This is a continuation of the story of my mother’s dementia. I will reiterate: this is an unpleasant account of decline, and of necessity will include facts which even now are uncomfortable to me. I share them solely with the intention of helping other people consider when and if…and to come to terms with the fact …it is time to intervene in your loved one’s life. This account begins with her transition to becoming a widow in April 2008. If you have not read Part I of this story, you will find it on last Thursday’s blog, July 16. I refer to my mother by her favorite title, “Nana.”
My children rallied around me and helped through the transition. We hovered around Nana in the early days after the funeral, visiting her home across town every day. I had learned after my husband left me in 2003 that redecorating and rearranging the house was an effective way to deal with “loss,” and eradicate old haunts and habits. So, we purchased paint and a new bed. Then we “shifted” the bedrooms in her home. The master bedroom became the den with a new chaise lounge she chose. The former den became a guest room, where she displayed my father’s collection of “cowboy” memorabilia and his extensive DVD collection. The front bedroom became Nana’s room with a fresh coat of paint and a new bedspread.
Along with these changes and the care and attention of her circle of friends and her church family, she moved through her grief and gradually became stronger emotionally. Her vibrant faith kept her on track and though she had always had a predisposition to crippling melancholy (which she referred to as the “Wilson temperament”), she kept busy with her Sunday school class, the Joyful Heirs, her yard, the gym, and the ever-present cats, a collection of strays she and my father had taken in over the years.
To say “we talked on the phone every day” would be an understatement of the severest sort. Nana was a phone addict and stayed in constant contact with her circle of friends and family. She thought nothing at all of calling a dozen times a day, hanging up and calling immediately back, if she had forgotten to say something, even if it was completely inconsequential. “Communication” and a steady flow of “information” were essential to her. And the cell phone made it possible for her to keep ringing no matter where she was. The phone was not only a necessity, but also a hobby she enjoyed.
For this reason…her passion for being on the phone…I was slow to recognize that she was telling the same story many times over. She had always repeated herself. This habit is part and parcel of being a teacher for several decades. Students never get the instructions the first time and even though they may have a written statement in their hands, they will still ask the same questions again and again. A teacher never believes the class has heard everything the first time. So I did not think it strange when my mother would ask the same question or say the same phrase many times in one conversation. Eventually, this turned to the same question repeated many times within a few moments of conversation.
Another warning sign I was too slow to recognize was her slide toward slovenliness. My mother used to be the most pristine of housekeepers. Her home was a picture of perfection. Nana had always been a “piler,” again possibly due to the teacher traits. Stacks of books and paper and piles of pens and pencils, staplers, scissors, rolls of postage stamps, were usually amassed on the desk in her bedroom or on the bar in the kitchen. Steno pads full of notes, random jottings, phone numbers, penned on every inch, in miniscule script, on the indispensable “yellow file folder,” accrued in various locations in her home. Not one would be thrown away. This condition worsened to dangerous levels.
I attributed the gathering and keeping of “items” as a comfort mechanism, and perhaps it was in her early days of widowhood, but eventually, it shifted into a problem of epic proportions, one I tried in vain to remedy, but was often told, “Put that down,” or “What are you throwing out? I need that.” Rather than quarrel with her, I gave up.
I shouldn’t have.
[To Be Continued]