Thursday, March 31, 2011

"The Hersband"

The time is getting closer now for the completion of mother's "Granny Flat" as we have come to know it. If you've read my previous blogs, you know that my husband and I spend the night with mother each night except for weekends when my sister and her daughter come down. This alone has become very taxing on all of us, to say the least.

Mother's second husband Yates, was well described as a simple gentleman who loved all children and would always have a silly song for them. He would sit quietly with a grin, but hidden intelligence was not far away. My husband Bob might very well have some of the same qualities as Yates had, quiet, a grin or two and all knowing about most things, although I would never let him know I thought this. Since he never reads my blogs, my secret is safe.

One evening, I had come to mother's ahead of my husband Bob. Mother seemed antsy as to when he would be coming and just where he was as she sat on the corner of her couch peering out the window for the first sign of headlights. As we sat together, mother began to talk about her "Hersband." She started with a couple of words such as "well, you know I have a man that's been staying here, don't you?" You can imagine my response to this information. "What do you mean?" I said. "Well, you know, we're not married or anything, he just lives here sometimes. "Ah, mother, you don't have a husband" I said, "you must be thinking about Yates and he passed away, years ago!" "No I'm not" she replied. This is a man that comes here and stays with me and he tends to the cows some, but he sorta looks like Yates." "Are you talking about Donald, mother?" I asked. Donald was Yates and mother's longtime friend and cattle partner. "No Jean, do you not think I have better sense to know who Donald is!" she snapped.

The night went on, and Bob finally came in. Feeling a little more tired than usual, I decided to go to bed early. Mother felt the same, so she followed my cue, leaving Bob to watch TV and cat nap. I had just closed my eyes, when I felt someone's presence at the door. I sat up in bed and saw mother's silhouette from the night light in the hall. I quickly inquired as to what she wanted. "I have two quick questions to ask you," she said. "Alright, but hurry up." "Well, I was just thinking, if I had a husband that was in there in the livingroom, would you know it?" she sheepishly asked. "Yes, mother and that's my husband Bobby in there, you know that!" "Are you sure? she asked. "Yes I'm sure, now what's the second question, so we can go to sleep?" "Well, I was just wondering whose house this is." That last question was one that I had heard hundreds of time and wasn't surprised, but I must say, the first one threw me a little. Mother went on back to bed and we both seemed to get a good nights rest.

A couple of nights later, the same scenario had happened with my mother and I going to bed before my husband Bob. Mother had developed a bad cough and administering cough medicine to a dementia patient is not a good idea, as it could alter their state of mind even more drastically. I suddenly remembered the many times that I had awakened as a child, coughing my head off when mother would appear with a spoon full of honey or jelly. I crept into the kitchen and looking through the refrigerator, spied a jar of peach jelly. I grabbed a spoon and headed on down the hall. "Mother, I whispered at her door, I'm coming in to give you some jelly for your cough." "Alright, come on in," she said. I opened the door and walked over to her bed. She sat up and looked at me standing there with my spoon and jar of jelly. A strange look came over her face as she leaned her head over and looked into the dark of her vanity room behind me, saying, "Jean, there's somebody back there that's trying to talk to you." I turned to see just who she might be seeing, with first thoughts of her newly found "Hersband!" Seeing nothing but her vanity, I high tailed it out of there and jumped in bed pulling the covers over my head like a little child.

As the days went on, mother began telling anybody and everybody about her "Hersband." Comments of, "should I ask him if it's alright" or "do you think he'll mind if I do." Were ever presence on mother's lips.

My husband and I had been called out of town on an unexpected family emergency. While traveling back, my car began to run hot. The next day was a Monday, and car repair was on the front burner for me. A car repair shop is within walking distance of my work, so I was able to leave my car there and pick it up the next day after the repairs had been done. Mother has a fairly new car which just sits in her garage, so I knew it would be a good choice for me to use. As I left her house, I informed her that I would be driving her car, but would return this afternoon. "O, that's fine, just make sure it has plenty of gas, do you need some money to fill it up?" "No mother, the tank is full," I said. "Well, just keep it as long as you need to." she invited. Feeling relieved that I had a second car to drive while mine was being repaired, I began to have a strange feeling that mother would go out and see her car gone and call the police. As I arrived at work, I made a call to remind her that I had taken her car and would return it later on in the day. As I returned, mother met me at the door and all up in arms. She had been pacing the floor with pocketbook on arm, anxiously awaiting for her "Hersband" to return with her car.

Weeks have gone by now and mother is still talking about "the man that stays here some." I just grin to myself as I look at my innocent husband sitting over in the recliner at mothers, knowing that she thinks of him as her "Hersband."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The House that Built Me"

Webster defines the word "home" as "one's place of residency." To my mother and others, home is much more than that. I'm sure that each of us could come up with our own definition of "home." Since mother's dementia, I have given more thought to, written more about and spoken more of the word "home" than ever before in my life. I dare say that for most of us, our home can and will be the place that defines the very person that lives inside each of us. It is where we were "built."

A friend of mine tells the story of an elderly man, who while confined to the local nursing home, would walk up and down the halls continuously chanting the words, "My name is Wilburn Clayton, and I want to go home." Authors have penned the word, songwriters sing about it, films have been made about it, children beg to go there and now I have learned that most of us yearn to return there; "home."

Here lately, we have been dealing with mother believing that she is in another town or state, living behind old store buildings, begging for someone to come and take her home. Through all of this, I have learned something new about Dementia. It is very important to keep the patient; or victim as I sometimes call it, as calm and pleasant as possible, with a daily routine that is familiar to them. Just one change in their surroundings or a switch in their usual day can trigger an episode of pure mayhem! I have come to realize that these "episodes" mostly happen when they become agitated, due to a change in routine. It is really strange to witness your own mother, sitting before you, in the same room, seeing a different place. Her surroundings are a total fabrication of the mind, as if she had designed a stage in a play and is living there. I have often asked mother, as to just which "house" it is that she is wanting to go home to, but rarely get the same answer.

I'm sure it's fair to say that all of us have lived in a special house that had a hand in shaping who we are today. It might not have been the most beautiful or most expensive house, just the one that we became "one" with. For me, it was the old house I grew up in, situated on Skyuka road in Columbus, NC. This is the house that "built me."

This past Christmas, my husband and I attended a Rescue Squad Banquet where we were seated with a man and his wife and their teenage son. The lady's elderly parents had bought my old home place back when mother married her late husband Yates. We began to talk about the old house and how it may become vacant in the near future due to failing health of the proprietors. I was enthralled in talking about this house to the point that my husband had to nudge me several times during the conversation. Imposing annoying questions on almost perfect strangers concerning certain little quirks about my old home didn't sit very well with him.

I directed my inquisitions at the son, who I thought might have paid closer attention to the small details of his grandparents house. I began on the line of "is it still there?" My first question was directed towards the old rose bush growing just to the left of the driveway. My sister Sue and I would hurry down there every Easter morning just to see who could find the biggest and prettiest red rose to pin onto our Easter dress, informing everyone that our mother, was living. This was important as a little girl, since my mother was everything to me.

Next, my thoughts meandered to the front porch. There to the right as you walk up the steps was an unusual marking, made with stucco. It was fourth grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Coleena Smith was coming for a visit. Up to this time, my house's exterior was ugly cinder block. The word coming from mother and daddy was that our house would soon be "stuccoed" with a new method that would actually look like "real brick!" I hoped and prayed that it would be completed in time for Mrs. Smith's visit, so she wouldn't think that I was just a poor little girl living in a cinder block house. Finally, the day had come for my teacher's annual visit in the home. The workers had completed stuccoing my house the day before and I was so excited. As a child, I sure couldn't tell that it wasn't real brick and I felt sure Mrs. Smith wouldn't either. As I took a tour of the worker's job, I noticed a strange marking, unlike the brick pattern, on one of the steps that resembled an "Indian symbol." I cried, knowing that this unusual marking would alert Mrs. Smith to the fact that our house had been covered in "stucco," instead of real brick.

Now, I enter the house. "Are the counters in the kitchen still orange?" I ask. The mother interrupts, to comment that she could never understand why anybody would put "orange" counter tops in a kitchen. I'm not sure of the reasoning behind that. I might mention that my mother also drove an "orange Volkswagen beetle" in those days as well. To the left as you enter the hallway was my mother and daddy's room. This room became a beacon to me growing up. Cracking the door and gently calling my mother's name on a sick day or a return from the prom, letting them know that I needed to share. The small bathroom housed an attic door, where I envisioned monsters peeking out at me when I was a child. On down was my brother Jay's room. Many a night, my brother would work hard to come up with schemes to scare the living daylights out of me and my sister Sue. One night in particular, he had tied a string to the clothes basket which sat directly outside our bedroom door. When lights had been turned out, brother Jay began to pull the string to his bedroom, giving the appearance of the basket moving all by itself. For two little girls, a "ghost"was in the house! At last my questions end with my bedroom. A room that had meant the world to me. Of course I had to ask about a certain hole in the sheetrock located in the rear of the clothes closet. The young man smiled as I told him the story of the love notes which had been stashed in that old hole as I was growing up.

Ever since that evening, I have had a fever to go back to that old house just one more time. It seems that mother isn't the only one who longs to to go home.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Cow's Tale

For some time now, my siblings and I have been wrestling with the idea of selling mother's cows. With her move to my house in upcoming months, it would not be feasible to keep them. My mother has always been a lover of all animals, but not as much as she became after marrying her second husband Yates.

Yates had lived on a farm all his life, so when they wed, the cows and farm were already in place. Through the years, mother began to think of her cows as "family," naming the calves at birth and nursing those whose mother was unfortunate enough to not survive the birthing process.

I recall such an incident with one little bull who Mother and Yates named Toro. Every day, they would give Toro his feedings through a bottle which closely resembled one like "Shrek" might have drank out of. With mother and Yates' good care, Toro grew and grew until he was ripe for market. Mother struggled with giving him up, but eventually, she would agree. After all, this was the whole idea of a cattle farm. Even though it hurt to let him go, she said her goodbyes and off he went. For days, she would cry at the thought of her baby, Toro becoming someone's Saturday night barbecue. It was around that time that mother gave up eating red meat altogether. To this day, we have to sneak beef into her food, but even with dementia, mother can usually point it out.

Another cow that was special to mother and Yates, was a heifer named "Babysitter." Yates gave her this because she had been on the farm so long and had cared for so many little stray calves who had become motherless for some reason or other. Mother had asked Yates many times before his death as to what would be done with "Babysitter" when she got really old. His instructions were that she was to remain with the farm until she died.

With "Babysitter" remaining on the farm, the decision was made to sell the rest of the cattle except for two other heifers which would keep "Babysitter" company. With no bulls in sight, these three would live the rest of their days in mother's pastures.

What a sad decision it was to sell the cows, but all the while knowing that it was the right decision. Becoming a middle aged child, has brought along with it, many responsibilities that I have not been prepared for. The awesome task of caring for aged parents is one of the things I had never really given much thought about. I suppose I just thought they would live until it was time to die and then go on to Heaven. Not once did I think about me and others filling the role as a "caregiver." Dementia or no Dementia, it is a trying time in life which no doubt is inevitable for all of us. One thing for certain, we all have parents and will soon have to make decisions for them that we had rather not make.

When the day finally arrived, mother's long time farm helper Donald, was consulted as to just how we would go about this deed, without making mother the wiser. We decided that he would gather the cows up for market just like he had done every year and when mother inquired as to what was happening, we would just say that "Donald is just taking them to the market, mother."

It was a Wednesday, and we had planned for him to take the first load off when I would have mother away for her weekly hair appointment. The timing got off somehow and I arrived to drive her to the salon. Upon arrival, I noticed that Donald and helper were down loading up the cows. As I exited my car, mother awaited me at the garage door with a puzzled look on her face. We could hear noises of metal clanking and banging, cows bellowing and mooing as they were loading up. "What's going on down there?" she asked. With the answer as planned, I replied, "now mother, you know that Donald takes off some cattle every year, and this year is no different." With one look at mother's face, we both broke into tears. She heads on into the house, sobbing and talking about how she can never get use to them being sold, knowing that they would be killed. I have to say, I was really caught off guard with my feelings and would catch myself days later, in tears as I relived this scenario.

It's been several months now since this grim deed has taken place. Mother has not once mentioned where her cows have gone. Once again, Dementia has come to the rescue.

Every time I come up mother's drive, I can spy her three cows. Looking at "Babysitter," I remember her days on mother and Yates' farm as that faithful mother and caretaker of the little ones. I am comforted to know that she will remain here until she moves on to greener pastures.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Remember Me"

It's Friday, and I have gotten the word that my sister Sue is coming to spend the night with mother. An added bonus is that her daughter Shelly and son Noah will be coming on Saturday to stay the night as well. This will give my husband and I some much needed rest from caring for mother. No matter how much I love her, the idea of a little free time away feels really good.

My husband and I have decided to go out for supper for the evening, before heading off to our newly found favorite shopping stores; Lowe's and Home Depot. Spending Saturdays working on plumbing and electrical for mother's new addition, comes with several costs; financially as well as physical. Upon returning home, I notice we have several calls. Pressing the "play" button, I hear my mother's voice. She begins by saying, "Sue, Sue and Bill are coming to spend the night with me. If you want to come and visit for a while, come on down. " Second call: "Sue, thought you would want to know that Sue is coming to spend the night with me, but if you still want to come, you can." Third call: "Sue called and she and Bill are coming to spend the night...wait a minute, I guess you are Sue, well I don't know then...this Dementia is really working on me Jean" finally she calls my name, only because she has said that phrase many, many times.

Sue arrives and mother is excited that she has come. The weekend goes by fast, and it's Sunday already. It feels really strange being away from mother for even two days. My sister and niece have kept me informed via text messages along the way, but not to see mother or talk to her, seems really weird. The only thing I can liken it to, is being away from your child. You're so glad for the time away, but it feels as if a part of you is missing.

A friend of mine gave me the following poem. Reading it, I was humbled and reminded of the many things that my mother has done for me, and now I've been handed the baton:

Remember Me
by Kenneth Chafin

When you forget your own address
and find yourself on strange streets, we'll sell your car,
and I'll drive you to all the places you need to go,
like you did for me when I was a child.

When you forget how to dress
and end up with three sweaters, two sets of panty hose, and a slip on over your dress,
I'll help you to look proper when you go out,
like you did for me when I was a child.

When the words on the menu don't match the pictures in your mind,
and you keep ordering things you won't eat,
then I'll order the food that I know you'll enjoy,
like you did for me when I was a child.

When finding your way at church is frightening,
I'll take you to your class and pick you up and let you sit with me in big church.
If the sermon seems long and you get sleepy,
I'll let you put your head on my shoulder,
like you did for me when I was a child.

When hot and cold faucets confuse you,
I'll put you in a tub of warm water and give you a bath,
like you did for me when I was a child.

When you forget who people are
and can't tell your family from total strangers,
I'll be your memory and tell you their names
like you did for me when I was a child.

When they're having a party for all the residents,
and you want to go but don't know what to wear,
I'll make you a costume that everyone will envy
like you did for me when I was a child.

When you forget who I am,
not just my name or my birthday, but that you ever had children,
then there isn't much I can do but go somewhere and cry,
like I sometimes did when I was a child.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Picture Window

It's that time of the year again, spring flowers, rain showers, daylight savings time and income taxes. It's only 7 o'clock, but mother has already called my house asking when and who will be coming to her house to spend the night. I have reminded her at least 6 times this evening that my husband and I would be down, just as soon as he finished up with our income taxes. It doesn't matter how many times you tell a dementia person something, they will only remember what you are telling them at that very moment and mother is no exception.

My husband Bob is becoming a little agitated at the fact that I am pacing the floor at the mere thought of what mother can be doing down at her house as night falls. With my imagination booming, I decide to drive ahead and be with mother until Bob finishes up and can join us. Some people may ask, "why don't you just stay with your mother and let Bob stay home?" In earlier blogs, I have told of my cowardly personality. I, like my mother, become very antsy when night comes and I'm alone. Especially after all the hallucinations mother has experienced in the past several years, there is no way in this world that I would spend the night at her house alone.

I have called ahead of time to tell mother that I am arriving. As I enter her living room, I notice that she only has a lamp on. My husband has a habit of reading at night and requires the overhead. But, since he's not here yet, mother seems quite comfortable using the one lamp. I quickly turn the television on and sit down on the couch while mother and dog Annie sit on the love seat. Feeling that my eyes need a little bit more light, I jump up and flip the overhead light on. "What in the world are you doing?" she calls out, everybody out there's going to see us sitting in here," she continues. Who's everybody? I ask. "Well, that old woman and those men that walk by from time to time," she answers. Mother begins to tell me that the reason she doesn't sit in her living room at night is because of "others" being able to see her. Only since Bob and I have been staying with her at night, has she dared to stay in her living room.

When mother and her late husband Yates built this house, my sisters and I had a hand in doing some decorating. My sister Sue had the honor of buying window toppers which hung directly over the picture window, allowing for little coverage. Since mother had Yates at the time, she never felt threatened by someone peeping in. Later, when Yates passed, mother decided she needed to cover the window. My sisters and I decided that vertical blinds would be the perfect solution for mother's huge picture window. It wasn't long before we decided differently. Night after night as mother tried to draw the blinds shut, they began to fall. Mother would rant and rave asking anyone who would to help place the blinds back in their perspective slots. I remember once, mother had asked the Termite man to lend a hand. Eventually, she gave in and decided to abandon her living room at hint of night fall and head for her bedroom where no one could peep in.

Growing up at the old home place, a picture window hung in mother's living room as well. Mother enjoyed shopping for curtains and sheers which hung so beautifully, covering every inch of her window. My dad always had a grumble or two for mother's decorating abilities as he could never understand just why someone would pay hundreds of dollars for a picture window and then cover it up with a pile of curtains. I recall a time in my life when I favored daddy's sentiments.

It was around the year 1965. My sister Sue and I had been noticing a white Volkswagon van passing by the house each day pretty close to 4 o'clock. There just happened to be two boys in there, sporting "Beatle" haircuts. Inquiring around the neighborhood, we learned that these handsome young men, were the sons of a prominent doctor and had moved in just about a mile up the road from us. Being as these two were of some considerable wealth, their education carried them all the way to a private school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, hindering us from meeting them at our local public school. We quickly found out that their names were John and Jody Paul. Daydreams and a quick look at them out mother's picture window as they passed by our house each day, was as close as we would ever get to them. One day in particular, my sister and I had got caught off guard. It was our daily duty to have mother's curtains drawn and sheers pulled back and neatly tucked under her oil lamp which sat on the stereo just in front of the picture window, so we could spy our new found crushes. Sounds of the Paul brother's VW van began to make its way up our road. "Sue!" I called, "come here, we're going to miss them!" Running into the living room, Sue quickly drew the drapes as I flung back mother's sheers, unveiling the window and knocking mother's old oil lamp to the floor, breaking it into a million pieces.

Mother's first picture window provided many fond memories of her family: a husband returning home from work each day, children as they played in the yard, a son, arriving home from war, her daughter's first dates, visits from grandchildren. But, through this picture window, mother has gathered only nightmares: so called mountain climbers repelling off cliffs late at night, animals that looked like lions with white fluffy tails, dogs decorated in Christmas colors, strangers peering back at her late into the night, party goers who frequent the old dilapidated home place of her deceased husband, night lights dancing up and down her creek banks, signaling to others of their whereabouts. Dementia has turned mother's beautiful picture window into a window of horrors.

Tonight, as I peer into the darkness of the window, all I can see is the reflection of a middle aged woman, longing to be at home with her husband and family.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Whistler's Mother

It's really late and my husband and I are both yawning as we lean back in mother's livingroom watching television. Before we began staying with mother at night, it was next to impossible to get her to watch TV. Time and time again, my siblings and I had all but jumped up and down, begging and pleading for her to watch, something! Knowing that having the stimulation of people's voices as well as just knowing someone was in sight other than a dog or cow, would prove to be beneficial to mother, so we thought.

I have began to notice that mother is becoming more and more attached to some of the TV shows that Bob and I choose to watch each night. "I need to go to bed, but I want to see who they pick," mother accidentally blurts out. It's American Idol night, and my husband has done me the honors of installing a small antenna on the roof and one in the window, just so I can watch my favorite program. "Well, just wait a few more minutes" I tell her. "Where in the world is my dog?" she inquires. "She's outside as usual mother," I say. Without failure, mother's dog Annie will go to the door somewhere close to bedtime each night and beg to go out. Aware that it will take an Act of Congress to get her back in, my husband obliges her anyway, leaning back from his comfy chair and opens the door for her without getting up.

We sit and listen as Annie chases any and everything from a rabbit to a deer outside mother's front door. If you dare open the door and beckon her to come in, she'll take off running as if you've shot a gun! For several nights now, I have had the good fortune of getting her in the house only by "whistling." It's a well known fact, that most Gibsons are good "whistlers." My dad was one of the best whistlers I have ever known. For many years, passerbyers in our small town could enjoy his many tunes as he whistled while he worked on his customer's vehicle.

I sit quietly as mother and my husband both give out threatening warnings to mother's friend Annie. Nothing doing, she will not come in. Thinking that I will soon show my clout by displaying a few whistles, I jerk my neck around as I hear someone whistling so loud that I am in disbelief. Knowing that my husband Bob has many attributes, but whistling not one of them, I say, "mother, was that you?" "Why yes, you 'Doorbell,' who did you think it was?" she smarts. The name she has chosen to call me is not enough , but the fact that my 82 year old mother has just whislted like a tea pot, is the biggest surprise of all!

Annie comes in and as the routine goes, she and mother began their nightly walk down the hall to mother's bedroom as I hear mother say, "Come on "Annie Marie let's go to bed!" My husband and I spontaneously look at each other with my jaw dropping as we hear her words. For as long as I can remember, I have called my granddaughter "Gracie" who is five years old, "Gracie Marie." I have never been able to figure out just why I have given her this nickname. Only this past week, Gracie had come to spend the day at my house when she had informed me that since she was a big girl now, she no longer wanted me to call her "Marie." Saddened at the fact that she is growing up now and that my given nickname for her no longer warms her heart, I pretend to cry. I ask again, "Gracie, can't I please call you Marie, that's Nana's special name for you." "Seeing that she has made me sad, Gracie relents and agrees to allow me to call her the name that I thought was so special.

Tonight, I have learned two things about my mother; one, she can whistle like a bird and two, she is the creator of my beloved granddaughter Gracie's nickname "Marie." For me, I have learned only one thing, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."