Conversations: The Circular Kind

She keeps asking me if I’ve eaten.

As soon as I walk into a room, she asks. Or if I’m sitting down somewhere, reading or on the computer she sticks her head around the corner and says in a vaguely scolding tone, “Tori, what have you eaten?” I dutifully list everything that has entered my mouth in the last 5 or 6 hours, and she looks at me skeptically. Her expression makes me laugh and I say, “What possible reason in the world would I have to lie about whether I’ve eaten or not?” And then she laughs too, a little sheepishly, and says something like, “Well, you never know, you might just be saying that!”

I’m not the only one she asks; all day long she queries Madi Rose, Charlotte and Russ about it too. Even if she’s the one who made them breakfast 30 minutes ago (poaching eggs is really about the only cooking she does these days, especially when we are here), she will still walk into the den or call out from the next room, “Russ, can I fix you something to eat? Charlotte, have you eaten?” To be totally honest, it’s kind of maddening, but it’s also heartbreaking. Mom has always been a self-proclaimed ‘food pusher’ even before her short-term memory was shot to hell, but now that she literally can’t remember that she just asked you the same question three minutes ago, it seems there is some kind of incessant low-level anxiety drumbeat rising from somewhere deep in her mother-psyche: FEED THEM FEED THEM FEED THEM! It’s a nurturing impulse on steroids, a primal maternal instinct that is surely linked to the fact that she spent the majority of her life raising (six hungry) kids.

I remember her telling me once that the only recurring dream she ever has is that it’s the end of the day and she suddenly remembers that she has a baby that she has completely forgotten about, and it has somehow been left alone somewhere in the house unattended and unfed all day. As if!

Her memory issues are so baffling and weird.  I assume that technically it’s a form of dementia, but her cognizance and reasoning powers are still very much intact. She gets and makes jokes, she asks perfectly logical questions about what is going on with friends and acquaintances of ours that she has met in the past, and she carries on conversations easily. But she’s fuzzy on things like what day it is, and when she is under any kind of stress (which these days translates into anything outside of her normal daily routine), she gets even fuzzier. It’s increasingly hard to get her out of the house for any reason, and Carolyn has been unsuccessfully trying to lure her out to get her hair trimmed for weeks, now. She’s just more comfortable being here, in the house she shared with Daddy, following her routine and puttering about with faithful (and ROTUND– Mom forgets she’s already fed her) Pandy by her side. Her life is getting smaller and smaller.

She dozes off in chairs more these days, and isn’t as physically active as she was even last year at this time. Of course she still had Daddy to take care of then, so even at 94 she was still doing some of her trademark bustling about. Her main focus, her raison d’etre if you will, was to cram as much healthy food and fruit down Daddy as she possibly could, trying to keep him strong (and HERE.) She speaks of Daddy often and easily, and we talk at length about his last days, and the blessed gentleness of his passing. But this Christmas season has been very hard on her without him, much harder than Thanksgiving seemed to be, maybe because she had so many thundering hordes of out-of-town children and grandchildren to distract her. This time it has just been Russ, the girls and I staying here with her, and though we have had a lot of people and food and puzzles and Nerts games going on, it has been a bit low-key compared to Thanksgiving and she has more time to feel the loss. Counting their courting and engagement days, this is the first Daddy-free Christmas she has spent in about 76 years or so, and part of her still can’t believe he has actually gone and left her here without him. On New Year’s Eve, she (repeatedly) said in a sad little voice, “Well, I sure hope next year will be happier than this one.” I silently and fervently hope/wish/pray that it will be, too– but I worry.

There’s been some (purposely vague) talk about checking out assisted living places, to no avail. Carolyn continues to offer her home to Mom, talking up the benefits of having her own ‘apartment’ space downstairs and plenty of privacy with the added benefit and security of family/company whenever she wants– but Mom wants to stay on here in her own home as long as she can, and brushes aside our carefully worded suggestions and options with a firm, “When the time comes for me to make a change, I’ll just know.” We all nod sagely and smile nervously, then when she leaves the room we whisper our concerns to each other about the questionable wisdom of that choice and how the truth is, we are pretty dang powerless to do anything about it right now anyway, unless we want to put a gun to her tiny little white head and order her to do what WE think is best for her. Which isn’t going to happen. So we’re at an impasse– a loving, stressful, fearful, faithful, respectful impasse.

Here is my New Year’s prayer:

Dear God,

When it is indeed “time,” please make sure she does indeed “know.” And good luck with that. I humbly suggest that You might want to think about bringing back that whole Old Testament handwriting on the wall thing, because seriously? She may be a little old lady, but she’s stubborn as all get-out. But I guess You know that, because You made her.  Anyway, thank you for loving her as much as we do.


18 Responses

  1. rachelbaker

    Beautiful and heartbreaking. My prayers are with you.

  2. KellyBurton

    I love you, friend.

  3. bettyrwoodward

    Glad you could be with her over Christmas. God bless you all.

  4. Gramma Jac

    I read this a couple of hours ago and have been just thinking about it–so beautifully written! My Gramma (who raised me)is 89 and her mind is amazingly sharp–she loves to remind my Mom and I when WE forget and SHE remembers. But she physically is weakening and thinks a lot about dying. (Last year at this time she said she hoped she didn’t die until spring so we didn’t have to worry about the roads!) It’s so hard to see her fade.

    Has anyone read Billy Graham’s new book? I’ve been thinking about buying it for her–but maybe I should read it first. (Then it would be more like “Oh I read this great book, Gramma,…”)

    Anyway, Tori, thanks for writing this and touching our hearts,, your Mom and your whole family are in my prayers!

  5. auburn60

    Your mother reminds me so much of my grandmother, even though your mother has already outlived my grandmother by a year. My grandmother lived alone, widowed, for 26 years. I think she “knew” when the time had come to make a change and move to an assisted living facility closer to my aunt’s home. She never admitted it,mind you, she just stopped fighting it. She sat and watched all the family dismantle her house and take things out of closets and cabinets and never said a word. I didn’t unload or pack up a thing. If all my cousins,aunt and uncle,parents all thought I was just lazy … SO BE IT. If they thought I was going through her stuff with her sitting right there,looking at me with that look on her face, well, they were crazy. After spending part of the holidays with my in-laws we have determined that we have to have the talk about their driving abilities with them. My MIL rarely drives but my FIL is nearly blind in one eye and has Meniere’s Disease but doesn’t think he is impaired at all. This is probably not a conversation that will go well. And I’m with your mom…I’m looking for 2012 to be better.

  6. gracelynn

    I know the feeling, Tori. I’m watching my dad daily and seeing his memory beginning to fail him, even though he is fighting with every fiber of his being. And he’s only 71. It can be discouraging and scary sometimes. Praying for you!

  7. cokercats

    This is where I am now with my mom who is 87. She has vascular dementia. This was caused by several mini-strokes she has had. She had no symptoms of a stroke. We only noticed her memory, mostly her short term memory, going downhill. A neurologist ordered some scans of her brain, and explained the results.

    She has been put on Aricept, but I cannot see that it is helping. Currently she is in a nursing home, for some rehabilitation therapy (she had celluitis in her leg and had i.v. therapy for almost 3 weeks, now they are working on clearing up a fungal infection).

    Tonight when I visited her, it was hard. She kept insisting that she had been somewhere out to eat lunch and she had no money to pay for it. I explained to her, once again, where she was and why she was there. She said she knew where she was, but was adamant that she had gone out to eat. I lovingly explained that perhaps she had gone to the dining room for lunch, instead of eating in her room, but she insisted they had gone out. I finally gave up out of frustration. You cannot really reason with someone who sincerely believes what they are saying is true, when their brain obviously remembers something different.

    She is on coumadin, a blood thinner, to prevent reoccurance of a stroke. But, I found out recently that the nursing home had discontinued it for a bit, because of the antibiotics she had been on. You don’t just stop it; if your blood becomes too thin, you skip a few days and then resume at a lower dosage. I am worried she’s had another mini stroke while in there, since they stopped it. I don’t know how long she went without, but I am going to get my husband to inquire.

    The past couple of days she has insisted that she has been “working” there and that she’s going to get a job there when she gets out. She knows who everyone is, but her memory about what exactly happened earlier in the day is shot.

    It is hard. I don’t know that we can afford to keep her there. She lives a 1/2 mile from us and still lives alone (my dad passed away several years ago). Even a full time caregiver, once she is discharged, would be cost prohibitive. You pretty much have to sell your house and give everything to medicare to afford a nursing home.

    Saying prayers that your dear momma will remain safe and happy.

  8. sweeziek1956

    Tori, isn’t it something how we come full circle in life. What a plan God had!! We learn about how to care for others as we watch our folks take care of us. Then it seems as if we turn around twice and the roles have reversed…now we are THEIR caregivers. Good thing they taught us so well!!!

    I feel for what you’re going through but you make my heart happy by the way in which you CHOOSE to REACT so lovingly to your Mom’s dementia. You nurture, you listen, you do everything you can to be supportive, and you share your life with all of us so WE can be better prepared when we face the same situation. Oh, you COULD rant, rave and hurt her feelings to no end but you CHOOSE compassion and grace instead.

    My Dad is 86 and a widower for 4 years this coming Sunday. He is too lonely for words but only my Mom could fill that void and since THAT’S not about to happen, well, we try to help him stay as active as he is able. He repeats everything to each of his children (me, my older sister and older brother) a half a dozen times. Also, I beg the citizens of HS to steer VERY CLEAR of him when he’s driving as he has passed his ‘prime’ for that one, too. In my opinion he needs to be in an assisted living facility — NOT a nursing home — but at this point he’s the only one who can make that decision. He had severe carbon monoxide poisoning a few months ago because he pulled into his garage, put the door down behind him, got out of the truck and went into the house BUT HE FORGOT TO TURN THE TRUCK OFF!!!! Only by God’s grace is he here at all!!

    Like your Mom, Tori, he says he will just KNOW when it’s time. Well, suppose WE know it’s TIME before THEY do?!? Is there a way to convince them that the time is NOW? Oh my, and then there’s the dilemma of how to take the car keys??? FATHER, COME QUICKLY!!!! Or like Fred Sanford, I’m gonna have the BIG ONE!!!

    Maintain your sense of humour and keep sharing tidbits of your life, please, because I, for one, always feel renewed after reading your posts.

  9. bettyrwoodward

    Gramma Jac We bought Billy Graham’s new book for my mother in law, aged 89, for Christmas and she is loving it. I haven’t read it myself but she says it is great.

  10. Barbara M. Lloyd

    As soon as I finish here,I’m calling my library for a talking book copy of Billy Graham’s latest writing. I’ve been talking about it for weeks so it’s the next thing on my agenda today.

    Well, at 81 I feel as if I can see both sides, except I’m realistic to know that there comes a time when a child may be forced to become the parent when safety is of concern. I pray all of the time that I will know when it is time for me to go into an assisted living facility and my children won’t have to make that decision for me. I was so proud of myself when I turned off the car ignition for the last time and told my children I would no longer be driving. I was so afraidI might hit a child or pet driving down my street and just couldn’t take that chance….but, oh my, it was not an easy decision. Losing one’s independence is very difficult…..but giving up one’s home is heart breaking. My mother came home with me and then into a nursing home eight years later when I could no longer lift her. I cried much harder than she did….in looking back I admire hereven more than I did back then because in leaving her home and then leaving my home….she was doing it for me. I want to be like her. She adapted so well and came to enjoy it there. Mother was a people person and, so, she enjoyed the friends and activities around her all day long….another gift to me.

    We kid around here, my older son and I, that he is keeping a list of “laughable” (he is so kind) things I do so that when I get to 100 I’ll know it is time. I used to confess to those kind of happenings, but for some reason I’m not as free with confessing as I used to be. (lol) I have great kids and each has asked me to live with them when the time comes, but I do not want to live with any of my children. My mother lived with me and while I wouldn’t have done it any other way,I know the restrictions it puts on a family, especially with children….and I don’t want that. Besides, I want to live in my own home with my little dog for as long as I am able….and I pray my Lord will tell me first when it is time for me to move to an assisted living home or nursing home….I’ll let Him decide that one. I just hope He will pick one where I can play my Russ’ music real loud.

  11. Gramma Jac

    Thanks Betty! I really want to read it!

    Barbara, you may be like a dear lady that just passed away at the age of 109. She was in a nursing home,…she entered it from her own apartment and 2 weeks later turned 106!!!

    Gramma will drive during the day a few blocks to the grocery store, but has voluntarily limited herself little by little (first, no driving to Madison, then no driving at night, etc.) As for leaving her house, she would LOVE to in many ways–she is continuously stressed, worrying about the roof, the lawn, the shrubs,….and the cost of upkeep.But there are no apartments or assisted livings in her town and, since that’s where her friends (and card-playing buddies)are, she doesn’t want to go elsewhere!! (By the way, she worries about those things even with a family that helps her out!)

    My Father-in-Law will–I pray–die farming!! He had heart surgery in March and was in the nursing home over 1 weekend. It wasn’t good. (He was a little goofy from anasthesia.) He kept using their phone–later we found out he was calling everyone he knew to come and take him home!!! :-) (He’s 81 and recently announced he’s doing crops on THREE farms this next year–up from 2!)

    Cokercats (where does that name come from?)–you’re in my prayers too! I work in Nursing Homes and see how hard it can be! If it happens again, just tell her you’ll go pay for it right away!

    Last spring I went to a PHENOMENAL workshop about dementia and how to deal with certain aspects. The speaker was Teepa Snow (; snippets of her talks are on YouTube, plus she has DVDs for sale (haven’t seen them) pretty inexpensive, I think around $40. If they’re anywhere close to as good as her workshop–I learned more in one day than I have at MANY other workshops combined!

  12. LindaB

    Amen to your moving prayer, Tori. I’ll pray that with you.

    I know every time you write about your mom or dad, it’s Kleenex time!

  13. LindaB

    Oh…….and what have you had to eat today, Tori? ;)

  14. Gramma Jac

    Love you LindaB!!!!

  15. LindaB

    ((((Gramma Jac)))) Same here.

    And I wish everyone in the Bloomr nation a very happy, prosperous, and healthy 2012! We are all one year closer to seeing Heaven and the Lover of Our Souls!

  16. Gramma Jac

    ((((LindaB)))) right back at ya!

    Tori, we’re all bonding out here!!

    Tori, you said (on Twitter–am I becoming your crazed stalker fan?!?!?)that Mark Lowry earned some stars for his crown today–well, I think you’ve earned a few with this blog!!!!

    BTW–if I’m going to be your crazed stalker,…what’s happening with a potential move?!?!? (Said stalker has to be able to FIND the stalkee!)
    And your current house–did your cleaning pay off?

  17. JanetB

    My heart aches for all of you. Truly…I’ve been there.

    Momma Lloyd, if I know you, you will be as gracious as can be when the time comes. And maybe you should rethink not wanting to live with one of your kids…you are not your mother, you know.

    Oh…I could probably fill the Library of Congress with stories about dealing with my parents during their decline. Daddy had severe dementia (caused by mini-strokes, plus a head injury); Mom had severe osteoporosis (her leg bones were only shadows on the x-rays) & was confined to a wheelchair most of the time. Daddy needed 24/7 supervision & constant care – his short term memory was nonexistent. Mom’s only mission in life was taking care of him…how she managed to do that for so long is a mystery, but she was a force of nature. (I think that even God must have been scared of her at times!) She fought for every inch of their independence, even as it was eroding right in front of her. Even getting someone to come in to help with the housework once a week was a major battle. I still have scars…

    All of that being said…she was goofy & funny…and she was still my mother. And Daddy remained sweet & loving, even if he didn’t quite know who we all were…he felt that he SHOULD know us, so he did what we asked him to do. His body & mind failed him, but God in His mercy left Daddy’s ability to love unconditionally intact. So grateful for that…

    Tori, the last day that I was with my mom (a week after Daddy died & about 2 weeks before she went Home), she was in the nursing home, confined to her bed…on oxygen (she had cancer)…really a pathetic sight. Oh, but – she was still Emma. To her core. My sister & I spent the whole day with her – do you know what her biggest concern was? What we were going to eat. Yep – my mother the food pusher. It was funny because she had complained to me about the food there…but she wanted us to eat there, anyway. I said, “Wait – I thought you didn’t like the food here.” “Well no…but someone should eat it.” Gee thanks, Mom. :)

    Guys…you know what I learned? Going through all of it…the struggles…the worry…the heartache…the disappointments…when I was smack in the middle of it all, it was so dark. It just seemed to be the never-ending nightmare…jump one hurdle & five more appeared…no exit. No light. I felt so utterly alone at times…but of course, I wasn’t. I hadn’t been forgotten & neither had my mom & dad. It was a season…and it ended, just as all seasons do. All in His time. And you know, at the end, my mother realized just what a strain she put on all of us with her obstinance. However, I doubt she would’ve been any different if we had to do it again…she was who she was. And I suppose that I inherited some of her perserverance. (Ask the hubby – he’ll tell you I’m stubborn. LOL)

    Prayers for blessings for all of you…for grace & wisdom…and a healthy dose of humor!

  18. DonnaMariePatterson

    I miss my mama and daddy. I thank God for the promise that I will see them again – happy and whole! Sending prayers and love.

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