Night Visitor

You crack the door and shuffle in

Crying hysterically

Ugly crying

Face swollen with red blotches

You crawl into my bed

And snuggle hard, grabbing my hand to your face

Through tears, you sob

He’s dead, isn’t he?

I inhale then whisper

Yes.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

We were there with him, Mom

We held his hand and told him we loved him

More sobbing.

More sobbing.

More sobbing.

I think you are asleep when

You stumble out of my bed

I’m going back to my room

I see you turn towards the guest bedroom and

Gently guide you back to your room

Where are you taking me?

You yell

Back to your room, Mom

It’s time for bed

A tight hug and you sob

What is wrong with my head? 

Why don’t I know anything?

I tell you it’s okay, tuck you in, return to my room,

and

ugly cry. 

Happy Halloween!

“We haven’t seen this many children in eons!” 

Mom was in her element. She loves socializing. She loves children. She loves candy. We sat on the porch in rocking chairs, 6 feet away from the small table with a huge bowl of candy on it. As soon as she saw children approaching on the sidewalk (a good 30 feet from where we were sitting), she started gesturing, inviting them to our porch, “Come here! Come here!” 

“How many can I take?” the unicorns, Cruella DeVils, Spidermen, and vampires asked.

“As many as you want, sweetie!” I tried to explain to her that we’d likely get hundreds of children over the course of the evening, so maybe we’d want to limit them to 1 or 2 pieces. “Oh, yes, that’s what I was thinking.” 

The next group of children arrived. “Look at you! Aren’t you just precious! Take as much as you like!” Fists emerged with overflowing handfuls of miniature candy.

It was more important for her to enjoy herself that for us not to run out of candy. Mentally, I started thinking about what else we had in the cupboards. A box or two of granola bars. Some small bags of peanuts. Possibly some hot cocoa packets? If nothing else, I had some one dollar bills we could give out if we ran out of everything else. Do kids use Venmo at Halloween?

The kids would leave and she’d exclaim again, “I don’t know when we’ve seen this many children!” Then she’d laugh and laugh and laugh. 

“We’re having a good day today, aren’t we?” I often say what I want her to believe. 

“I haven’t had this much fun in ages!” Me, too, Mom. Me, too. 

A Stitch in Time

“Really? Really?” She said with tears in her eyes. “You would do that for me?”

“Of course, Mom. I’m happy to.”

The “that” in question was repairing the hem in a pair of pants. 

Mornings generally follow this pattern: I wake up first. I get myself together, make a cuppa tea, start work. I hear Mom wake up. It could be 8:30 am, it could be 10 am. I go upstairs, help her pick out clothes, and start her shower for her, making sure she has a clean washcloth and towel. Once she’s in the shower, I leave, still listening carefully for any loud thumps. 

We were at the picking out clothes stage. There was a pair of pants she wanted to wear, but part of the hem in one leg had come out. She was utterly distraught. Barely awake, she couldn’t seem to grasp the task of getting a needle and thread and repairing the hem. Which is why I offered. 

“You get in the shower, and I’ll have your pants hemmed and ready by the time you get out.”

She hugged me hard and stumbled into the bathroom. 

As I hemmed her pants, I pondered. Why was this the task that moved her? Why was hemming part of one leg of a pair of pants appreciated so much? More than buying a house. More than moving in together. More than going on daily walks. More than eating meals together. More than comforting her when she wakes up at 1 am, or 5 am, crawling into my bed, grieving Dad. 

There often isn’t much logic to our days now. But there is a lot of gratitude. Flowing both ways.

I Scream! You Scream! We All Scream for Ice Cream!

She could eat nothing but Chips Ahoy! and ice cream and be perfectly content. She’ll go to the pantry, get a handful of cookies, and on the way back to the living room take a bite of a cookie, set it down, take a bite of another cookie, set it down, and by the time she gets to the couch, she might have one cookie left. Or none. Or she may sit down for a moment then say, “I think I’ll get a cookie” and the process repeats itself. Throughout the day I gather up cookies and put them back in the packaging.

And ice cream. Oh, how she loves ice cream. After every meal she asks for ice cream. As I walk into the kitchen to get it for her she yells, “And a cookie!” She’ll finish the bowl, bring it to me as I’m cleaning up in the kitchen, and say, “I think I’d like some ice cream.” Depending on how much energy I have, I may explain that she’s holding her empty bowl, and has just finished her ice cream, or I may simply dole out another scoop. Given how often she eats ice cream, I make the scoops appear large, yet they are hollow. I pull the ice cream scooper along the top of the carton, and the ice cream forms a large curl. I arrange the scoops so that it appears to be a full bowl of perfectly rounded scoops. I use tiny bowls so that it appears she has a lot.

Last night I walked into the kitchen and found Mom at the counter, scooping out her own ice cream. She didn’t have a tiny bowl, but instead a large coffee mug. And she was packing it in. She scooped almost a third of a carton of ice cream into the mug then walked onto the porch to eat it. The carton was still on the counter; the freezer door open. I tidied up and joined her on the porch. “Is it good?” “Mmmm hmmm,” she replied, staring into space and spooning bite by bite into her mouth, rocking slowly in the dusk.

It was ice cream that alerted me something was wrong. It was summer 2015 and Mom and Dad and I were in Italy. They would send me to the gelato stand to fight the throngs of tourists, while they found a quiet reprieve nearby. I’d get our cones, bring them back, and no matter what flavor Mom had asked for, she would say, “I didn’t order that” and take my cone or cup. At first I thought she was joking with me, even though none of us were laughing. One day I realized she really didn’t remember what she ordered, and took whatever looked best.

It’s somehow easier to deal with when I remember it’s not intentional; it’s how her brain works now. And when I remember to order two cones of the same flavor.

Anything at All!

As we left the store, Mom turned to me and said, “Do you remember when Daddy was dying?”

I nodded. “Yes, I do remember that.”

“Do you remember how he said, ‘You buy her anything she wants. Anything at all.'”

I looked at Mom, stifling a smile. “Who was the her?”

“Me.”

“No, I don’t think I remember that.”

Straight faced, she said, “He did. He said to buy me everything I want.”

With a laugh, I said, “Well, we better get started.”

In Search of a Honky Tonk

Whew. It’s been three months (almost) since we moved to the new house. For three months, I’ve felt as though I’ve simply been trying to survive. And I finally feel like I can take a deep breath without threat of an emergency looming.

The first two and a half months were filled with tears. From Mom. Every. Single. Day. The gut-wrenching, sobbing, face-swelling tears. She hated the new house that she had declared we had to move into. She missed Dad. She missed her friends in Winston-Salem. She didn’t think the house was tall enough, and began plans to build a third floor. She hated the yard. As soon as her caretaker would go to the bathroom during the work day, she would sneak into my office, crying hysterically. Her doctor asked me if perhaps she were pulling at my heartstrings. Perhaps?

Even though Mom has Alzheimer’s, and asks me the same question multiple times in a row, I’ve been hesitant to say anything that could be misleading. In my mind I wondered, “What if this were the one time when her memory worked?” I finally realized that reality is fleeting, and it’s better to say what works in the moment rather than what might be considered the absolute truth.

Recently, she’s created the reality that Dad bought this house for us before he died. That this was where he wanted us to be. I’ve nodded and said, “Yes, he thought we’d be happy here.” And I do believe, if there is a heaven, or if there are souls, that he does believe we would be, or that we are, happy here. Thanks, Dad.

Mom and I spend a lot of time on the front porch in rocking chairs. I’ve had to come to terms that it’s okay not to be productive all the time. It’s been a hard lesson to welcome. We spend hours each evening, just sitting and rocking. Sometimes talking. Sometimes being. As we were sitting, she asked me what time it was. Time is confusing for Mom. I told her it was 5:00. She threw her arms up in the air and shouted, “YES!” I was flabbergasted by this response and asked why she was so excited that it was 5:00. She explained, “After 5:00, we’re allowed to go anywhere!” I nodded, wondering why we couldn’t go wherever we wanted before 5:00. She followed up with, “Do you know of any good honky tonks around here?” I stared at my God-fearing, church-going, stricter-than-all-get-out punishing mother in awe.

“I’m not sure I do, Mom. But I suppose we can find one.”

Random Positivity

A colleague shared this with me today: 

In the spirit of random positivity, here are some things I like that you might want to try. No affiliate links or anything, just some random things I found worth my money or time.

It got me thinking about random positivity and things I love. And maybe you would, too!

  • US Postal Stamps – One of my favorite things to do is write postcards and letters. In addition to picking out lovely cards, I like choosing the perfect stamp.
  • Tulips – Carolina Flowers delivers bundles of joy. Each bunch of flowers is freshly cut and makes me smile each time I see them.
  • Method hand and dishwashing soap refills – I’m trying to cut down on disposable containers, buying things in bulk or large quantities whenever possible. And I love the scent of clementine and pink grapefruit!
  • A Good Dental Floss – See above about cutting down on disposable containers. This floss is amazing and comes in a refillable glass container. No plastic to throw out!
  • Penzey’s spices – options to buy in large bags and refill glass containers. And they’re so tasty!
  • Planet Money podcast – I listen to this while cooking dinner each evening. Some favorite recent episodes: Workin’ 9 to 5, Nigeria, You Win! (Update), and The Mixtape Drama.
  • VEO citrus all purpose cleaner – Gosh, this makes the whole house smell delicious!
  • Dyson vacuum cleaner – My favorite chore is vacuuming. And I’m amazed every time I vacuum with my Dyson – how did this much dirt get into my house?
  • Malie Pikake body lotion – I keep this on my desk and hydrate my hands throughout the day. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I’m in Hawaii. Blisssss…..
  • Bio-Skin masks – So many patterns! And the fabric is soft and comfortable. Can wear all day long!
  • Wool & Company Rowena swing dress – I have this dress in multiple colors and wear a version almost every day. So comfortable. And pockets!
  • Pipe Wrench magazine – This is the dinner party of newsletters. So many opinions, so many entertaining newsletters! Sign up now and be prepared to be entertained.

Chain, Chain, Chain…

“How many days until it happens?” Mom asked this question multiple times a day. And every time she asked it, sometimes only minutes after she had previously asked it, I reminded myself that in her mind this was the first time she was asking. And yet, I still got tired of answering. Because no matter what my answer, her response was, “Why so long? Why can’t we move in today?” And in my head I had to remind myself that even though I feel that we’re moving super quickly (I reached out to a realtor on Dec 28; I’m closing on Feb 22; we’re moving on Feb 23) for Mom there’s only the present.

So we made a paper chain, with each link one day. At first the chain reached from high on the curtain rod close to the floor. And a week later it was to the window sill. And a week later it was high enough that I had to tear off the link because Mom couldn’t reach it.

And this was what I saw today.

And with the increase of Mom’s excitement, I felt more anxiety. There are boxes to be packed! Had I changed my address on everything that needs to be changed? Have I signed up for all the requisite utilities? What have I forgotten? And oh, there are more boxes to be packed…

And with all the anxiety for all the things that have yet to be done, there’s also a palpable excitement. We’ll be making a home that each of us will be able to call ours. We’ll be creating a space that we’ll each love and cherish. And, once again, we’ll each be building our forever home.

COVID, Quarantine, and A New House

She stood over the large grate in the bathroom, reveling in the warm air blowing on her legs. 

I was transported back more than 45 years ago. My parents were frugal. Or maybe it was the 70’s energy crisis and they were patriotic. Whatever the case, the heat rarely was on in our lofty, barnlike house. When we heard the rumble, indicating heat would soon blow through the ducts, my sister and I ran to the one vent we were aware of. Thinking back, there had to have been other vents. It was a huge house. But the only vent easily accessible was the one in the hallway. It was large, maybe a foot or two squared. And when we heard the heat come on, we ran to the vent and curled up next to it, laying on the floor, balled up as tightly as possible so the heat would blow over as much of our bodies as possible. 

Mom lives with me now. Over the holidays, she developed COVID and wasn’t able to quarantine on her own in the facility where she lived. She simply didn’t understand why she couldn’t leave her unit. Or be alone all day. Or why her caretaker (also in quarantine) couldn’t come to visit. Or how to turn the tv on. So, in a somewhat spur of the moment decision on day two of her quarantine, I moved her to my house, thinking we would quarantine together for 14 days or until neither of us no longer had symptoms. Even before she moved in, I assumed I had been exposed and decided to self-quarantine in order not to inadvertently spread the virus.

About four days into quarantine, I realized she needed round-the-clock care. I’d hear her shout from the bathroom, “What do I do now?” I’d walk in and she’d be standing in front of the sink, knowing she needed to wash her hands, but not knowing how to turn the faucet on (my sink is exactly like hers in her apartment). I’d turn the water on and she’d just look at me. “What do I do now?” I’d gently pull her hands under the water, squirt some soap in her hands and rub them together. 

“Lori, come here!” I’d enter her bedroom, where she was choosing clothes to wear in the morning. She needed help choosing pants, a top, and a sweater. And underclothes. Sometimes she would put on a turtleneck and walk out of her bedroom. I’d jokingly ask if she were cold, and turn her back around to choose a few more layers to wear. 

“What can I do to help?” she’d ask as she wandered into the kitchen as I made dinner. Once I asked her to cut the vegetables for the salad. “This is just not working!” she exclaimed with a huff. She was using the wrong edge of the knife to try to cut carrots. I asked her to set the table instead.  

Once I came to this realization, I had a choice to make. Moving to the wing that provided round-the-clock care at the facility where she currently lives would mean no visitors (now due to COVID, however, possibly in the future). No walks. No balcony gardening. As I was weighing the options, she started telling me stories about how she could never go back there, thinking that was where Dad died. My heart broke. I listened, nodded, and hugged her. I reached out to her memory doctor to discuss options.

My house has one bathroom, with a 100-year-old clawfoot tub that is difficult to get in and out of. It sits on a hill, with multiple steps to the front door. It’s perfectly cozy for one person. It’s challenging, but not impossible, for three adults to navigate (me working from home, Mom, and her caregiver). 

I called a realtor friend, warned her I was looking for a unicorn house, and asked if she would like to work together. Thankfully, she agreed, and a couple of weeks later I put an offer on a house. It’s a couple of streets over from where I now live. It’s not my dream house (my dream house is where I live now), but it has enough of what we need. I can make it a house that I love. That we love. Mom viewed it and said she loved it. She liked the space, she liked the light. We came home from the viewing and I found her in her bedroom putting clothes into a totebag. I explained that it would take a month to close and she was not happy. She didn’t understand why it wasn’t our house right now. 

Not the January I planned for, but it’s the January I got, and here’s hoping February is even better. 

PSA – COVID is real. For everyone out there who thinks it’s not, or jokes about it, I beg you to socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, or better yet, stay at home. One of the most difficult parts of quarantine/treatment is the stress of knowing that the disease can turn on a dime. One day you may be slightly coughing, the next you could be in the ICU. We’re both out of the quarantine period, and I’ll often wake during the night, hearing Mom coughing from the other bedroom. For people with Alzheimer’s, any illness exacerbates a decline in cognitive ability, and that cognitive ability often does not return even once the illness is over. Mom was most likely infected by someone who was asymptomatic. The facility she lived at had strict guidelines about temperature checks, screening, limited visitation, etc. Even if you’re feeling fine, please limit physical interactions, socially distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask (or two).

A Perfect Evening at the Lake

Mom and I walked around Beaver Lake tonight, in the hour before sunset. She said she liked walking in the evening, that was Dad’s favorite time of day. I don’t know if that was Dad’s favorite time of day or not. And it really doesn’t matter. She tells me a lot of things I know aren’t true, and I listen and nod and smile and say, “I didn’t know that.”

At one point we rounded a bend, and I wanted to cry at how perfect everything was. It was cold, but not too cold. There were others at the lake, but not too many people. The water was still enough to be a mirror for the clouds, and darkness was slowly enveloping us. We stopped. “Look at how calm the water is, Mom. Isn’t it gorgeous?” “Yes,” she said, “it’s perfect.”