Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bob and Irma and Mom

I've written about a particular ward member in my mom's ward (the ward I grew up in) before here, here, and here, among other posts.  I detail much of my experience with him in the first link.  In any case, I've never thought of him as a particularly hateful or mean-spirited individual; just one who seems trapped in a past where chauvinism, racism, and homophobia were more accepted and normal.  I would certainly not describe this brother as progressive.  He is old-fashioned and ignorant; a man who seems incapable of progressing with the times.  If he lived in the 50s, he'd probably be right at home.

In spite of being "stuck in time," there is much to admire about this brother.  He is a much harder worker than I've ever been in my life.  Although he can be a busy-body, he has always been there to serve when someone needs help.  He tries to help his neighbors, and although his efforts are sometimes unwelcome, I think he has good intentions.  He has always been enthusiastic about the gospel and has a strong testimony about what he believes.  And while his attitudes towards women are sometimes old-fashioned and even chauvinistic, at the same time I admire his devotion to his wife, who has seemed just as content to be stuck in the 1950s as he is.

I don't think I've ever given this couple pseudonyms in my blog, but for clarity's sake let's call them Bob and Irma.  Irma has had some form of dementia for some time now.  I don't know whether it's Alzheimer's or what, but she has not been mentally well for some years now.  I find it mildly amusing when my mom goes on about how "Irma has really gone downhill," or "Irma's really losing it," and yet fails to recognize that ten years from now she could very likely be Irma herself.

In church on Sunday I looked behind me and stared at Irma before Sacrament Meeting started.  She was a sharp woman once, and as I gazed at her she seemed a shell of who she once was; a woman lost inside of herself; a woman who doesn't readily recognize anybody anymore and barely talks.  It made me sad not just because Irma as I once knew her is pretty much gone, but more so because I thought to myself, "That's what my family probably has to look forward to in the next few years with my own mom."  It was a depressing thought.

What I have found admirable is how well Bob, who's not exactly in terrific health himself, has taken care of Irma.  Bob doesn't strike me as a particularly patient man, but I know he loves his wife terribly, and to his credit, he has taken care of her these last few years when I'm sure it's been a challenge.

Today I learned that Irma had to go to the hospital yesterday, possibly because of a stroke (details aren't clear yet), and today she was taken to a care center, I believe.  Whether it's a permanent facility is not clear to me yet, but I would not be surprised if it was.  Frankly, I have been astounded that Irma has been able to live at home as long as she has.  She's not been well, and I'm sure she's been hard to care for.  And Bob, who is pretty feeble himself, has been doing the majority of the care, as far as I can tell, and I'm amazed he has been able to do it this long.

When I heard Irma was being moved to a care facility, my heart ached for Bob, a man I have admittedly had issues with in the past.  That man adores his wife, and I think not having her permanent companionship, no matter how challenging it has been these past years, will surely be devastating to him.  I know he will feel a deep loss over her not being in the house and over the fact that he cannot care for her on his own anymore.  I think caring for her has actually been a driving force in his life as she's continued to get worse, and I almost wonder if he'll feel a loss of purpose.  Of course, I can't speak or think for Bob, but that's how I perceive it.

My own mother, who is not in the kind of shape Irma is in and who is still relatively healthy and independent, is becoming more challenging to care for, and I think she could easily be headed down the same path Irma has taken.

My siblings and I had a meeting with Mom about a month ago to talk frankly with her about our worries and to voice our concerns about her deteriorating mental health.  While I still don't think she recognizes the full impact of the issues, I do think it was good to have the meeting.  I do think she was more receptive to our concerns than I imagined she would be, and she responded more positively than I thought she would.

We also had a meeting with a senior care advisor (without Mom) who gave us some resources and advice to help us deal with Mom's issues better.

While it's still a challenge, I do feel that Mom is recognizing some of her limitations and realizing that she does require more help than she might want to admit she needs.  That doesn't change the fact that sometimes her memory issues, judgment, and awareness keep us on our toes and, more likely than not, will eventually require more help than we are able to provide her ourselves.

In the meantime, she can still do much on her own, and I try to give her as much independence as I feel I can safely give.  It is often like caring for a child, though.  Mom isn't a child, of course, but some of her decisions are not always the best, sometimes she's very unaware of what''s going on around her, and her forgetfulness does cause some problems.  It can also be very wearing to care for her at times.  In her old age, she has become more needy, gets more easily agitated and depressed, and sometimes makes unwise choices that could adversely affect her health and well-being.

My siblings call me the "golden child" because I seem to be the favorite son; the one who can get her to do things she doesn't necessarily want to do.  When I'm away from Jonah and here with Mom, I become the primary caregiver, and it can be exhausting at times.

Mom is also a type 2 diabetic, and it is a great challenge getting her to eat properly or, sometimes, eat at all.  She loves her treats and will often by boxes of cookies or chocolate bars or ice cream or Diet Coke, and instead of eating more healthy fare, she will sometimes subsist on her goodies.  Especially since her doctor wonders if her mental issues might be related to her high blood sugar, we are trying to get her to keep her blood sugar in the low-100 area, and there hasn't been a day since I've been back in Utah when her blood sugar was lower than 206.

Mom is very stubborn, and reasoning with her about her high blood sugar often feels fruitless.  Also, there are times when Mom is alone at home, and we can't steer her in a more healthy direction if we're not there to witness what she eats.  Also, there is a part of me that just feels like the fight is not worth having; that I'd rather she just enjoy what she eats while she's still alive to eat it.

Mom used to be so good at doing routine things.  She used to pay her bills online, check her email, take her pills regularly, check her blood sugar, set and disarm her burglar alarm, etc.  She's forgotten that she even used to pay bills online and doesn't remember how to do it; she can't remember how to set or disarm the alarm; she hasn't checked her email in months (not that she gets much in the way of email anyway); she constantly has to be reminded to check her blood sugar; and sometimes she forgets her pills until I remind her (and even then she believes she's taken them - fortunately we have a handy pill box that helps her realize she's wrong).  She's still good about paying bills, but I know there will come a time when someone will have to do it.  She easily misplaces mail if she's not careful.

Mom's judgment is not always the best, and we don't trust her to do as much on her own as we once did.  She used to make breakfast for herself every day (usually cheese and eggs), but doesn't anymore.  I don't know if she's forgotten how or what.  Now she just eats a couple of yogurts, which isn't necessarily as good for her sugar levels.  If we don't actively make her eat it, she often skips dinner entirely.  She forgets healthy food is in the fridge and often eats junk food.  Because she has forgotten how to use debit card machines, she will often withdraw large amounts of cash from the bank and carry it in her purse.  Sometimes she makes withdrawals several times in a span of a couple of weeks because she has forgotten she already did so.  I've actually gone into her purse and re-deposited cash she withdrew because I don't feel it is safe to carry that much cash (and she doesn't notice anyway).

For a while, she was donating to every charity on the planet and actually ended up giving her credit card number to some company that ended up charging quite a bit of money to various charities on her behalf.  Fortunately, we put her on a do-not-call and do-not-mail list and when people call her number now, it declares it as a "no solicitor" number, and I've noticed a decrease in the calls and mail she gets.  It sounds terrible, but I actually go through my mom's mail and throw away all the junk and solicitations before giving it to her (or if she gets it first, I throw them away after because she doesn't remember).  I certainly don't mind my mom giving to charity, and it's her money to give, but it was getting out of hand, and the mom from five or six years ago would not approve of how reckless the mom now is being with her money.  And the fact is, if we ever do need to put Mom in a home, it is her money that will first be used to pay for it, so we want to make sure her accounts remain solid.

One of the things that is hardest for me personally is that it's just hard to see my mom's memory and personality deteriorate.  She is so easily agitated by insignificant things that never would have bothered her previously.  She misremembers things.  For example, she keeps telling us her dad died when she was 16 (not true).  Or she forgets huge chunks of her past.  She has no recollection at all of a job she held for about two and a half years and she doesn't remember my getting excommunicated, although she is fully cognizant of the fact that I am gay and have a partner.  She repeats the same questions and phrases over and over and over again, which isn't her fault, but it does get tiring.  I guess that's another thing I really miss; Mom and I used to have such thought-provoking and interesting conversations.  I don't feel like I can really talk to her about very deep things anymore, and even if I do, she forgets it minutes later.  We used to be able to talk about books and movies, for example, and now she just can't retain or expound on anything.  She gets so lonely and bored and just wants company.  I play Scrabble with her (she can still do that) and go out to eat with her, which she loves (and which gives me a chance to gear her toward something more healthy).  One of our favorite games used to be Trivial Pursuit.  She just can't play it anymore.  She can't remember anything.

If I ask her where she wants to eat, she always makes me choose, and I know it's because she can't remember the name of any restaurants.  Whenever she's watching a movie, she can never tell me what it is even if it's a movie I know she's seen numerous times.  She just can't remember.

She sometimes can't readily identify people she knows in photographs, particularly if they were taken a while ago.  There are people she's known for years whose names she can no longer remember.  She gets lost and disoriented very easily.  The other day we walked to a nearby restaurant and when we left to go home, she asked where the car was.  I told her we had walked, and she couldn't remember doing so.  About  a week ago, she told me my niece was sleeping downstairs, and I said that our niece wasn't home and that she was at work.  Mom went downstairs and came back up and said she was sleeping on the bed.  When I went down, there was no one on the bed because my niece, in fact, wasn't home.  Mom insisted she had just seen her, and that if she wasn't there, she must have slipped out while we weren't looking, but that was not possible, and my niece's car had been gone the whole time.

The other day, Mom was upset at my nephew-in-law for cutting down her bush (which wasn't a bush at all, but some foliage growing out of an old stump).  Apparently she cried about it, but had completely forgotten about it by the time I got home.  Two years ago, Mom would have been delighted that someone was cutting down all overgrown brush.

Mom also has very vivid dreams.  When Jonah was in town, we had been eating and talking in the kitchen for about an hour and a half.  At midnight we headed for bed.  My mom's room is right off of mine, and we heard her door squeak open shortly after midnight (a time when my mom is not known to be up) and heard her shuffle down the hall.  When I opened my bedroom door, it was pitch black, but I went to the kitchen and turned on the light.  Mom was fully dressed and wearing a winter coat and had her purse (but no eyeglasses, which she needs to see) and was just about headed out the back door when I calmly asked her where she was going.

She said, "I have to go pick the kid up."

"What kid?" I asked.  It was clear to me that she had been dreaming and was still half asleep.

She looked confused and said, "I have to pick up...  Well, I don't know, but I have to pick the kid up."

I said, "Why do you have to pick this kid up?"

She furrowed her brow and said, "I think I'm supposed to take him to a baptism."

I said, "I think you've been dreaming, Mom."

"No," she insisted.  "Somebody just called me on the phone and I'm supposed to pick him up."

I said, "Mom, Jonah and I have been here for an hour and a half and the phone hasn't rung.  I think you had a dream.  It's midnight, you know."

"I know," she said, "but someone just called."

"Okay," I said, playing the game.  "Who are you supposed to pick up?"

"I don't know," she responded.

"Then how are you going to pick them up if you don't know who they are?"

"I don't know; I just know I'm supposed to pick them up."

"How will you pick them up?" I asked.

"I'm going to drive my car," Mom answered.

"Mom, you don't have a license anymore, remember."

Suddenly, something got through.  She looked at me in wonderment.  "That's right, I don't."  She thought a moment more.  "I don't even have keys to the car anymore."

"That's right, you don't.  And you're not wearing glasses, either.  How would you have driven without those."

She looked at me, finally understanding.  "I think you're right.  I think I was dreaming."


One last look at me, as if to make sure.  "And no one called on the phone?"


"I think I was dreaming."  Now she was convincing herself.

"I think we should get you back to bed."

"It seemed so real."

"I'm sure it did," I said, following her back to her room.

"I'm so glad you stopped me, " she said.  "Where would I have gone if you hadn't stopped me?"

My thoughts exactly.  "I don't know, Mom."

"Where would I have gone?" she asked incredulously.

"I don't know," I said with concern.  "But this is exactly the kind of stuff we worry about, Mom."

The good thing is I did stop her... this time (and fortunately, the alarm was set and she would have triggered it), and in retrospect, the event was kind of humorous.  But it also gave us the opportunity to talk more about the issues that concern my siblings and me.  And Mom did remember the whole thing the next day and hasn't forgotten it as of yet, so that's good.

But she has gotten lost and wandered off, and with how easily disoriented she gets, it is something that concerns us.  Thus far, she still seems to be able to walk to several places on her own without any trouble, but there are also places that were once familiar to her that she cannot remember how to get to or where they are.

It's sad and hard to watch, and it makes me sad to think what the future may hold.  I love and adore my mom, but I would be lying if I didn't say that it's very challenging at times.  It is a challenge; one I am trying to deal with with optimism and a sense of humor.  That's really all I can do. 

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