t realize just how anxious & how confused my 91 year old mother-in-law is until we moved her to our home a mere month ago …

    I suspect that much of what she asks for is less about the particular item/issue & more about wanting reassurance & comfort … maybe if I could respond to her queries & demands as similar to when my beloved dog, Millie nudges me when she wants to snuggle & have her tummy rubbed …

    deep breath

    I am going to listen more, flinch less, grimace less & attempt to fix less today … at least until she wakes up from her nap & screeches for me …

    • I’m with you here. It’s so hard not to react to discontent in a habitual way. I always find it tricky to discern what requires action and what can be consoled by a bit of focused listening, so they know they’re not struggling with the rough moments all alone.

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