My mother, in her late 80s, has lived with me for just over a year. Though she’s largely independent, she requires some regular assistance. Most of that, comes from me. It’s no secret that being a caregiver for an aging parent presents many challenges. Each day can be like a walk across a minefield. I know they’re there. I have no choice but to step forward. I know I’ll hit one eventually. I just never know when or where they will be.
The good news is, that stepping on one of mom’s landmines won’t harm me physically. They will though, concuss my emotions and tend to blow me far off course from whatever I might be involved with at a given moment. From my work, to my leisure, to my good moods and even the act of me trying to assist my mom herself, I am thrown to the other side of the day, a half-dozen times per day. It’s hard to live like this, and still enjoy a day to its core as I have always attempted to do. I try to be my childish self most of the time, but a more serious tenor underlies any good mood or any good day.
Landmines in this instance, can range from the dropping of dishes, to forgetting medical appointments, abrupt mood swings or the failure to understand a simple question or statement. A landmine can also be that paralyzing feeling I get when I see her watching TV with the volume completely off and a blank stare on her face. This can last for an hour. One recent landmine involved me smelling something funny, subsequently opening the oven and seeing a plastic dish melting away inside.
One landmine comes with regularity – her awakening each morning, usually between 5:30am and 6:00am. The sound of her bedroom door opening sends a shudder through me. She raises her hand, offers a weak wave as she ambles her way to the bathroom, her trembling voice whispering “good morning”. I say good morning back, but with the knowledge that my early morning quiet time has come to an end. This is the calling to order of all other landmines for the day.
That Which Ails Her…
My mother lives with two conditions which are the sole sources of her landmines. The first being dementia, which has only recently manifest, but is on the increase. The landmines of dementia aren’t terribly concerning. They can throw me off course, but the recovery is usually quick and without incident.
The second condition she lives with is acute paranoia. The paranoia can go dormant for days or weeks, but when it arises, the landmines are caustic.
A friend once told me…
“Dementia isn’t losing your car keys. It’s finding them, and not knowing what they do…”
I have found that to be a useful metaphor.
Paranoia on the other hand, isn’t forgetting something that actually happened or what the function of an object is. Paranoia is remembering things that never happened at all. Most of these false memories involve blaming bad things that never happened on good people who truly exist. I try hard to remind myself that no matter how ridiculous her paranoia seems at a given moment, these things that she is remembering – these things which never happened, are very real to her.
The latest example: A live-in helper that I brought into our house has been either drugging or poisoning my mother for weeks, and systematically stealing everything from jewelry to cheap Corelle Ware. Of course, the helper isn’t really doing this, but with mom believing she is, I go along with it. The helper understands the situation and has been very gracious in dealing with it. Still, the helper will be moving out next week.
Whether it’s been dementia or paranoia chipping away at our days, I have depended on humor as my primary shield of protection. Mom has daily concerns about many potential threats, but the ones she mentions most often are rattlesnakes and the would-be killers in our neighborhood. When we go to bed at night, she reminds me to lock my door…
I tease her, “How else will the killers and the snakes get in…?”
She also worries excessively about the dog…
“Have you seen Stroodle…?” is a question she asks 8-10 times per day.
“Shit! I left him out front. If the snakes don’t get him, the killers surely will…!”
Again, “Oh Roy…!”
There is no using logic when confronted with dementia or paranoia. There is simply the demonstration of false agreement in the attempt to lessen the impact. What I lack in patience, I hope to make up for with humor. Each evening before she retires, I always check her bedroom for rattlesnakes and killers.
“All clear, Mom!”
The Real Me…
Here’s a truth I’m not always up front about; I’m less a mensch than I make myself out to be. I can get resentful about all of this, and turn a cold shoulder just as quickly. Not deep down, but definitely on the surface. The surface though, is where I live most of my life. I piss and I moan about too much of this, too much of the time to my inner circle. I get angry, short-tempered and I let it get to me more than I should. I am trying to improve. The stakes are higher these days, and my use of humor may be coming to an end.
Yesterday, mom confronted me about our helper steeling another dish. Mom witnessed her taking it to her car. I suggested that as punishment, I’d get the helper alone and choke her to death to teach her a lesson. “Oh Roy” never happened. Instead my mom burst into tears insisting that she isn’t crazy. I held her hand, kissed her forehead and assured her I would find a new helper. In time, her tears will be forgotten, only by her though, not by me.
I have rearranged much of my life to help guide and protect my mother during this transitional time. I am honored and proud to do this, but that is the deep-down Roy. Again, the surface Roy is a little resentful a lot of the time. Everyone says that’s okay, that frustration and resentment are part of the process and should be expected. It’s not okay with me, but I still can’t seem to shake it.
For every landmine, there is a moment. Moments are those times when mom still laughs. Moments are when she speaks lucidly about her childhood and does so with detail. Moments are when I hug her, tease her, hold the door for her like a gentleman. Moments are when I treat her to dinner at local café and take her for an evening drive when we’re done. Moments are subtle – they are the opposite of landmines. Of course, I hope that as I inch closer to my own senility, I will remember the moments with mom more than the landmines, though all things being equal, I’m sure to remember both – until I can no longer remember at all.
One can only write so many negative things about their mother without sounding like a horrible person, so I pared this down to protect her innocence and my own reputation. Of course, I love my mother and am grateful to have this opportunity to help care for her. And no, I don’t really think I am a horrible person for writing this. For sharing it…? That’s another story… Jhciacb
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