Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chewing Aspirin

She no longer takes care of her teeth. The dentist suggested pulling them all but the irony is that since she used to take such good care of them, the roots are solid. The teeth are decaying and falling out. I can't even look at them. They are black and awful. Every couple weeks, another is missing. I used to sit with her every night and make her brush and soak them in flouride. But I got tired. What is the point really? If she doesn't care, why should I? Did I do it just to make myself more comfortable? To make it not so.. soo.. disgusting????

What amazes me is that teeth fall out and she has no pain. Well, USUALLY no pain. tonight she says it hurts. I have her point to the tooth because I know tomorrow when the pain is gone, so will her memory of it. To my horror, the tooth she points to is the 'canine' and there are no teeth behind it. They are all gone. How the heck did they disappear? Did the dogs eat them? Did she? Geesh....

She asked for aspirin and that's what I gave her. She has never been able to swallow pills and I have cringed all my life as I watched her CHEW aspirin. For the first time, the taste got her and she couldn't do it. It's just another sign to me of her slipping away.

Then she went to bed. Or so I thought. Five minutes later I hear her calling downstairs. Her tooth hurts. Can she have aspirin???

So tomorrow I will make sure she is taken to her dentist. Probably this one will be pulled. Soon her teeth will not be ugly. They will just be a memory.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Rabbit and a Staircase

I believe the progression of Alzheimer’s is similar to the learning curve. Calling it a ‘curve’ is a misnomer. It is a staircase with steep steps that are long and irregular. It is stable for a while and then suddenly there is a step down like flat slippery stones on their way to a riverside.

Yesterday was Easter. As it was Sunday it was also shower day. I have given up having the caregivers do the shower. She likes the attention from me and is much more cooperative for me than the caregivers. Well, except Liz. She LOVES Liz. We all love Liz, but Liz has a life and can’t be here every minute. Liz’s little boy loves her too and we have to share.

Normally for the shower, I just lay out her clothes in the order they will be put on, get the bathroom heated up and get the water going in the shower. I also have been urging her gently through the steps to shower and helping her dry. Yesterday I had to do more. She was confused about undressing so I had to help a bit more. She didn’t understand the concept of putting her clothes in the laundry. And once in the shower, she was confused about how and what to wash. I had to take a much more active role. Instead of standing on the other side of a closed shower curtain, it was open and I was guiding her step by step.

She looked down at herself and had to ask me .. "Why do I only have one breast?”

How do you forget a battle with cancer?

“I had cancer?” Her face showed the surprise. It was too much to digest. We continued the shower. I know I'll be asked again.

I dried her carefully and helped her dress. Despite her original reluctance to take the shower, she seemed delighted with the attention. I promised her ice cream and her childlike eyes lit up at the prospect.

A woman called from church asking if she could bring over a lily. Our church does this for people who don’t’ get out much. She asked who had just called. At the news that someone was coming, she panicked. “I have to hide.” I asked her why and she said she didn’t know what to do when they came. What to do with the dog? What will they talk about? How will she manage the door? I told her I would be here to do all that and she didn’t have to be around, but the panic continued for 20 minutes until this young mother and her equally reticent 5 year old daughter came in with the lily. They were in and out, much to the pleasure of my mother. Now we have a lily.

“What’s that? Who’s that for? Why is it here?”

Saturday, March 15, 2008


I woke up in the night after having a disturbing dream. Most of the dream, as it typically does, slipped away. I tried to remember, but it was like trying to catch smoke with your hands. The feeling and a few snapshots remained.

I was trapped in my mother’s body. My brain was in tact, but I couldn’t move or walk with ease. I tottered and was unsteady, exhausted. I felt frustrated and trapped. Every step was unstable and tenuous. It was an awful feeling.

I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t tell anyone, I could only try to maneuver. It was like trying to run in water.

Ironically, this is not my mother’s biggest challenge. I don’t believe the physical limitations challenge her happiness as much as her brain’s betrayal. It frightens her to suddenly wonder where everyone is, to suddenly feel alone. I can reassure her but seconds later it’s gone and she is fearful again.

“Do you love me?”

She asks this daily. She is looking for a smile, some comfort, some connection. She needs to be told over and over. She is part child, part old woman, part mother, part helpless puppy.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Working without a net

I was not a brave child. I leaned hard on my parents. It terrorized me to be lost or separated from them. I remember visiting my grandparents in Scarsdale, New York. I was very young and didn’t see them often. I woke up from a nap and my mother was in the basement of their building doing laundry. I panicked. I remember my grandfather taking me down to see her reluctantly calling me a "baby" the whole way down. I can still hear him... "Baby, baby, baby..." I have very few memories of him. Everyone else describes such a great man. I keep my mouth shut and smile.

I couldn’t even sleep over at friends’ houses. I almost never accepted invitations. On the rare occasion that I did, I just endured it. I was miserable.

As I grew up I always knew I could run back home if I needed. I did it rarely, but knowing that gave me strength. I went off to college and battled homesickness for much of my freshman year. I could call my parents at any hour and get a hold of caring listener. My mother was great. She listened and always found the words to build me up so I could go back and tackle the world.

With her encouragement, I spent a semester in France. It was an amazing experience and without her words, I don’t know if I would have had the courage. They promised to come see me and they came to Nice right around my 21st birthday. It was such a shot in my arm to see them. It made me strong.

I was always amazed at my peers that didn’t need this constant support. I still don’t understand the difference between them and me.

As a new mother, my parents continued to support me. My father came over when I had a sleepless night with a baby. He would walk the baby so I could sleep. He was amazing. Knowing that he would be there in the morning allowed me to stay up at night with sick children and be a good mother.

My father died. My friend was gone. The rug was yanked and it took a long time for me to be able to stand up again. I still feel cheated to be without him. I was a late child and another ten years with him are due me. Not fair.

My children grew and suddenly I was the source of their strength. I realized why my strength had been fed and nurtured for so long. I was training for this. It was time to pay it forward and be a testimony to the strength that they provided.

My mother needs me now. She can’t be there to listen, to tell me exactly what I need to hear. I need to pay back all the support she gave me. I need to pay it forward to my kids, my husband, my job, my dogs, my bird…

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

I have to.

Weekend Chores

Bathing is a challenge. I accept that and know that it is a reality. Every Saturday is “hair wash” day. She argues vehemently. She doesn’t need help. She washes it every night in the shower. She doesn’t need to wash it today. Yet the reality is that she only washes it on Saturdays. By then her hair is crying out for a little soap.

She likes to do that separately from her shower so I comply. Standing in front of the sink, she leans forward to have her short white bob washed. Next she sits while her hair is brushed and dried. Years ago, she loved to have her hair brushed. Anything you would do to it would make her very happy. Now she sits and grimaces complaining that she is being tortured.

Then Sunday is even better; Shower Day. All the cajoling and negotiations from last weekend never happened and she insists that she faithfully showers every night by herself. But she has worn the same clothes all week and when she does finally get in the shower, she is hungry for someone to be very close by to help her. The final push that convinces her is after lunch. I won’t give her ice cream until she has taken the shower. She says I’m mean, I’m not her friend, I’m not her boss and that she’d never move in here if she knew I was going to be so terrible to her. At first it bothered me a bit, but not any more. I have learned that just being matter of a fact about it is the best approach. She yells at me, swears and (my favorite) sticks out her tongue.

As my mother, none of these behaviors occurred. She never swore. Her hygiene was meticulous. Her hair was never matted or greasy, but by Saturday it starts to look that way. There are moments it’s hard to believe that she is the same person.

This has to happen for her own health. I can’t let her stay in the same clothes and never bathe. I dread the days that will come where she will have toileting issues.

Maybe I’ll be lucky.