2013 Favs: Mama

Mama

Mama, out on the town at her favorite hamburger joint. She made the bead necklace she’s wearing at Adult Day Care — her “Job.” 

My mother smoked like a diesel for almost 70 years.

I guess she was lucky.

She didn’t get lung cancer. She never had asthma. But at the ripe old age of 85 or so, she developed COPD.

I’d heard of this disease, which, nearly as I can tell, is basically emphysema with complications and a larger understanding. But I didn’t know a lot about it. I have to admit that now that I’ve been the caregiver for someone who has it, I still don’t know a lot about it.

Extreme old age is tricky.

People this age have an overall feistiness that, when it combines with the lack of memory that goes with dementia, means they can fool you. One of my worst memories of care-giving was the time about a year ago when my mother almost died because I thought that making an appointment with the doc and taking her in the next day would be enough.

As I said, extreme old age is tricky.

They can be doing their “I’m ok,” feisty act one minute and gasping for breath the next.

We’ve had several close calls in which we had to literally pick her up and carry her to the car, then drive the few blocks to the nearest ER (if it had been further, I would have lost her.) But that day was the closest of close calls, and it was, as these things always are if you don’t act quickly enough, complicated by other problems.

Extreme old age is tricky.

Everything in the body is worn out and running on habit. When one thing (breathing) goes wrong, then the old heart starts to beat funny, and when the heart starts to beat funny, the lungs get cloudy, and when the lungs get cloudy, the heart stops being able to do its job, which somehow or other craters into kidney failure.

All in a matter of minutes.

If you don’t get it stopped at the breathing is getting difficult point, it’s like taking that first step out the hatch of the airplane without your parachute. It can take days to get her back ticking again.

That particular night, it was hours of ER close calls and docs who told me they didn’t “like the looks of it” followed by a week in the hospital.

Then Mama came home, feistiness fully intact, and thanks to no-short-term memory, blissfully unaware of most of what had happened. But I remembered. For a while after that, I was taking her to the ER if she coughed twice.

Extreme old age is tricky.

And the primary care-giver is also the first diagnostician. I make a lot of medical calls for my mother, including the all-important when to go to the doc or the ER. That’s dicey for the simple reason that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never dealt with this oddball combination of small child skating along on the ice in an 88-year-old body before.

And she is a small child.

A pampered, spoiled, demanding small child.

The further she gets into the dementia, the more childish she becomes. For instance, she loves for me to take her out for drives.

She loves for me to take her out for drives frequently. In fact, I think she would be happy to have me chauffeur her around all day, every day.

If I’m working on something, she says, “I want you to take me out for a drive now.”

I say, “I’m busy. We’ll do it in a few minutes.”

She looks at me almost exactly like the actor pretending to be a toddler demanding a cookie in Convos with My Two-Year-Old, and repeats “I want you to take me for a drive now.”

She doesn’t quit until I give up and do it.

She goes to Adult Day Care every day. I am going to write in more detail about Adult Day Care. It is a wonderful program. She loves her “job” as she calls it.

She loves it so much that she gets up about 5 every morning and starts announcing that it’s time to “go to work” and she’s going to be late. You can’t turn her off. It’s. Every. Morning.

Even though she loves Adult Day Care, she has a very short attention span. If there’s a lull in the good times, she’ll call me and tell me to come get her. Sometimes, she’ll announce that everybody is just sitting around doing nothing and she wants me to come get her. I remember once when I called the Director of the Day Care Center and told her Mama had called and I was coming to pick her up and she said, “You don’t want to watch the dancers, Mary?”

There were dancers, getting ready to perform, and my elderly toddler got tired of waiting for them to get with it and called for me to come get her. If I’d gone over there, she would have gotten miffed because I stopped her from “having fun” watching the dancers.

If the “I’m bored,” explanation doesn’t move me to come get her, she’ll tell me she’s sick. I always go when she says she’s sick. I don’t have a choice, since there’s no way to know if it’s real or bluff.

In fact, I got one of those calls just a few days ago. Obedient daughter that I am, I drove over, parked the car, went in and got her. As I was guiding her and her cane/jacket/stuffed animal-she’d-won/painting-she’d-made to the car, she told me “I was having fun.” It seems that between the sick call and when I got there, the staff had gotten the fingerpaints out and Mama had gone from too sick to stay to having too much fun to leave.

On the last day of May, the whole town was under threat of the widest tornado in history. As our family gathered around the tv to watch what was happening and decide what to do, Mama kept talking.

She does that.

Talk, I mean.

Non-stop. Just like a toddler. You can’t really have a conversation with her anymore, but she rattles non-stop as long as she’s awake.

I usually just un-huh her the way I did the kids when they were babies.

But we needed to hear the tv.

“Hush,” I told her.

She paused for a beat, then started in, talking about one of the lamps or something.

“Mama,” I said, waiting until she stopped chattering and looked at me, “Hush.”

She stared at me a moment, then turned away. “Well alright. I guess if I can’t say anything, I’ll just be quiet. I don’t know why I can’t talk. But if you want me to just sit here and not say anything, then, I’ll shut up. If that’s what you want, then I guess I’ll have to do it, but I don’t see why I can’t talk

“…

“sigh

“…

“That lamp shade is crooked. Or maybe it’s made to look like that. No. I think it’s crooked. Mary Belle had a lampshade like that. Only hers was pink. Or maybe it was purple. I want you to take me for a drive …..”

We give her the medicine she’s supposed to have. Then, we watch her swallow it. Otherwise, (for reasons I do not know) she will hide it behind her bed.

We hide her medicine so she can’t find it. Otherwise, (again, for reasons I do not know) she will decide she’s not getting enough and upend the bottle into her mouth.

I give her money to take with her to her “job.” But I can’t give it to her too soon because she will hide it, and then she’ll forget that she hid it and tell me somebody stole it.

She gets lost in the house.

She tells everyone that I “stole” her car from her.

And to this day, if I needed a heart transplant, she would say, “Here. Take mine.”

My Mama. My sweet, baby Mama.

I love her so much it makes my teeth ache.

It is no burden, taking care of my Mama.

It is a blessing and a privilege. I cherish every day with her.

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  • FW Ken

    Rebecca – My own mother died last November 10 at the age of 84. She had been sick for a couple of years, and during that time, I grew more careful to tell her only the happy things, to avoid worrying her (she was a terminal worrier), and it got so that I terribly missed talking over things with her. But every day on the way home from work I would call and tell her the good news for the day. Some days it was a good talk, and sometimes it was her talking about how sick she was. Now, every day about five pm I want to call her, but she isn’t there. I also learned to not argue when she remembered something differently. She didn’t have dementia, but her memory did grow weaker after she turned 80 or so.
    Daddy did have Altheimer’s, as did three of his siblings, his mother, most likely his grandmother, and numerous cousins. He died of pancreatitus, but if he hadn’t died then, it would have been nursing home time. He wasn’t violent, but Mother couldn’t handle him physically, so there would not have been a choice. He was hard to deal with. I would go down to spell Mother while she went to my sisters. She became insulin dependent during that time, but it’s funny that her blood sugar was fine at my sister’s house.
    Welll, enough of my memories. God is blessing you immensely. I know you know this, but I’ll say it anyway: you will never regret anything you do for her. Every difficult 5am morning will become like the wounds of Christ on his glorified body – pain turns to glory. Suffering yields to joy.

    • hamiltonr

      “… it got so I terribly missed talking with her.”

      Oh yes. Some days I wish I could just sit down and talk to my mother the way I used to. But I am so glad to have her. God is blessing me immensely. I know that.

    • pagansister

      Both my parents are gone also, 2002, Mom and 2005, Dad. Mom died of complications from Parkinson’s which took her mind as well as her body (86) and Dad at 92, did have dementia and never really understood why Mom couldn’t get well. His dementia worsened after she died. He fell, and that was more than his then frail body could cope with. My sister lived in the same city and ended up with the major care-giving responsibilities. Mom at home had in home caregivers and died there, We moved Dad to a facility, with full time care. I was out of state. Unfortunately they didn’t live long enough to see the marriage of our children or their great grandson. In my mind I know they know those things, and are happy with that knowledge. Their energies are joined now and are forever together in the universe. This may sound strange, but that is how I have coped. FW Ken, you will always miss her, but she will always be with you.

      • FW Ken

        You made me smile, PS. Mother was the proto-typical doting grandmother and lived to see 3 great-grandkids upon whom she transferred her doting. When the greats starting coming along, my niece was whining that “Grandma doesn’t pay attention to us anymore”. My sister-in-law replied that now they knew what we went through 30 years before.

        • pagansister

          Am so glad your mother got to see not only 1 great grandchild but 3! That is terrific. It sounds like she was a loving mother and grandmother. I’m sure you know that it is the job of a grandmother to totally spoil the grandchildren. It is in the manual. :-)

  • pagansister

    Bless you, Rebecca. You’re mother sounds like a handful. :-) My husband is in the early stages of dementia (68), diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago. He is headed, I’m afraid, the way your mother has gone memory wise. So far, physically he is in good shape. I most certainly will keep him at home as long as possible, but right now I’m here to help him dress, make sure he gets safely in the shower, cook, give him his meds, make appointments, drive him around etc. There are times now, however, where the “child” is starting to come thru. When our 3 1/2 year old grandson is over, I feel I have 2 children. He isn’t capable of caring for him, but does love him dearly and interacts with him. Right now the difference in our grandson is—he remembers things I tell him (and some I kind of wish he didn’t :-) ), my husband? no. Thank you for sharing your relationship with your dear mother.

    • hamiltonr

      If there’s an adult day care near you, see if you can get your husband into it. It will be wonderful for both of you. Blessings.

      • pagansister

        I’m sure there are some in our area—probably should check them out soon. I could use a break at times! Thanks.

    • FW Ken

      Also, if there is a support group near you, it’s worth it. Mother was helped tremendously during Dad’s illness and after his death. She stayed active “to give back”, but, of course, it helped her in her own grief

      • pagansister

        My children have brought up the idea of going to a support group–a couple of times. I expect it would help to have a place to talk out my frustrations, feelings etc. about things. My daughter has even gone so far as sending names of a couple of groups. i just have to be OK with the idea of doing it–I have never been a “joiner” if you will. Thanks for the suggestion—I appreciate it, Ken.

  • hotboogers

    COPD is also caused by a bronchitis/asthma kind of thing that is not related to smoking. Just so you know, it’s not all about smoking, but the smoking gets all the publicity. Kinda like lung cancer that way.

    Blessings to you and your mom.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    It’s getting to be a habit to publish stuff from my blogs in these comments columns. This I wrote last March: http://fpb.livejournal.com/654524.html

    • Laura Vale

      I read your blog. Bless you for recognizing the dignity and sacrifice and importance of caring for another.

  • http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/ D. A. Christianson

    I have nothing to say that you haven’t already learned for yourself. I went through some of it with dad, and my brother-in-law and their kids went through more of it with my sister. Soon enough it will be our turn, I suppose. My folks have been gone for 30+ years now, except they aren’t, and I’ve never regretted a minute I spent with them. The lord Bless you and keep you, Rebecca and your Mom as well.

  • Bill S

    When I get old, I hope that I will be able to make an appointment to receive a lethal injection like the twins did in Belgium. I know there will come a point where it will be preferable to go to sleep and not wake up as opposed to being a burden to my wife and kids. That is not to belittle the care that some people provide to aging parents. My mother died at 39 and my father at 68. I never had the burden of caring for them. So, I don’t know if it is rewarding and worth it or just an imposition that we put everyone through by not dealing with our mortality in an efficient manner. I first started posting on this site in support of Massachusetts Proposition 2, Doctor Assisted Suicide. That seems like a lifetime ago.

    • hamiltonr

      Bill, I’m going to allow this. But you are being a jerk. A king-sized jerk.

      • Bill S

        Please accept my apology. As I said, I don’t mean to belittle what some people do for aging parents. I take a special interest in the topic. Again, sorry.

        • hamiltonr

          Apology accepted. Thank you.

    • Romulus

      Bill, this post is about dealing with life. Your comment is not about “dealing” in any sense. It is about avoidance. It is also so full of unexamined assumptions one doesn’t know where to start. With overwhelming evidence of reality encompassing far more than physical phenomena, you are in no position to state as axiomatic that death is simply “lights out”. With an arbitrarily reductionist view of human life, you are in no position to suggest that the elderly are uniquely burdensome. By your own admission you do not know whether the care of those unable to care for themselves is rewarding or not — yet you clearly have a preference that if established in law would inevitably become mandatory. Your comment is offensive.

      • Bill S

        yet you clearly have a preference that if established in law would inevitably become mandatory. Your comment is offensive.

        I discussed this before and got the same objection. I would never advocate mandatory euthanasia. I am just saying that I hope the option will be available for me someday. I apologize if I offended anyone.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          As Meagan said in xkcd.1190.1006, that’s what the first part of advocating mandatory euthanasia looks like.

    • FW Ken

      It’s rewarding and worth it.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      And didn’t you just post on my site that you didn’t support eugenics? Here it is again, supporting evil because you no longer seem to have any philosophical difference between right and wrong.

    • pagansister

      I’m speculating here—but since your parents died very young, especially your mother, you never faced the “aging parent”, and perhaps that has shaped your comments about those of us who had dealt with watching their parents age and many times lose many or some of their abilities. If you’re lucky, like I was and apparently many who post here, your parents took care of you, and when they age it is time to help do for them. That is never wrong.

  • ssdd

    Your mother will be a saint.

    “At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven? [2] And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, [3] And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. [4] Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. [5] And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.”

    • Thomas Gallagher

      Let’s hope Mama will be a saint. Amen to Jesus’s teaching about children. But Rebecca is a grownup, and her words are beautiful ones. Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing.

  • peggy-o

    Wow…I loved this. Your mother is soooo beautiful! My mom sadly has gone from adult day care to a nursing home. It was so hard this year…but the silver lining is that she also thinks she works there. She was a nurse and an excellent care giver for years so the environment is one in which she is very comfortable. I come in town a lot and we go out and have fun. The other day I watched her stop by a room with an older frail woman and she just said, let me hold your hand….and it was so sweet and just like Christ. She teaches me so much. The dementia is there in repeated questions but she still knows us and we have good talks just slower to move along. She was feisty before the dementia and now is just so cheerful…we actually get along better for two very different people. I also have her art work in my house just like the kids. Thanks for sharing the value of our older loved ones and giving back.


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