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Posts Tagged ‘eldercare’

A Lotus Grows in Mud

This month marks the third year I have been living with my parents. I cannot believe that three years have gone by. Fast and slow. Up and down. Tired and glad. Sad and grateful. Emotional and blessed. FULL BEYOND MEASURE. Upon reflection of these years, I think of what my friend Chris recently pointed out about the miraculous journey of the Lotus flower. The roots of the flower grow in the mud as the stems grow up through the water as the flower opens and lies above the water seeking the sunshine. Through my research on water plants, I found out that only the lotus, because of the strength of its stem will rise eight inches above the surface. In my more difficult moments of this eldercare journey, it helps to hear these kinds of metaphors for living. This metaphor in particular allows me to see the big picture of what kind of beauty I’d like to see and experience in the long run. It can be a struggle to find it sometimes. Since my parents and I have set down roots together, there has been plenty of muddy water – I never ever see clear to the bottom. Truthfully, I have remained pretty disengaged from literally setting roots down where we live even though I am staying with them 24/7 when I am not working or attempting to have a social life. I miss my freedom. But I will consistently look for the beauty of this arrangement; this is what keeps me sane. Both my parents have fallen in the last two weeks. Both survived their falls with no broken bones, just sore muscles and minor scrapes; I am so grateful. My dad is increasingly becoming depressed and angry which he often takes out on me through passive aggressive comments, followed by an apologetic statement. The ambivalence is often nonsensical. Not a behavior that was ever part of my Dad’s personality until these dementia years. My mom’s demeanor is softer although her first moments in the morning can be seriously crabby – I am grateful these older parents were not my younger parents. These were not their prevalent attitudes when I was growing up. The contrast is sharp. I appreciate the contrast in a way because I know different. Friends I know grew up with parents only knowing the latter personality from start to finish. My parent’s relationship, although somewhat dysfunctional in the realm of dementia is still very sweet to observe. I think it is their driving force in remaining alive and staying somewhat healthy. They are each other’s allies and often I am seen as the villain cuz’ I am handing out orders and restrictions – but that’s my part of my role and they “get it” on their better days. So the muddy waters I described above are currently at the base of this family unit. But, even while often standing shoulder high in mud, when I can keep myself looking for the good, the hope, and remember to see what lovingly remains in them, in me, in us – I see the beautiful lotus blooming on the surface.

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I have frequently blogged about finding movies that are appropriate for my parents to watch. When I am not the source of their entertainment, or food,… thankfully there are movies. So the other day I rented “Tuesdays with Morrie,” based on the book by Mitch Albom. I had remembered seeing it before and liking it. I was going to start the DVD of it for my parents and leave for a bit, but something compelled me to stay and watch it with them . As I sat in the darkness in the background of where my parent’s chairs sit, the movie caught my heart for the second time. I had forgotten how real the storyline is, how much the theme revolved around death and dying and appreciating life along the way. Watching my parents age and suffer from dementia over the last almost 3 years made viewing this movie more emotional for me. I’d forgotten what I felt the first time watching that movie years ago; a time when I lived alone and my Parents were healthier and living on their own. But surely it did not create the same impact as now. My Mom enjoyed the storyline; my Dad just made jokes after it was over – just a defense, I think, as to not wanting to be too emotional and be led to examine his own last chapter in life. There is a rawness in being that vulnerable. A vulnerability I have been doing my best to embrace throughout this challenging time of living with my parents. I am convinced that being vulnerable is the only way to live and still be in the present. I happened to find a wonderful TED TALK on the subject (see link below) that is quite profound and humorous too. The speaker has to be vulnerable in order to bear witness to this subject; hence the humor.

There is something hauntingly beautiful about being in that mental space and observing it in others. It’s not easy. It is a state of mind that can feel like both grace and pain intertwined at times. But it can set me free as well. To watch Morrie (the main character) die while teaching others to be and stay vulnerable allowed me to wipe my free flowing tears in the darkness and know that somewhere deep inside I picked this movie this time, not for my parents so much as for me.

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Michigan has many movie makers taking advantage of the tax incentives available for making movies here in Michigan. I’m on an email list for “extra calls” – thought it would be fun to be an extra in a movie sometime. The emails for extras come at least once a week and one day an email came but with a specific “type” in mind. It read- – “WANTED – AN ELDERLY CAUSCASION WOMAN,” for a TV series being filmed in Detroit. I was at work and decided to call my Mom and ask her if she might be up for going to an audition to just see…
I woke her out of a nap and when I asked her whether she might be interested in trying out for this part – she answered, “sure.” I was a bit surprised, but happily so. I just thought it would be a fun thing for her to try. I emailed the casting gal back and sent in a photo of my Mom. Within five minutes, the casting agency called me and asked if it was possible to bring my Mom downtown for an interview with the director. I agreed and proceeded to call my Mom to let her know that she had to be ready by a certain time so that we could get to Detroit on time. When I came home to pick her up, she was dressed beautifully, lipstick on, and hair all shiny and styled. When she asked if I was going to change before we left, I told her I didn’t need to since this was her interview not mine. When I said that she looked up surprised and said – “I thought this was for you and I was just coming along.” “No Mom, – they need an elderly woman for this part – this is for you!” My Mom was a bit startled, but still ready and willing to go on this adventure. We headed to downtown Detroit and found the location where we were met by a young man who told us that the director would be meeting us in a bar around the corner and that they would take us there by van. The van circled
around and it became obvious that this film crew was not used to addressing the needs of the elderly…the step up to the back seat was about two feet up. Okay – my Mom walks with a cane and the other two ladies who were also in the running for the part had walkers!
With some crew assistance and my shoulder, my Mom managed to get in the van along with the other folks and we were driven to the nearby bar where we proceeded to wait for at least 45 minutes for the director to show up and do his interview. While we waited, my Mom chatted with one of the ladies who was one year younger than she – they reminisced about how Detroit looked so different when they were young girls. That they felt bad about how run down it looked, so pitiful and poverty stricken. As the older ladies had a pleasant chat, unfortunately, I sat next to one of the daughters who clearly by her non-stop talking was more interested in her mother getting the part than her mother was. And, just as I was feeling drained by this energy vampire, a member of the film crew came in and announced that there had been “a change in plan.” The director needed us to get back in the van and come to another location – I’m thinking’ jeez louise – what are they thinking?! Making three elderly ladies wait in a rundown bar, asking them, once again to pile into a van with no handicapped access on an 85 degree day in the Motor City- what are these people thinking? Not thinking obviously. But pile in we do, we must – after all, we don’t have our cars handy. The driver takes us to the abandoned Train Station where we sit outside waiting once again while the driver listens/talks by cell phone waiting to hear what the plan is. Twenty minutes later, the director finally shows up and has us all once again pile out of the van. He sees the one  elderly lady’s walker and asks her if he can borrow it. He wants each lady to walk with the walker and then answer a question at the end of “their audition.” My Mom looks 10 years younger than the other ladies, is more flexible and alert – and she took direction very well. After each one had done the walk/talk – he says – “okay, I’ll email you all this evening and let you know which one of you got the job.” So after this 5 minute audition – its one more time back into the van to get to our cars to go home. It has now been 3 ½ hours since we left my Dad by himself. My Mom asks me to call him on my cell phone, but he’s not answering and my guess which was correct is that he’s not near the phone and he can’t hear it anyways. My Mom is a bit upset that we can’t reach him so I am rethinking whether this whole movie shooting thing the next day is such a good idea….
“Mom,” I say – “considering how much waiting around you did today and from what I hear about being in the movies, that is pretty typical of what you’d be doing tomorrow if you get this job – will you be comfortable being away from Dad for a good portion of the day?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want your Dad alone all day, and I don’t want a female care person to stay with him either.”
“Well then – I think we ought to pull your name out of the hat tonight then, so that they can pick someone else. But you know Mom, I think this was a really great experience – you looked 10 years younger than the other two ladies. You were more flexible and more alert than they were and…besides that you made $25 today just for showing up!”
“I did,?” she asked gleefully.
“Yes you did Mom.”
She was so excited about that and seemed to take in all of what I said and seemed pretty pleased with the situation.
My Mom agreed to take her name out of the running and as much I thought she was a shoe-in for the part- I called and cancelled her out of the running.
When we got home, my Dad was sitting on the couch waiting for us – ready to take us out for an impromtu dinner – he greeted my Mom with a smile and said…”Well- how is my leading lady? How is the star?”
This greeting tickled my Mom. She loved the attention and his adoring looks.
Before she went to bed that night she came up to me and thanked me for taking her to the audition. She said, “it made me feel like I could still do something!”
This ending scene didn’t show up on any TV or movie screen, but the part my Mom got to play that day was priceless.

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My blog audience will recall my pet peeve with my Mom’s addiction in listening to Fox News, especially upon rising  -to start the day with so much negativity and so much propaganda was toxic both for Mom and myself. I had voiced my opinion about starting the day with this kind of cynicism and negativity on many occasions. Then one morning it was finally too much for her too – she was shaking her head almost before the newscasters finished their first story. She clicked the remote in disgust – and the TV station flipped to Animal Planet with “Pet Star” in progress. The acts were cute and my Mom & I laughed hysterically. The weekday mornings are now filled with Pet Stars like a Border Collie who can jump rope, a Cat who can walk a tightrope, a Boxer who can skateboard, and other such animal tricksters. We’ve watched the show for weeks now, – the animals are clever, the owners are as funny. But what has made this show stand out to my Mother more than the cute and adorable animal acts is the host. One day, my Mom stated seriously in a matter of fact tone with the kind of timing comedian Betty White delivers – “that Mario Lopez is a Stud!”  OMG – so, so funny – nothing my Mom would have said at an earlier age, at least not in front of me –

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My Dad has read the stats on blueberries – he has them every morning for breakfast. He says they are good “brain food.” I tease him that his nightly martini cancels them out. We laugh…

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My Mom’s insecurities can get the best of her.  I see them lurking in an angry gaze at my Dad followed by an absent staring glaze look out the window. Watching her body language over these last 2 years since her heart attacks and mini-stroke has shown me the tell tale signs of what kind of day it will be for her which also means usually a rough one for my Dad.   She will make ridiculous accusations about his loyalties while demanding the “truth” of his infidelities while I am gone at work. When I come home, I will immediately see my Dad’s face and know he’s been through the ringer. He looks to me for some kind of help. I know I have to be the one to find some way to mend this break in her reality.  One such day, I came home after a short errand. My Dad started to speak in his loud voice…”Your Mother is out of sorts,” to which I put my finger up to my lips and begged with my eyes not to say anything else out loud for fear she would hear him from the other room.  I grabbed a post it note and wrote, “I know Dad. I’m working on fixing it.  Don’t say anything else right now.”   Being as deaf as he is, my Dad has no idea  how loud his voice has become. His whisper is a shout!  So my next move is to announce that I am taking them out for lunch and shopping to which my Dad whole-heartedly agrees to – I am sure he is thinking – yes, yes -whatever makes your Mother happy!   So we venture out and end up at a Home Goods Store complete with dishes, and furniture – it’s there my Mother sees a chair that she finds very comfortable and considers buying.  My Dad sits in the car and reads the paper waiting for us while we shop.  We buy a few small items and return to the car where my Mom announces her find to him.  “It’s a really nice chair, only $350.00 .” My  Dad, remarkably, does not bat an eye to the price  and agrees to the purchase.   She appears to be pleased, still a bit underwhelmed with my Dad, but she’s a step out of reach from the punching bag she was sparring with earlier in the day. Whew – thank God.    I make plans to pick up the chair the next day. It sits very securely in the back seat of my car when the top is down on my convertable.  This makes me happy that I can get it home within a day at no extra cost.  I get it home and place it by my Dad’s Lazy Boy chair so now the two of them have comfy chairs to sit side by side and watch movies.  My Mom is one more stop up from yesterdays mood.  This purchase has stopped the rewind button on this reoccurring theme for the time being.  We have a nice supper and it feels good that the storm has passed for the time being.  But then the Dementia Dance takes another step backward – but this time from my Dad. Instead of just staying quiet and riding the wave, my Dad (with my Mom within earshot) says to me – “You did a lot today, your Mother was out of sorts, and…”  My eyes bulge out as he starts this “thank you” to me of sorts – I immediately try and stop him from continuing to speak.  I take my hand and SQUEEZE his arm til I feel my nails disappearing under his skin while I am saying STOP TALKING with my eyes. He is looking at me funny as I say – “Mom is doing great- Goodnight Dad, I am going to bed – as in right now.” Again, with my eyes I am saying SHUT UP.     Yes, I’ve finally gotten his attention – and he stops talking about her and says “Good Night”.  My Mom I notice is either not paying attention or has heard his comments and disregarded them. All I know is that this dance that they do is a couples only thing.  I try and choreograph the ending to these dancing bouts and they keep adding two-steps that aren’t on the dance card.

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There is a memory book that my Dad owns from his Navy days during WWII. I’d never seen it til the last year or so. Lots of notes from his buddies at the time were written in the margin, including one that made mention of my Dad being a hit with the ladies! “Charming” is what the nurses described him as when he was in the hospital just a few weeks back. Complications with congestive heart failure brought him into emergency in pretty bad shape – tired, upset, agitated, impatient, and frightened. And yet, 4 hours into the breathing treatments and diuretics, he was yucking it up with the nurses. For a man who can hardly hear, he can still turn on the charm and the ladies respond. His gregariousness has certainly served him throughout his life. It will continue to serve him when having to make hospital trips as well – being an easy-going, likable character as a hospital patient has gotten him further ahead with his health care providers for sure.  Funny, when my Mom describes my Dad as a young man – she says he was shy, quiet – not the “people person”  he became.  Now when he is being gregarious, or somewhat flirtatious with a waitress, a nurse or whoever, – my Mom gets miffed.   I don’t blame her.  But I know that this is the same man she married – but  this particular personality trait is exaggerated with old age and dementia just like my Mom’s insecurities are magnified.

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My Dad has these furly eyebrows and big brown watery eyes that remind me of actor Sam Waterston.  They are so expressive and telling.  Imagine seeing Sam as the district attorney on Law & Order  when he’s upset with testimony being given – his brows furl down and forward and you just know he’s upset.  Yes – same with my Dad.  But when my Dad’s brows are high and his eyes are smiling, you know there’s a warm greeting or a compliment coming.  Spending so much time with my parents has allowed me to observe and read their body language from a very intuitive place. This helps me to forecast and avoid a storm brewing inside them on the horizon or introduce an activity to them  that would normally not be welcomed otherwise.  Movies are  a great focus.  I just wish a pg rating really guaranteed no embarrassing sexually expicit scenes to sit through watching with them. Yes, I’m 50, but there’s something about this scenario that sets me back 40 years.   I wish there were movies out there with senior adult ratings. Yes, I could rent some classics, but neither my Mom or Dad seem to be interested in rewatching something they first viewed 40 or 50 years ago.  So dining out, renting questionable movies, watching the Red Wings (my Dad’s thing) or watching the news (my Mom’s thing) are the activities of the week.  Oh yes, and then there are the friday trips to the resale shop for my Mom where she is as happy as a lark (a well-dressed lark) – just pay in cash for 20% off.    These Friday ventures are more difficult now that we can’t leave my Dad by himself  anymore.  He’ll sit in the car and read a newspaper while we take a few minutes to do a quick meander through the store, but then he’s bored and comes in looking for us.   My Mom is funny – cognizant of her limited timeline, she is hurriedly picking out her treasures and moving towards the register faster than I can without a cane.  It’s like she is shopping for the future trips she’s not sure she’ll be able to make.  Getting them out of the house, especially now that the weather is warming up is important to their well-being, and mine too.  This is where a sibling’s help on occasion would be very much appreciated.  But I won’t start in on that topic right now- that’s a blog unto itself.

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Letting them Lead

I know the title of this is blog is somewhat ironic, and full of ambiguity. I thank my friend Chris for lending me this truth; this fresh perception of dealing with my aging parents upon her recent reflection of dealing with her own. Chris had just taken a short trip with her parents, complete with sharing a hotel room which enlightened her as to how her parents were aging and how her role as daughter might need to adapt to their changes. “Hartley, one thing I noticed was that my parents were moving much slower than I was, and that my expectations of what activities would be possible as we traveled together would have to change. Instead of my leading them, I decided to let them lead.” When she shared that I teared up…touched by both the truth of it, and the realization of knowing that my “taking the lead,” has not always been the best thing. Oh, I’ve been good about keeping them safe, staying on top of medical appointments, having them take medicines on time, and like duties. But, my overall pace is fast, both literally and figuratively – my gate is fast; my parents both walk with canes. Whenever the three of us go out, I am walking in front of them and invariably waiting for them…and I wonder how that’s made them feel?  I hope it hasn’t led them to feel less capable, less able. Yes, there are decisions I need to make for them, but I think part of my leading has got to be letting go of always thinking I have to be in control when the consequences of choices made are not life threatening.  Anytime I am able to follow their lead,  I allow them to feel their independence.   Few gifts may mean more to them at this point in time.

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Dream Blond #11

My Mom’s natural hair color is a beautiful silver/white blond.  It’s a beautiful color I would not mind having at a later stage in life.  It has a sophistication, an elegance that is very regal and graceful,  but my mother thinks that color ages her.  So we would be out shopping, at a restaurant, etc. and she would be constantly pointing out women who had various shades of blond hair questioning me as to which one would look good on her.  In a culture where women’s hair color and skin are a  primary focus when it comes to noting age and beauty, why would I expect my Mom to embrace  her silver hair color?  As much as I tell her how beautiful it is..as much as I tell her that I wish that particular shade for myself as my hair changes with age…I still must make a trip to the drugstore.   Enter Loreal Dream Blond #11.  We spend one saturday morning, the morning of my parent’s 63rd wedding anniversary in fact, coloring her hair.  My Mom is tickled pink with the color – a very white, wintery blond.  It does look nice, but what makes the color sing is the change in perception my Mom has now that the silver has been lost in the process.  She is smiling and grateful for the “new look.”   We do her make-up after finishing her hair and she peeks out to model for my Dad who doesn’t have a clue as to what she’d like him to notice. But it doesn’t seem to matter to her and I’m very glad. When I take them out for dinner that evening, she is beaming.  It was an inexpensive “fix” that continues to bring a smile to her mirror.

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