Standing On A Chair

Telling it like I see it…

Rants from the Chair: On Dealing with Dementia

I keep getting into trouble with my mother.  I take that back.  I stay in trouble with my mother.

“Doer,” as we’ve called her for the past twenty-five years (since my daughter named her that in honor of the fact that she was constantly “doing” things), is ninety years old and lives in an expensive apartment facility along with lots of other really old people.

Up until two years ago, I spent nearly five years living with Doer in her longtime, beloved house, which we have since sold.  That experience changed me in ways I can’t even articulate.  Let’s put it this way:  I finally ran screaming out of there with barely my sanity left, shouting, “I can’t take it anymore, woman!  You’re on your own, I tell you!”  Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t abandon her.  I just moved out.  I have written several volumes about that excruciating time, and one day I’ll spew it all out on the blog, if anybody really is interested.

Anyway, moving right along, one big problem with Doer is her memory.  Or I should say her lack of memory.  And it never works in our favor.

“Where in the hell have you been?” she shouted when I pulled into the circle to pick her up and take her to Easter brunch. 

“What?” I said as I walked around to help her into my car.  I remember there were quite a few other really old people being picked up at the same time, so it seemed pretty crowded.

“I thought you stood me up!  I’ve been waiting here for an hour, damn it!”

“Uh, Mom, I told you I’d be here at 12:40.”

“Oh no you didn’t!  You said a quarter to twelve!”

All eyes were on us at this point, because my mother can talk really loud.

Fighting the urge to just get back in my car and drive away without her, I said quietly, through very tight lips, “I would never stand you up, you know that, and you heard wrong on the time, now please get into the car.  We’re being stared at.”

“I will not argue with you!” she declared emphatically, and yes, everybody heard it.

Do I need to tell you the drive to the restaurant was in stone cold silence?  Don’t even ask about the brunch.

My daughter, Farrah, sometimes shares my space on the hot-seat.

“I’ve been calling Farrah every single day and she never calls me back,” Doer complained the other day.

“Do you leave her messages when you call her, Mom?  Because half the time you don’t leave messages.”

“OF COURSE I LEAVE MESSAGES, JILL!”

Knowing that the story she was telling was likely not-quite-the-truth, I passed the complaint on to my daughter so she could defend herself, which of course she did.

“I’ve called Doer back, Mom,” said Farrah.  “Several times!  But she still can’t grasp how to use her answering machine, she doesn’t listen to her messages, and if she does, she can’t remember doing it!”

“I know, honey.  I know.”

Another time it was, “Why did you not tell me Farrah’s dog was dead, Jill?  How could you NOT have told me such a thing?”

“I told you the other day the dog was old and sick and was going to have to be put to sleep, Mom!  Don’t you remember that?” 

“You did not.” 

“I did too!” 

“You did not!”

Sigh.

I just got off the phone with her a few minutes ago. 

“Things are pretty good, Mom,” I told her.  “Business seems to be increasing.”

“Well good!” she said.

“My high school reunion is coming up in October, Mom.  I can’t wait!”

Well good!” she said.

“My close friend ‘Carol’ is going through a really horrible, painful divorce, Mom.”

“Well that’s good!” she said.

Sigh again.

I’m left wondering if it’s her memory that sucks, or if she just isn’t listening.

I’m also left with this permanent, underlying state of guilt over my pathetic inability to deal with her a lot of the time. 

And, well, I mourn the loss of the mother I used to have.  I miss her.

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May 24, 2011 - Posted by | Mental Health | , ,

9 Comments »

  1. We know the senseless rants and bouts of screaming! The “you think I’m crazy” retorts. Wait until she accuses you of elder abuse!

    Comment by Terry Sexton | May 24, 2011 | Reply

  2. Oh, Jill, I can soooo relate! After my Dad passed away I moved in with my Mom to take care of her. She lost all short term memory in 86 when they removed a brain tumor and now is starting with every day dementia. It’s very strange living in the house I grew up in but now being the one in charge. Ok, kind of in charge. I keep thinking all of this would be easier if my Mom and I had got along in the first place, but I could be wrong about that. It also might be easier if my brother, the only child, could find the time in his busy retired with a big fat government pension life, to help out just a bit more than one week a year while I go see my grand kids. (Did I mention that his wife is also retired with a big fat government pension?) Some days beating my head against a block wall is a lot more fun than dealing with my Mom. Of course living in Meadowlawn makes the block wall handy, since the houses are block construction. After complaining about all of that, I’m glad I am helping my Mom, but I do do miss my life I used to have.

    Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | May 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Linda, You really do amazingly well and maintain a wonderful attitude. I admire you a lot!

      Comment by Becky Day Wilson | May 31, 2011 | Reply

      • Aw, thank you, Becky!

        Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | May 31, 2011

  3. Great story, Jill! My Mom is 90 also. Lives with my younger sister and her doctor husband on Lookout Mt. Ga. She is really pleasant to talk to, very religious, but recently my sister had to take charge of her check book. She kept buying stuff from catalogs, mostly hoistic medicine crap. Gotta love our Mom’s!

    Comment by Gordie Hall | May 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Gordy, the first thing we had to stop with my Mom was magazine subscriptions. She got every magazine out there, she got Yoga magazine, and I had never heard her say that word! She wasn’t doing yoga so why did she get it? We have got it down to 5 magazines now, and it doesn’t seem as if she misses all of the others. Of course she never read them anyway.

      Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | May 24, 2011 | Reply

  4. I somehow missed this blog. Boy can I relate. By the time my my passed away I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While there are things I wish had gone differently, I wouldn’t have skipped a minute of it.

    When mom died, I had her mail forwarded to me. I got so many silly stuff catalogues it was crazy! Mostly mom would order Christmas presents for us all, so we had pretty funny Christmases for a while there.

    It is not easy and the reason it is not easy is because you care so much.

    Comment by Becky Day Wilson | May 31, 2011 | Reply

    • Becky, we still get all of the catalogs, at least 3 a week. My Mom loves to order stuff out of them. The good thing about her memory problem is that sometimes I forget to place the order for her. I will say that there are a few things that do work the way they advertise, but not all. Anyone want a Vidalia Chop Wizard? It works but but takes about 3 hours to clean. Not sure if she got it out of a catalog or ordered it off of tv. Did I mention that we don’t let her watch tv and have access to a phone at the same time?

      Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | May 31, 2011 | Reply

  5. OMG Jill… Farrah and Shandon have always said we need to meet. Oh, we sooooooo do! Reading your rant was like listening to me when I call my sister and “vent.” Sometimes I feel like such an unfeeling bitch, part of the time I feel so indescribably hurt and the rest of the time my heart breaks as I put myself in her shoes… I was in the field of aging of 12 years, so I was intellectually prepared… but nothing prepared me for the emotional impact of my own mother aging… Please email me… we definitely need to do lunch… Peggy Smith (Shandon Smith’s mother-in-law)

    Comment by Peggy Smith | May 31, 2011 | Reply


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