BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Family

Silliness is essential

Boogers.  Co-sleeping on just 12″ of bed.  Running.  Hiding.  Laughing.  Speaking with a british accent or a very high, strawberry shortcake voice.  The joys of gawee-hood.  Seeing those happy little faces and hearing them squeal your name in delight is beyond precious.  Even before they can speak your name, they wrinkle their noses and smile, waving their arms in glee.  And when those arms reach for you….priceless.

Being a gawee is so much easier than being a mother ever was…there aren’t the competing impediments and anxieties of household chores, jobs, daycare issues, school necessities, clothing inadequacies, financial balancing and just sheer exhaustion from keeping all those balls in the air – day in and day out.  When you are the gawee, you can just PLAY.

I am a very silly gawee.  I am still young (or so I like to think) and I will run, jump and do goofy things just to hear them giggle.  I don’t mind climbing into small areas and pretending it is a cave or that a bed is a boat or that playdoh is dinner.  I will sing off key, making up the words as I go; and holler at the imaginary lions.   But that isn’t half the fun – the true joy is in how they react and join-in.  Watching them use their imaginations, when they stare at my face and try to match my enthusiasm.  Together, we will quote important lines from Disney movies or we will talk about wild animals on the trails as we walk.  When they get tired and ask me to carry them, I ask if they can carry me instead.  I try, unsuccessfully, to crawl into their arms while they laugh and do their best to lift me.  We also tell stories in the bathroom – as a practice routine for potty training.  They will be on the commode and I will sit on the footstool and tell them exaggerated stories while they relax and go “poo”.  They always offer to do the same for me – but I have a pretty well-established routine by now.

As they get older, I know they won’t have the same reactions and desires for frolic and imaginary games.  Life happens and other influences come into play.  The thought of them out-growing Gawee is heartbreaking.  Oh, I know, they will always love me and we will always have a fond, heartfelt relationship but there will eventually be other friends, activities, interests, peers, and the need for independence from old, sillier days as they grow older and go to school.  The most important part of that shift, from giggly toddler to school-age child, is for them to know that I will always be in their corner.  (I don’t HAVE to be silly, but I can be at a moments’ notice).

For now, I will bask in the joy of their adoration.  We will play, laugh, wrestle and run.  I hope to teach them that playing is a lifelong enchantment, one for which they should never feel shame.   And when those sweet and sticky little hands encircle my neck – I know I am living the best life.

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Oh the shame…

Vulnerability.  Low self-worth.  Shame.  These are the feelings I work hard to suppress.  Every. Day.  Just about the time I think I’ve outgrown those fears – when I feel stronger, brighter, more mature, more confident – a wave rolls in.  What the hell?

Recently, on our vacation trip to Vegas, I got a good dose of insecurity and self-loathing.  I was doing just fine – smooth sailing, minding my own business and from out of nowhere came “Jacob”.  He was a handsome young man, well-dressed, friendly and handing out free samples in front of a little store in the mall.  Free foot lotion samples.  Lovely.  He introduced himself then asked me to come into the store where he could give me a treatment that would help the dark circles under my eyes.  I would like to make those disappear, wouldn’t I?  My husband and I reluctantly walked into the store.  Foolishness!

Jacob was a well-trained salesman – speaking in a calm, soothing voice, with a thick middle eastern accent; he recited facts about aging, skin, the products he was hocking.  He was well-versed about skin care, how the skin breaks down, the layers of skin, blah, blah, blah.  At that point, I’m still feeling okay.  He puts his “miracle” cream under one eye – all the while talking to my husband and I – some small talk and some sales rhetoric…within minutes, the dark circle under my left eye IS lighter and the skin IS tighter.  Tada!  (Side bar: I’ve seen videos about this product on facebook – it really does work!  But here’s the rub, you don’t use it during the day–only at night.  So the benefit of the fact that it holds your skin tighter is lost on the wee hours of the morning as you sleep!  Minor detail Jacob neglected to mention!  SUPPOSEDLY, using it every night for one week will show improvement and then you just do a maintenance treatment of once a week…jury is still out on the actual “noticeable improvement”!)

Jacob promises to fix the other eye as well but, in the meantime, he starts to pitch a face peel product.  Using the inside of my wrist, he shows how the peel very simply takes off the first layer of skin and makes the arm SO SOFT and with a little moisturizer it is so much more incredibly soft than the other arm!  Imagine if that was my face!?  Tremendous.  Now, he starts to introduce the topic of cost…I am normally a hard sell.  I do NOT spend money on frivolous things like face creams (which explains why I have such dark circles and wrinkled skin!).  Let the manipulation persuasion begin!  The tactics were covert and indirect — passively demeaning.  Here are some examples:

  • You are a mother aren’t you?  How many children do you have?  You always sacrifice your needs for your children, don’t you?
  • Why wouldn’t you want to look better?
  • These products won’t change how you look, you will just look like you used to look 10 years ago.  Same you, just the younger version.
  • If you spend this amount, will it take away from your house payment or other necessary bills? (In other words, are you too poor to buy this?)
  • Why wouldn’t you spend this amount on yourself?  Don’t you deserve to feel better about yourself?
  • When we are finished here, I’m going to give you a free treatment to help you get rid of your jowels and your loose neck skin.
  • If you could choose, which would you improve first – your eyes, your jowels or your neck?

Just about the time I was ready to get up out of the chair, he would say that he needed to fix my other eye so that I wouldn’t look lopsided and he would do that BUT…..and then he would launch into another tactic.  An hour and a half later and two FREE treatments under my belt, my husband and I finally walked out of there! And, as much as I hate to admit it, I did buy some of the product.  I spent FAR TOO MUCH money and bought stuff that, while it will last 2 years (woohoo!), I may never use??  Oh sure, I have good intentions but, like anything, you lose interest after a couple of weeks.  Since I did spend what I consider a small fortune on this stuff, I will use it come hell or high water!

The final outcome is that I am upset with myself for falling for the malarkey.  Jacob played on all of my weaknesses and I fell for it.  Yes, I hate my dark circles, jowels and turkey neck – OF COURSE I DO!   When I walked into the store, I was feeling fine – knowing that I’m aging but being okay with it.  When I walked out, I felt that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach.   Do I look older than I thought?  Is it THAT noticeable to everyone?  And on top of that, I felt SICK at having spent that much money for LOTIONS AND PEELS!  For heavens sake!

The shame of it all followed me all that day.  That night, I told my husband I was going to return everything for a refund.  I was livid and ashamed that I had been so easily manipulated.  My husbands response was  not to worry about it…I didn’t return to the store (frankly, the thought of returning was equally humiliating!).  The whole episode has nagged me ever since.  I’ve been using the product and I don’t doubt that it has improved my skin (wishful thinking?) but I am bothered by how easily I lost my confidence – it only took a matter of minutes and I felt like I was a teenager again, worried about being judged for my gangly appearance and pale face with bug eyes!  I consider myself a strong woman and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t walk out after the first 10 minutes (which was my first instinct)!

After I got home I sheepishly looked at the receipt and was surprised to find written in bold letters on the customer copy, “NO REFUNDS”.  Tells you something, doesn’t it?  I’m not the only person who had buyers remorse — obviously, it was an issue or they wouldn’t print it directly on the receipt!  No money-back guarantees….  I learned my lesson.  When approached with free samples – a strong but polite “NO THANKS” will serve me well.

I am aging.  I have dark circles under my eyes, laugh wrinkles, jowels and a turkey neck — my belly is jelly, my triceps are saggy, and my legs are cottage cheesy.  Such is life.  No amount of money, lotions or fear-mongering can truly change any of that.  And why would I?  I’m here, vertical and happy to be such.  Can’t get any better than that!  If wishing for something different makes you feel bad – stop wishing for something different.  What is real?  What really matters?

For both of us

Recently, I have been missing my mom – which is unusual because we had never been very close.  I’ve been thinking about the way she used to be — about 10 years ago when she was still delivering the mail and stopping by on a whim.   She would call fairly frequently just to fill me in on gossip or ask something about the kids.   In those days, she was a gadabout.  If she got bored, she would jump in her car and drive to some unknown point in the valley or to a neighboring town.

Every Sunday, she played the organ at the country church.  For a time, she would regularly come to our house for dinner after the service.    We had a small family discord and she stopped coming over and rarely called.  As time and her dementia progressed, we lost contact until the memory loss became a safety issue.  By then, when it was time to step in and arrange for her care, she no longer remembered the discord but the disengagement of recent years only made matters worse.  I feel deprived of the last few reasonably normal years of her life before the dementia changed her into a stranger.

As I said, we were never very close but the dementia has forced into grim reality the realization that we have lost any possible opportunity to be close. Looking back into my childhood, I wished for a mother who would talk to me, tell me things, hug me and tell me she wasn’t angry with me.  That just wasn’t meant to be and, now, it truly never will be.  Having to let go of that hope and wish is hard.   It makes me sad for both of us.

Mom remains in a memory care facility.  She has lost a lot of weight and she no longer recognizes anyone.  Her biggest pleasure is when my sister brings her cinnabons or something from McDonalds.  She still walks loops around the hall with her walker and she hasn’t fallen for a couple of months (knock on wood).  It isn’t easy going to visit her – in fact, it is very difficult.  Her face is sallow and her eyes are vacant.  She rarely makes eye contact and only grunts as a response to most questions or she repeats the question.  Somewhere in that shell is a woman who had 4 children, cooked on a wood stove, chopped wood, taught children how to read, delivered mail, played the organ and acted as eucharistic minister in her church.  She was also a woman who wanted to go to college but couldn’t because of financial constraints, a woman who loved her family but always wanted something more – a woman whose true dreams and desires will never be known.

I miss having her around and I wish that things could have been different – for both of us.

The gift of peace

My mother-in-law passed away peacefully on June 10.  She was in hospice care for one week.  I hope she has gotten back to her bridge club.

Funerals are difficult and no one likes attending them.  It is a time to say goodbye; to show support for family or friends; a time to reflect on the life and times shared with the dearly departed.  Depending on the person, a funeral can be very personal or very religious or very long or very short and not so sweet or a combination of all the above.  There can be music, prayers, readings, masses, poems, speeches, fire and brimstone, tearful goodbyes.

My family lost four important members in a 4 year succession.  We learned a lot about funerals and how to plan and implement a decent, respectful and personal service.  There are so many details that you just don’t know about – so many choices to make.  What type of service?  Where will it be held?  Who will preside? Will there be a viewing?  Casket or urn?   Flowers? Special program for the service? Who will write the obituary?   Where will they be laid to rest? Who will be pall bearers?  Will there be a reception afterwards?  Where will it be held?  Who will bring food?

These are all details that people have to think of when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.  For some of us, having something constructive to “do” actually helps.   For others, it is overwhelming.  It is a very emotional and raw time.

In the case of my mother-in-law, she requested a full catholic mass.  She belonged to a large church and the priest did not know her personally.  The service was typical of a full mass and because the priest knew nothing about her, he read her obituary during the sermon portion of the service.  He mispronounced her name and the name of her home town (Butt? Montana).  He had not read through the obituary beforehand so it was read in a choppy manner and it was hard to understand.  It was supposed to be a celebration of her life and it really wasn’t.  Fortunately, at the reception afterwards, the family held a more personal service in remembrance of their mother.

There is a saying, “Funerals bring out the worst in people”.  Families have broken apart in the aftermath of a funeral – the loss of a loved one and the arguments that ensue.  Past hurts come to the forefront and the battle over material things can be a detriment to most families.   Wars are waged and lines drawn in the sand over grandma’s crystal gravy boat or the diamond dinner ring.  It just isn’t worth it but it happens frequently.  Having a will is very important for legal reasons but it is the responsibility of the survivors to deal with division of property and personal items with consideration for each other and in honor of the memory of the departed.

I realized after my dad’s funeral that it is important to think about, and to make known, what your wishes are prior to your death.   But it will save your family a lot of stress if you also plan what you want as a final goodbye.  I have a file titled – “when I die” and it talks about what I want for a service.  It is not overly specific, just little tidbits.  Songs I like, that have special meaning to me; things I feel would be nice to say about my personality; my feelings about religion; how much I love my kids,  grandkids and my husband.  Most importantly, I have included my wishes that my children stay close – rely on each other – no matter what.

I’ve heard it said that it is morbid and depressing to think and talk about those things.  I don’t feel it is because it provides clear instructions for your loved ones and saves them the stress of having to wonder what you would prefer.  It can be as specific or generalized as you want it to be.  In truth, there are so many things that we don’t know about each other and that we don’t normally share.  I’m certain that my mother, who now has dementia/alzheimers, had no idea that she would never have the chance to say the many things that she was saving for “someday”.   There are so many things about her that we don’t know, she never shared, and now there is no one to ask.

It is sad to think of your final days, your final resting place, leaving those you love behind.  None of us knows WHEN that will happen, but we do know that it WILL happen.  To provide a means of saying a final goodbye and of saving your loved ones from that difficult process is truly a gift.  Your final wishes conveyed in black and white will give all of you peace.

 

Puppy

When the kids were little, they loved puppies.  They wanted to pick them up and hold them.  It took a lot of effort for them to learn not to hold them too tight.  The puppy would choke or struggle to get free.  We had to teach them to just sit still and hold the puppy very gently.  The puppy would then relax and welcome the attention of their soft, gentle hands.  The puppy may even fall asleep.  Sometimes, though, the puppy would want to get down from their lap.  This was disturbing to them as they WANTED the puppy to stay with them, they wanted the puppy to WANT to stay with them.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with holding on to the proverbial “puppy” too tightly; trying to make it stay on my lap.  It would be so much easier if the silly thing would just cooperate.  Sit still, go to sleep, stay here where I can see you and watch over you.  I don’t want to have to chase after you.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, if all of our “puppies” could stay in our little circle of control?

Unfortunately, parents get dementia.  Their bodies start to give out.  No matter how tight we hold them – they will leave our circle.  Kids grow up and have kids of their own.  They move in different directions and different rates of speed.  We all start to get OLD.

We wish and wish that time would slow down. We hope our parents go peacefully, with our blessing and gratitude for a life well lived. We hope that our children stay together and maintain a close relationship with each other.  May they always know that there is nothing like a sibling, always and forever – beyond all else.  We wish the grandkids stay little forever and, please, let me stay young enough to get down on the floor and play with them….

We have to hold the puppy gently, with kind and loving hands.  We have to let the puppy get down from our lap when he wants to – we can’t force him to stay.  The puppy needs to run and play and grow and so do we.

Welcome back to comfort

Writing for comfort.  When I am away from my computer and I am not able to write – either because I am busy or I can’t find a topic – I really do miss it.  (For some reason, I don’t feel as comfortable just writing with pen and paper…).  In some ways, not writing makes me feel lonely; as though I am missing someone.  That someone is me.

When I was a child, I played alone a lot.  I talked to myself and had elaborate games in my own imagination.  I mimicked different accents and dialects and developed new scenarios for the characters I portrayed.  I lived inside my head and had dreams of being an actress on a soap opera.  Lofty goals.  As I aged, I realized the possibility of being discovered for my acting skills in a very small rural community in Montana were slim to none.  Still, I enjoyed fantasizing about fame and fortune as a diva on The Young and the Restless.

In college, I was living in a strange place, with no real friends.   I held tight to my life back at home by writing to friends and family.  Everyday, I wrote at least 3 letters.  I would fill the letters with anecdotes and details about my days.  In return, I would receive at least one letter a day from someone — usually my mom.  As I made friends, the need for maintaining contact with my old life began to wane.  I didn’t write as many letters but I used writing letters as an outlet for expressing my happiness, sadness or loneliness.  Writing became a habit and though I never really kept a journal – I “journaled” by writing letters.  To this day, if I need to express something I can do it best by writing TO someone.

I have written a play and receive royalties for it in September and April.  It is always exciting to open that envelope and realize that a drama club or group has performed MY play.  It has been performed in Canada, the UK and in several places in the U.S.  I’ve started several other plays but just can’t get beyond the first outline.  Not sure why — maybe the first play was just a fluky thing.  Perhaps if I wrote a play as if it were a letter I might have better luck.

Being retired has given me the opportunity of having more TIME although it feels as though I am just as busy now as I was when I was working and I wonder how I ever had time to do anything before!  I have a couple of writing projects that I’ve started but can never seem to finish.

One project is to write about my life just for general principle.   When my mom developed dementia, I realized that I don’t really know much about her.  She never really talked about herself.  I’ve been thinking about having to help write her obituary when she dies and it won’t be easy.  So many details we don’t know.  I wonder if my kids know me any better?

Do they know how much I love the sun and warm summer days?  Do they know how much I love tacos and salad and cold cereal?  How much I loved to play basketball?  That I can sing? (or that I used to be able to sing…)  My favorite color is green – not forest green but sage green.  I like Coke over Pepsi.  I hate onions.  I don’t like to ride a bike, I hate jogging but I love to walk.  I was chubby in college.  I wore braces in high school.  I was the shortest girl in my class in 8th grade and the tallest as a senior.   I was anemic and sickly as a child.  I never did work to my full potential in school because I never believed I was very smart (I now know better).

I am very proud of them – this, I think they know.  I love to play with my grandchildren – they know that too.  I love to laugh with them and to watch them laugh with each other.  I love it when we are all together and there is no strife or worry.  Those days are the very best, the days I cherish the most.  I find great comfort in writing about those days…

It’s in the knowing

We all have triggers.  It doesn’t matter how old you are – how strong you have become – there are things that will set off a chain of reactions before you realize it is happening.  It is a natural tendency, a trained response.  In any addiction, those triggers are the biggest obstacle.  In any lifetime, addiction or no, those triggers plague us all.

Any self-help book will tell you that you must first learn to identify those triggers and then be ever vigilant to their influence.  Easier said than done, they are sneaky, devious and ambiguous.  If you are like most of us – there are multiple triggers and they are always hovering just under the radar -waiting to slide in, create chaos, then slip back out totally undetected.  Score!!  Slippery little buggers!

I can always tell when they have breezed through my world.  I suddenly feel as though I’m ten years old.  My knees are knobby, my face is pale and my hair is just this side of boyish.  I pull myself as far into myself as I can – trying to make myself very small.  Fear ripples through my mind and stomach.  I have to work very hard to hold down the panic.  Someone is mad at me and I have to rush to figure out why and what I can do to make amends.  Even writing about it makes my stomach turn.  The trigger could be someone actually being mad at me but, usually, it is just my fear that they are or will be.  I have said or done something unfavorable and am at risk of being judged an idiot or a fool.   I am like a little puppy – I must find my way back into the good graces of my pack.  This is the affliction of being a “people-pleaser”, you spend a lifetime trying to overcome that malady.

And here is the nub: we can certainly identify the triggers but affecting the change necessary to establish new responses is the true hardship.  For most of us, these responses are a lifelong routine, a means of emotional survival.  While those responses were developed by a child, they are believed to be a safety net as an adult.  We always fall back into the net — without thinking — because we know we can.  Stopping ourselves before we fall back is hard.  It requires a lot of awareness and butt loads of self talk.

I often have to talk to that little 10 year old girl with the knobby knees and tell her that it is going to be okay.  The world is not crumbling.   Sometimes people do get mad.  Sometimes people do judge.   Nonetheless, she still has a pack and the pack still loves her.

When we know better, we do better.  It’s the knowing that is the challenge.

Melting

My mother is melting.  Each and every day.  She has lost so much weight and sleeps most of the time.  My sister and I report to each other how she is on each of our visits.  We feel a glimmer of hope whenever she speaks – even if she is only repeating what we have said to her.  She does not recognize anyone anymore.  It is rare to see her smile.  Like a pile of snow in the parking lot – she is slowly melting, getting smaller and smaller – and the runoff is slowly finding its way to the river.

This disease has given us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We have been grieving for our mother for the last few years – as her view of us narrowed, our view of her expanded.  I’ve realized all of the questions that will never be answered.  I should have asked them earlier.  To be honest, I couldn’t.  The answer is there, isn’t it?  For some things, there are no answers or the answer is with the inquirer.

We prepare for the last few miles of the journey.  My mother is strong.  She always has been.  As a young woman, she moved to a foreign land (may as well have been) – far from family and friends.  She learned to cook on a wood stove and lived in squalor with her three children (eventually four).  She believed in her fairytale – someday, the prince would find and claim his kingdom and they would live happily ever after.  She cooked, cleaned, sewed, taught, sang, drove, washed, dried, mowed, raked, canned, gardened, laughed and cried throughout her very long and full life.   There are so many other things that we don’t know about her.

In her last leg of the relay, she sits in a chair with her face in her hands.  Or she lays sideways in her bed and sleeps.  We have no way of knowing if she is “thinking” or dreaming while she reclines.  What does she see and understand about where she is now?  Is she like a captive in her body, just unable to communicate?  Is she gone except for the daily routines and body functions of living?  Those are the exasperating questions for which there are no answers.  Her body just keeps going from day to day.  We stand by and watch as she melts, helpless to do anything about it.

That’s what I thought

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say”, Flannery O’Conner  So true.

It is very dark outside and I am up earlier than usual.  As is par for  the course, I awakened and my mind began writing inside my head.  Of course, none of it made sense and if I had written it down at the time, it would have been a jumble of “worry” thoughts.   Sometimes, I try to imagine what it must be like inside another persons’ head, one who does not constantly ruminate about every thing.  My husband, for example.  Often, as he sits quietly beside me in the car or at the house, I will ask him what he is thinking.  His response is usually the same.  If he is driving; about traffic, or about the distance we have traveled, what time we will arrive at our destination.  If he is sitting at home; about his model train layout or the weather. (What is it with men and the weather?)  Very rarely is he thinking about his weight, his fitness, aging, worrying about our kids, the past, the future.  (Which are the things constantly rolling around inside my head!)

Believe me, that is not to say he is not a very intelligent and caring man, he is.  He just processes things differently.  In his lifetime, he has learned that if you can’t change something, there is no point in worrying about it; and so, he doesn’t.  I have always marveled at this ability.  Obviously, our brains are programmed differently.  A large part of the reason is gender.  (He just hates it when I generalize but it is true!).

When something stressful happens in our lives, I speed up and he slows to a crawl.  I’m running in circles, he is sitting calmly and quietly in one place.  I need to come up with a plan and implement it immediately, he seems oblivious as he looks at his phone or watches television.  He may or may not have moved on to the next “thought” in his mind as I continue to fret and plan and accelerate.  Of course, all of this motion and emotion is usually occurring internally not actually — this is just the difference in how we deal with stress.

My husband and I met when I was a dispatcher for 911 and he was a police officer.  We both had similar training in how to deal with stressful situations, to pay attention and process details quickly and efficiently and to keep things moving forward – being prepared for the “next circumstance” that may arise.  We’ve both carried that training with us into our personal lives and continue to deal with our stresses using those learned techniques.  Of course, he has been retired for 6 years and I haven’t worked as a dispatcher for 25 years, so we’re both a bit rusty.

In any case, his ability to hear something sad or tragic, talk about it briefly, then move on without another look back is remarkable.   At times, I envy that.  Other times, I realize we are the perfect pairing for this reason.  While he is lucky to be able to compartmentalize things and move on to the next event/detail – there are times when some further investigation or rumination may be necessary in dealing with the existing event.  This is where I come in – catching the fallout and bringing it to his attention.  Or just gaining additional knowledge about the event in order to have final closure.

Here’s another difference in a stressful situation on a smaller scale.  We’re taking a trip in two weeks.  I have been thinking about what to pack for the last week, picturing in my mind different items of clothing, jewelry, makeup, shoes…etc.  He won’t think about it until the day he starts packing. (Sidebar: it is rare that I will forget to pack something, while he has forgotten his bathing suit on two different trips!).

I am in charge of all our travel arrangements because I pay attention to each step of our trip, making sure we have transportation, time between flights, a place to stay and insurance.  I do all of these things fast and efficiently.  I have no doubt that he could accomplish these things as well, I just couldn’t stand watching the slow, methodical pace!

Conversely, at times I rush through things and “borrow trouble” with my worry.  His methodical approach will often prevent minor errors due to implementing half-baked ideas in a state of frenzy.  So, yes, ours is a good pairing.  The tortoise and the hare.

A prompt from Carla — Before

In June of 2015, we placed my mother in a memory care facility.

Before that, she was living in her own home.  My sisters and I took turns bringing her meals and checking on her.  She slept a lot and watched TV when she could figure out how to turn it on.  We would arrive to find her in a mess of one kind or another – half naked or with excrement on her, the couch, the floor.  The dog would eat her food and there would be a trail of wrappers and containers strewn about.  She remembered who we were, most of the time.  She didn’t offer much in the way of conversation other than answering questions.  Unable to dial the phone and sometimes, unable to remember how to answer it, she was cut off from everyone and everything.  Because she was unable to drive any longer, she spent long hours in her house looking out the window, thinking about how she needed to go somewhere.  In the end, she thought she needed to go “home” even though she was already home, and she started going out of the house, half-dressed and in disarray.  We knew the time had come to get her in a safe place.

Before that, she was retired and at home taking care of herself.  She had moments of forgetfulness and confusion but we didn’t realize it.  Our family had suffered a break and we were estranged from each other.  Her visits with us were strained and less frequent.  She worked at her church and drove herself to town to run errands.  She spent a lot of time with our younger sister.   We knew that she was having trouble with her memory and we were concerned about her ability to drive but because of the discord, we were unable to address those issues with her.  Our first try with offers of assistance were met with defensiveness and more dissonance.  She believed she was doing fine on her own.

Before that, she was working at the post office.  She had a small mail route in a small country town.  Despite her difficulty with her knees, she worked any time she was needed and enjoyed feeling useful.  Very devoted to her church, she taught catechism classes and played the organ every Sunday.  She was also a eucharistic minister and took communion to the elderly and shut-ins.   My mother was a “gallivanter”, if she was bored, she would jump in her car and go visit one of her children or grandchildren or her good friend, Evalyn (or all of the above).  Losing the ability to drive in her later years was devastating for her.  Her vehicle was her mode of escape.   She would also call to check in with us once or twice a week and if there was a function at the school, she would stop in to see if it was something that might be of interest.  She attended any function in which her grandchildren participated.  She was a widow but she still had her family, friends and church.

Before that, she was living with my dad.  She worked at the post office part-time and devoted a lot of time and energy to her church.  In regular contact with her children and grandchildren, she made every effort to attend any activity they were involved in and always brought a treat of some kind.  At this point in their lives, my parents’ relationship was difficult, at best.  They were at odds with each other over many things.  They rarely rode together in the same car to any of the family functions.  My mom had a habit of leaving without saying goodbye – suddenly you would notice that she was no longer there.  I think she often felt overshadowed by my dad and unappreciated for her efforts.  She loved spending time with her grandchildren especially when she could have them to herself.

Before that, she was working as a home health care worker, taking care of the elderly who needed assistance with cleaning and errands.  She had several clients and she was very devoted to each of them.  My mother was always a very hard worker.  Her church and her grandchildren took up most of her time.  She traveled to Texas once or twice a year to visit her family.  She also did a little traveling as part of her training for the eucharistic ministry.  I don’t know much more about this time period of her life because I was busy with my own.

Before that, I am not certain of the details of her life.  I have only snippets of memories of interactions with her.  Mom was not one to express her feelings or desires.  I have had a lot of time to think about her, about this illness and about losing her.  I’ve thought about having to help write her obituary and feeling totally inadequate to do so.  I will have to seek assistance from others if I am to do her justice in that endeavor.

When a parent has dementia, there are so many layers of loss.  You lose that person that you have relied on all of your life.  The one MAINSTAY we all have, our mother.  You also lose the opportunity to repair or rebuild a broken relationship – or to create one where there wasn’t one before.  You have to give up on that dream.  And far worse, you see this person slowly disappear and you still remember who and what they were…before that.