Friday, December 18, 2009

Working for Mom, blessings and Christmas

You might have noticed that there's been a paucity of shooting posts lately. I have loads of unfinished projects but I have done nothing to advance most of them. What have I been doing? Working for Mom.

You see, my mother has Alzheimer's. She has reached the point that we need to do more for her than I can do myself. I tried. For 2 years I spent the better part of every day caring for her needs. I fed her, cleaned her house, etc. Later, as she required more continuous watching, I hired some caregivers to help. She eventually got to the point that she needed a residential solution and we opted to move her to an assisted living facility rather than have a parade of caregivers at her home. This left her house to us to care for.

To do this requires an immense amount of work above and beyond the usual maintenance. The accumulation of several generations plus my parent's lifetime of check stubs, etc. and their pets, real estate and so forth. We began with selling the car she no longer drove. We found homes for all seven of her cats and began to clean the cat hair from every nook and cranny (largely unsuccessful until recently). We began shredding all of 60 years of check stubs, medical bills, receipts, and so forth. We put the majority of the stuff up for auction. The rest went or is going to family or charity. She had started giving stuff away but apparently forgot one day. She did not want us to go through this but life is what it is.

Mom used to be quite the adventurer.  Along the path of life she got her masters degree in library science, did title research for a surveyor, was a guide for a major cave tour, worked at an employment counseling firm, had her own business, was an active member of a camera club, a railroad club, an archaeological association (was secretary for years), made some of her own furniture, sewed, knit, wove, spun, hooked rugs, crocheted, did needlepoint, was a school librarian, had children at age 22 and age 40 and in-between, read thousands of books, made hundreds of friends, survived cancer, buried the other son and her husband and hundreds of things I probably don't know anything about.

Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. Most sufferers I know are otherwise fairly healthy. Mom is. But they can't remember. It starts with "little" things. Everyone is different. Often the memories of some most familiar things seems to leave first, but not always. Some fears can be traced back to not remembering how something works or even common understandings about how things work. E.g. Mom says the traffic on the road, over 200 yards away, is "scary". Apparently she thinks the vehicles might swerve her way or maybe she's just using the first word she remembers when she thinks of the concept of "fast" or "busy". As the disease progresses you know less and less of what is understood. One day you might ask about her fingernails and she'll hold the hands up and say they are fine and the next she might look at her shoes. So despite the care she gets in the place she now lives she needs me. I'll be there.

Nearly 55 years ago she did more than just give birth to me, she started me on a wonderful life. She read to me. She took me interesting places. She was positive about everything and most everybody we saw or met. She taught me how to behave with people. She let me try things on my own. She took me to church even though Dad didn't go. She expected me to understand things big as well as small.  Yet she never belittled Dad.  If they didn't agree about something I never knew it.  Mom never let me down.

I think about this quite often now.  Every time I visit the shrunken, diminished, tired, and somewhat confused version of my mother that now exists, I think about all the blessings I've had.  Education, health, experience, and support of my family despite my sometimes foolish choices.  She and dad helped me buy my first house.  They encouraged me through my divorce and helped me keep my children even while I was serving in the military.  They helped Nana (the last missus) to keep her job.  The material blessings that have accrued from these things are immeasurable.

Now we're at Christmas.  Last year may have been the last Christmas that Mom will spend the day with us.  Last year I went and got her in the morning and took her back at night.  This year it won't be possible.  She is fighting an infection in her foot, needs a tremendous amount of attention and tires too much over a day of activities.  Of course we will visit with her on Christmas.  We have decorated her room even though she doesn't know why those things are there.  We have given her gifts which she now needs help in knowing to open.  Yet, her presence in our lives is a blessing.

You see, she has never failed to be polite.  She says please and thank you, sir and ma'am, and she welcomes every visitor with a "I am so glad you're here."  She endures correction, lack of privacy, poking, prodding and, I am certain, some boredom, with grace.  Every once in a while she breaks through the barriers of the disease to exhibit the humor she always had.  She continues to make friends who reach out to us. For those willing to learn she continues to teach.

I know that I've learned a lot about what it is to get older.  To become weaker.  To become dependent on others.  I haven't learned these things just from my mother (or my late father before her) but from the people in the assisted living facility in which she now resides.  I was never a care-giver before this.  I was a problem solver.  I endured pain, endured prolonged effort or discomfort or separation from family.  While I looked out for my soldiers I didn't have to care for them.  I didn't have to divine their thoughts, I could just ask.  I didn't have to help them in the bathroom either!   This experience has taught me a lot about patience, my place in the world and about people. 

So, for this Christmas at least, she continues to be a blessing to us, a great gift in our lives.  We are thankful for this best of all gifts.  We hope that you have such gifts in your life and are wise enough to recognize them. Merry Christmas!


Paul Moreland said...

Thanks for sharing that, Hobie. I've seen various people I care for go through Alzheimer's or other forms of frailty, dementia, etc. It is not easy seeing a once strong and independent person reduced to depending on others for the simplest decisions or needs. My heart goes out to you and your family during this difficult time. And I appreciate your attitude towards this change in circumstances. Keep the faith.

David aka True Blue Sam said...

I hope you have a great Christmas, Hobie. My dad's mother had Alzheimer's, and she was one who was always cheerful, even though she had lost most of her memories. She always talked about going to Baja for some reason. We have no idea how she came up with that, but it made her happy to think about it, and cheered us, too. I love that photo of you and your mother; thanks for sharing! David N aka True Blue Sam