This just in! A text photo from my mom’s new caregiver! This is the first text I’ve received from my mom’s Assisted Living Home that I’m thrilled to receive because it helps close the miles between us. For those of you who don’t know, my mom was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s in 2005 when she was 68 and she was moved into an Assisted Living Home in May of 2012 at the age of 74. She lives in Minnesota and I’m in Virginia so updates like this picture are a joy! Since mom’s Home is in a neighborhood, I understand the neighborhood children come into the house every Halloween and walk down the line of residents who pass out candy. I bet mom loved that!
I was thinking about my tire as I walked into Costco the other day. My daughter and I had recently gone on one of our “let’s drive and get lost” excursions where we hop on a country road to see where it takes us. It’s a fun activity if you live in the country like we do and are still learning about the surrounding area.
Yesterday we learned that you can drive along the Shenandoah River when traveling south from West Virginia to Virginia. We also learned that when you get a large nail in your tire it will sound like a flat at first, but the sound will eventually go away as the nail is driven further and further into the tire.
So I was on my way into the Costco Tire Center to get my tire looked at, when an older and a middle-aged woman were walking out together. The older woman beamed brightly at me and said hello. I said hello back and continued into the store as it slowly dawned on me there was something familiar about this older woman.
I turned around and easily caught up with them as they were standing in the entrance. The older woman was still looking at me and smiled as I got closer. Like an old friend, I put my hands out to grab hers and I said “I just wanted to say hello and tell you how lovely you look today.” This sweet woman with her innocent face and twinkly eyes said “Ohhh! I love you so much!” Then she wrapped her arms around me and didn’t let go.
We stood there like that, hugging and saying I love you over and over, while her daughter, who looked to be the same age as me, and I carried out a quick conversation over her mother’s head. How many years? Since 2003. Do you have support? Some. She’s beautiful. Thank you. Such a joy! Yes, we’re fortunate. I briefly told her about my mom who is so similar. The daughter seemed embarrassed and frazzled as she apologized for her mom who was in my arms like a child with her head against my chest, loving on me. I said, “please don’t apologize — it’s okay, I love her too; she’s beautiful.”
I found love at Costco. We didn’t know each other, but we were like magnets, pulled close together by an invisible force, both knowing we weren’t strangers at all.
We reluctantly said our good-byes, and then I proceeded to sit down outside the tire center and bawl like a baby. I cried for my mom and this sweet woman who are both so lost, yet profoundly present at the same time. But mostly, I cried because when I cry, I know it’s the deepest part of me letting go of my mother. And when the tears come, I know it’s time to let go just a little bit more.
Visiting with my mom is always an adventure. I never know what she’s going to say or do and it’s fascinating to watch and participate in her crazy shenanigans. My goal was to keep her laughing. As long as she was doing that, then I figured we were okay. Or maybe that just made it easier for me.
My sister and I needed mom to try on a “picture outfit” for family photos we had done. When we removed her clothing we noticed she had a wash cloth stuck down her bra and in her pocket. We said “someone’s been folding towels today” and then proceeded to laugh hysterically. Mom will stuff any and everything in her pockets to the point of them looking like chipmunk cheeks. But a wash cloth in the bra was a first.
Okay, I’ll just say it. Mom acts like a young adolescent and she’s in a, shall we say, sexual stage right now. I don’t know how many times she lifted her shirt to show us her bra. She was either pulling on her shirt pretending she had large pointy breasts or she was lifting her shirt and flashing us. This activity was always followed with laughter that reminded me of a young girl at a slumber party. Once, when we were in the car, she found a compact umbrella and well, with the size and shape of it, and with her young mind in the gutter . . . one thing led to another and let’s just say I never imagined my mom ever doing that with an umbrella! And she laughed and laughed like a school girl with a mischievous look in her eyes. Okay, it was a little funny — but mostly we were just shocked. This was so out of character for mom.
I can’t count how many times we hugged. I’m talking about the best hugs. Mom could charge money for those hugs. Warm, embracing, long, loving, everything is going to be okay hugs. (sigh)
She called me by name a couple of times, but there were a few times that I was standing right next to her and she said to me, “I think that’s Joanne over there!” I’d say, yes that kind of looks like Joanne, but I don’t think it’s her. It felt wrong to say “I’m right here” — I didn’t want her to feel bad. Every single day, Mom asked when I was going to cut my hair. And every day my answer was the same — tomorrow.
We bought her new bedding, hung some more pictures and made sure her name was in all her clothing. We danced, laughed and sang songs. We took a hundred new photos and looked at old black and whites together.
Mom mentioned a couple of times that she’s ready to go home. One time she asked where her mom was. I wondered when that was coming, but it still surprised me. I told her, “she’ll be here soon.” I’m pretty sure the home she’s talking about isn’t the one she’s lived in for the last 45 years, but rather her childhood home in Wadena, MN.
Little 14 year old Ruthie Hall wants to go home. Oh how I’d like to make her wish come true.
We moved my mom into an Assisted Living Home on May 18th, 2012 without planning for it and with only two days notice. We barely had time to move her in and make her room feel like home before I flew out the next day. It sort of felt like I dropped my mom off at a daycare and then never picked her up. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it just felt wrong. One of the biggest events in my mom’s life was rushed, because I was rushed.
It’s been two months since mom’s been in her new home and I hear she’s doing great. But, I’m thrilled to be going back this week so I can see for myself. I also feel like this is a chance to take things slow and do some of the things I wanted to do in May.
Some things I’m looking forward to are:
Going for walks in the new neighborhood mom lives in.
Dining with mom and her new friends.
Washing dishes with mom.
Decorating her bedroom with old family photos and girlie stuff.
Maybe getting new bedding for her twin bed.
Taking mom to the beauty salon for a haircut.
Just being with my mom, and being fully present, with nothing but time on my hands.
My sister from Texas will also be there, and so with the Nelson family of five all together, we have a photo session scheduled at Lake Nokomis. We haven’t had a professional family photo taken in about 35 years, so this will be it — most likely the last shot of all of us together. You know the family pictures people take when someone has terminal cancer? That’s what this feels like. Except mom won’t look sick, she just won’t know what’s going on as she smiles innocently at the camera. I’ve given the photographer a heads up telling him, “my mom will think you’re an old friend, and she’ll be so happy to see you that she’ll probably hug you.” The photographer said that’s okay, his grandfather had Alzheimer’s and he’s very familiar with “going with the flow.” This disease touches us all.
This will be my first visit to see my parents in years when I haven’t had a major to-do list. I am so looking forward to just chilling and spending quality time with my family. Plus I have a date with Lake Harriet I need to attend to, (see Bucket List). There’s nothing like Minneapolis in July!
The 10K I ran in May was the last time I ran 6 miles . . . or 5 or 4 for that matter. Running 3 miles two or three days a week is about it, and even that has become difficult. Ugh! How can I lose 3 miles in one month?! The short answer? Stress. During my recent visit to Minneapolis that included moving my mom into her new Assisted Living home — I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t take care of myself and I didn’t run. I was a wreck and lost 5lbs in 10 days. I’m pretty sure those pounds were my newly acquired 10K muscles.
When I arrived back home in Virgina, I was sick for a week and felt like I’d been run over by a truck. And I’ve pretty much been under a rock ever since. Recovering. Keeping to myself in prime reclusive form. Avoiding people. Some might call this depression. But I like to think of my solitude as more of an adjustment period.
Adjusting is not new to me. As a mother, and even as a daughter of aging parents, the adjustments are aplenty. Putting my children on the kindergarten bus comes to mind, as well as watching my newly licensed children drive away for the first time. And of course there’s the adjustment period I’m currently in — letting go of my children as they learn to fly on their own, and letting go of my mom who is in her 7th year with Alzheimer’s.
The dictionary defines adjustment as “adaptation; harmony achieved by modification or change of a position.”
In the above definition, LETTING GO is my modification.
Letting go is saying YES TO WHAT IS. It’s saying yes to what is true right now. While we may not like what is true, if we are to live in harmony, we have no other choice than to let go and accept. The opposite of letting go is grasping, and with grasping comes wishing, wanting, clenching and suffering — not a harmonious place to be.
So I am working on letting go of my children and letting go of my mom. I am adjusting. I’m changing my position from being the center of my children’s lives to being silently by their side, readily available with a hug or advice, while they take the wheel and navigate the trajectory of their lives.
Letting go of my mom is different. I’m saying the real good bye as I let go of my mom. She is still with us, but because of Alzheimer’s, I’m saying good bye to the mom who sang in the church choir, hung clothes on the line and called my children by name. I’m saying good bye to the mom who sent birthday cards, visited me in Virginia and who called on the phone just to say hello. Since using the words “mom” and “daughter” are confusing, I’m saying good bye to them as well. I’ll be her friend. I’m changing my position from being a daughter she knew and loved to that of a being a really nice woman with a friendly smile who likes to hug. I’ll be her loving friend who calls her Ruth instead of mom . . . who will do anything for her.
Adjusting and letting go. Changing my position.
Soon, in a few years I would imagine, Alzheimer’s will complete it’s grip on my mom. Then I’ll be saying good bye to mom’s physical form. I’d like to think this won’t be too difficult as I’ll have said all my good byes by then. But I’m probably mistaken. And then I might be adjusting again.
All that we behold is full of blessings. ~ William Wordsworth
Yesterdays post about Alzheimer’s disease killing my mom was honest. It wasn’t meant to be anything other than that. I have experienced many emotions throughout the course of my mom’s disease. I’ve been sad, frustrated, joyful, embarrassed, protective, impatient, scared and yes angry. But I’ve also been grateful. And of all the emotional ups and downs this disease brings — gratefulness is my gift and comfort to myself.
My mother is still on this earth, she is in good hands, and I get to tell her everything in my heart over and over again.
Yes, I am grateful for Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of Alzheimer’s . . . .
My mom is free from the worries of the world and is generally happy.
I am closer with my parents because I am more involved in their lives.
I am also closer with my brother and sister who are my partners on this journey.
I have a pretty good idea of how and when my mother will die — it’s a gift in disguise.
I appreciate and treasure every moment I have with my mom, and those I love.
I know how and why to strive for fitness and health — including brain health.
I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
I see the fragility of life, and I try not to take things for granted.
I’m trying to live with intention and mindfulness.
I have a good reason to run!
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are
conscious of our treasures.~ Thornton Wilder
When I decided to write a blog, my intention was to write about what I’m doing to get healthy and hopefully prevent Alzheimer’s disease in myself. I didn’t want to write too much about my mom who has Alzheimer’s for a couple of reasons — first, there are already “caregiver” and “long goodbye” blogs out there, and writing about my mom was just too close and personal for me.
But, as you know, close and personal is where I’ve been lately.
Moving my mom into a residential home and then leaving the next day was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I’ve wanted to run back every day since then to hug her one more time and tell her everything will be okay. It feels like I dropped my child off at a babysitters never to pick her up again. Like she is watching out the window, waiting to go home and wondering why no one is coming.
Friday night was mom’s first night sleeping in her new home and I went over Saturday morning before my flight to check on her. I was told that she came out of her room “with spirit” and fully dressed to include her favorite pink baseball cap that says Winchester, VA. My mom then hugged the woman in charge and promptly sat down with a bowl of oatmeal and raisins.
Mom looked rested and she seemed to be alright as I visited with her. She didn’t ask me anything about going home or when we were leaving and she seemed content and at ease like she had always been there at that table with the newspaper in front of her. Although, I’ve heard she’s been asking lately when she’s going home.
As I was getting ready to leave I asked, “Do you like it here?”
Mom said, “Oh my yes!” “It’s like . . . it’s like . . . . it’s just like THIS” as she wrapped her arms around to give herself a big hug.
While my mom’s new home feels like a big hug, I’m sure there is a sense that it is not her home. I hope it starts feeling like home real soon — for mom’s comfort and our peace of mind. I hope.
I live far away from my parents and I’ll admit, I need to mentally prepare myself to be with them . . . especially my mom when I visit. My mom is not my mom anymore. It’s like a stranger is inhabiting my mother’s body — except my mother’s body doesn’t look like mom anymore either. Alzheimer’s disease has changed my mom both inside and out. She used to care how she looks, and now she doesn’t have the capacity to care. She used to be a familiar harbor, offering motherly comforts, and now she’s the one who needs comforting and reassurance.
But, I’ve been visiting my parents for almost a week now, and one thing is clear — my mom is full of Love.
Mom loves strangers. She actually believes that everyone is an old friend. She talks to most people, and she hugs them and tells them she loves them. She kissed an elderly woman she didn’t know on the lips, and since the woman seemed to enjoy it, I’m pretty sure she had dementia too. It’s interesting to watch. This activity used to bother me, but I’ve learned to relax and I’ve noticed that most people don’t mind. But sometimes I wish I had a card that said “Alzheimer’s — she’s harmless.”
Or, “Alzheimer’s — not afraid to love.”
Mom also loves children. She gets down on their level and tries to make them feel special. Children are usually more receptive to the joy my mom has to give, but the parents – not so much. She high-fived a family of six the other day, and afterward she told me, “I like to do that so they know they have something here.”
My mom loves just about everyone and everything. She loves raisins, the sunshine and the clouds in the sky. She loves animals, pine cones and waking up to a new day. Mom told me once, that when she wakes up in the morning and opens the blinds to let the sun in — she could just cry. She cries lately; but they seem to be tears of joy — like the innocent joy of a new day.
My mom is like a child — a happy child finally free from the worries of the world — who is not afraid to LOVE.