December 27, 2013
A scene from the play of my widowed mother's slide into dementia, and why it's nice this production is being staged on Orcas Island.
Me calling about a past-due electric bill: "Hi. I'm calling about an account I suspect is delinquent."
Nice lady: "You mean Grace?"
Me: "Um, yes."
Nice lady: "Is this her son?"
Nice lady: "How's she doing? We've been worried about her. I just love your mom to death."
January 31, 2014
Sure it's a bit sad watching a loved one's mind beat their body to life's finish line, but the upside is seeing them enjoy little surprises repeatedly: "Oh! Billy! Why didn't you tell me you were coming over?" I did mom, last Tuesday, and again 20 minutes ago, but bring it in, hon, and let's hug it out again. I'm gonna go clean the gutters now, but when I come back inside in a half-hour, I'm looking forward to another heartfelt greeting.
April 12, 2014
Mom forms new memories sporadically. She's like the protagonist in the movie 'Memento' minus the muscle tone and sense of purpose, but like him she is aware of her deficiency and has developed coping tactics: "Can you go fill the Thermos with coffee?" she asks, handing me the Thermos that was lying down in the shopping cart. "I just did" I reply. "Oh" she says, standing the Thermos upright in the cart and propping it up with bananas and bread so it won't fall over because apparently upright means 'got the coffee'.
Today's visit was good, not just because it was the kind of sunny day that makes me understand why the people who live on this island trade convenience for beauty; it was good because instead of just tackling the backlog of housework and home maintenance, I took mom on errands, and everywhere we went, people were genuinely pleased to see her, asked how she was doing, wondered who the unshaven schlub in the UW sweatshirt was. "This is my son!" she said with an unwarranted amount of pride.
At each stop, nurses and cashiers leaned in to confide to me that they loved my mom. "She's so sweet." "She always brightens my day." So this is the silver lining of my disabling her car so she can't drive anymore, which was much easier than shouting for the 14th time "Your driver's license and insurance have expired! And I got a call from a neighbor that you backed into someone at the market and also filled your tank and drove off without paying!" Instead of being the perpetrator of an underhanded trick, I'm the clever boy who got her car running and is dutifully escorting her out & about.
May 02, 2014
At the clinic, she interrupted the conversation between the doctor and me saying wistfully "I wish I could hear what you two were talking about." "Mom!" I shouted, "Most people your age are dead!" That seemed to cheer her up.
September 28, 2014
In three of the five adult family homes I visited, the TV in the common room was tuned to The Waltons. Four of the five were run by Romanian immigrants; this is their jam. I signed up with a place called Golden Leaf. The name's a little cheesy, but so much better than these:
50 Shades of Gray & 3 of Blue
Runnin' Out The Clock
After The Fall
October 4, 2014
The Sunday I've been dreading is here. Getting up at 4:45 to pry my mom off the island and deliver her to an old folks home 15 hours later (lots of driving, two ferry trips, and it takes the old gal a solid three hours to get ready to leave the house). It feels a little like when you take a pet to the vet to be put down, except Fido has a lot fewer questions about where he's going and why, repeated verbatim every ten minutes.
But the plus side of dementia is that lying becomes a virtue; any fib told to keep things moving eases mom's mind and will be quickly forgotten. Plus, dealing with the mentally infirm is a great way to exercise your improv skills. Why argue when you can "yes and" anything she says? It's not like she'll hold me to it later.
A big shout out to my sister Marla for tag-teaming this with me, and to the Seahawks for playing on Monday, because missing a game would be too much to take. And also to Romanian immigrants, without whom adult family homes would apparently not exist.
October 5, 2014
No disrespect to the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy, or to June 21st, but yesterday was the longest day. Missed a ferry each way, lost mom once when she wandered away from the car, and had two Depends failures (not mine, although I am all about convenience and what could be more convenient than wearing your own toilet?)
Got to Golden Leaf at 8pm and did 6-8 laps around the "Take me home" track before she resigned herself to spending the night there. Grace is still very sweet and perfectly reasonable so when I explained what was happening and why, she understood and agreed to give the place a chance. Then we'd watch ninety more seconds of The Golden Girls and she'd ask who was going to take her home.
The silver lining on these dementia discussions is I really get a chance to hone my argument; I'm like a club comic working out new material on the road but instead of a new crowd every night, it's the same person eight minutes later. I got to where I could talk her off the ledge in a minute-and-a-half, down from the original five. One key was telling her Golden Leaf cost exactly what her Social Security check is. She squinted at me and said "Well isn't that convenient. $1500 happens to be exactly what my Social Security pays." She felt she was being gamed, but didn't know how I was pulling off the trick of having all the right answers.
Ten years ago, there was a lot of talk from mom about not wanting to be a
burden or end up in an old folk's home and I'd always say "Fine, but I'm not
taking the fall; you do it yourself." There never seems to be much
follow-through on these types of plans.
I'm the opposite. I look at a place like Golden Leaf and I would love to move in: my own room with a bathroom someone else cleans, my own 32" flat-screen, plenty to read, five other people to play cards with, three squares a day that I don't cook, no housework or chores of any kind, I don't have to drive anywhere, there's a friendly poodle on-site, someone else is paying, and I'm wearing my own toilet. I gotta say, I'm looking at that Depends as half full, not half empty.
October 13, 2014
I visited mom today at her adult family home and of course we had The Conversation ("Why am I here and when am I going home?") but she looked and sounded so much better than she did a week ago before moving in ("You mean being Shanghaied, Billy!") Lucia, the lovely woman who runs Golden Leaf, said Grace is eating her out of house and home. That, plus someone making sure she takes her meds every day, has made a big difference. At the risk of sounding like a spokesman for the assisted living industry, better a month too early than a day too late. It was clearly the right call.
It wasn't all smooth sailing though. Tuesday, I got a call from Lucia: "We've lost your mother. She walked out the door without a word." I told her not to worry as she can't go far. Mom was found an hour later in a shopping mall. "You gave us quite a scare, Grace" said Lucia. Mom replied "I scared myself too."
Lucia asked me to take mom's suitcase home. "It will save her the trouble of packing it every day, and me the trouble of unpacking it."
Mom calls every couple days: "Billy? Are you going to take me home?"
No, mom, but I'm going to come visit.
"How? You don't know where I am."
No, hon; you don't know where you are. See you tomorrow.
We took a walk around her new neighborhood. She's wobbly but she still goes pretty good. "You know I'm in hell, right?" Woman, please. You've fallen into a honey pot. I then outlined what a dump her house had become and how great she had it now. "I suppose, but I still wish I had a gun." To shoot me or you? "Me, of course! Take my advice: don't get old." Sorry, mom, but I've been getting old since I was a wee lad and it's not a habit I'm keen to give up. She laughed. "I still wish I had a gun though." Do you know how to use one? Cuz I have one I could lend you. She looked at me wide-eyed. "YOU own a GUN?!" Technically no; I own two. Long silence. Suicide's legal in Oregon, I said. "Would you drive me there?" I could, but you have to be of sound mind to get the drugs. "Well that's a real catch-22, isn't it?"
"Thanks for taking me for a walk; that really felt good." So see you Wednesday?
"[sigh] I guess."
October 16, 2014
Cleaning out mom's house yesterday included emptying her nightstand. My mantra while opening each drawer was "please no dildos, please no dildos, please no dildos."
Took a pickup-truck's worth of books to the Orcas Library. Paul Roberts, you might be pleased to know that two of those books were yours. You might be less pleased to know that each had a bookmark in them a third of the way in.
Mom's booze stash was adorable. It was a dozen single-shot bottles like on airplanes, each opened and with varying quantities consumed. It looked like the liquor cabinet in a doll house.
The only disturbing discovery came in the garage: two pair of clown shoes. I recoiled thinking my parents had secretly been clowns, but the shock and horror vanished as I embraced the more comforting theory they had merely murdered two clowns and kept the shoes for trophies, as one does.
November 18, 2014
Mom is always surprised when Marla or I visit her in her adult family home.
"How did you know where I was?"
Who do you think put you here, woman? I wonder what story she tells herself. Does she think she has been abducted by ISIS? My understanding is that few kidnappers provide three squares, a private bath, and basic cable.
She calls every other day asking if I can swing by to take her home. I explain it's a long trip. She counters with no it's not because she's still on Orcas.
The other day she called with a new question: "Billy, do catamarans have rudders?"
Yes, mom. Usually two. Why?
"Someone here was wondering and I said that you'd know."
Did you win the bet?
Was this a bet? Did you win?
Is your hearing aid in mom?
"I don't have a hearing aid."
Yes you do. Ask Opal.
[pause while she asks caregiver Opal, who is a saint]
"Apparently I do have one. You seem to know everything, Billy."
Well, anything maritime or auditory.
Ask Opal to put your hearing aid in.
Bye mom. I love you.
December 12, 2014
Is $605 the best you can do?
"Yes, and I believe you'll find we are the most affordable crematorium in the Seattle area."
But we're talking about a body that's maybe a hundred pounds, and you're, like, five miles away.
"Sir, our prices are not based on size or distance."
"We provide the same level of service to all clients, regardless."
So you're telling me that Chris Christie in Kent is the same price as Gary Coleman next door? That's nuts. Every pound of meat takes that much more fuel, right?
[Disgust conveyed by long pause]
"Sir, are you interested in proceeding?"
I'll get back to you.
The funeral industry is not used to, and does not care for, haggling.
"Twenty-two hundred?! Listen, I don't need her slow-roasted over mesquite; the basic cremation will be fine... Hello? Hello?" And I'm not doing it for me; I'm doing it for mom because it's her dime and that's how she'd want it. She's not dead yet, but she's had two strokes in two weeks and the hospice nurse said [paraphrasing] she's about to snap the ball for the last time, take a knee, and walk off with the win. No point running up the score.
December 15, 2014
Caregiver Opal in her Jamaican accent: "I try not to become attached to people cuz I know they gon leave soon, but I cannot help it with you mother. She so funny. She make all us laugh e'ry day. Ask Tinaka. Grace have joke for e'ry ting. The other ladies, they stop by Grace's room and your mom always have some ting funny to say, but not today. That's how we know some ting wrong."
Without fail, every time I visited mom at the old folk's home, she introduced me to Opal: "Opal, have you met Billy? He's my son."
"Yes, Grace, several times."
Today I was looking down at mom after her final stroke, morphine under her tongue, her do-not-resuscitate order in effect, when Opal came in the room. I said "Opal, have you met me? I'm her son, Billy."
Opal laughed. "I know where you get it. You get it from her."