The first time that I went to a support group, one of the veterans of this dementia caregiving experience who was present asked me if Mom had started wandering out of the house yet. He encouraged me to start looking into adult day programs, a suggestion that probably elicits in Mom an equal level of horror as moving into any type of senior community. She thinks of herself, she reports even today, as quite independent.
Well, yesterday one independent woman I call Mom strolled right out the front door in inappropriate winter clothing, leaving the door unlocked.
I have absolutely no idea how long she was out of the house or what really transpired while she was out. By some miracle, she had a fully charged cell phone with her and she picked it up when I called. Since she rarely answers the phone, or even carries it, I am grateful for this. I found Mom perhaps 6 blocks from our place early enough in the evening that her fingers had not yet fallen off from frost bite. I got her home and settled in with hot coffee, dinner and pajamas. She reported that she had talked to a lot of nice people.
For me, the whole experience was one of those dividing lines that happen in life. Before yesterday, I still had the illusion of Mom being relatively safe. Today, I know that she is not. We agreed that she will wear a bracelet with my phone number as an immediate step but of course, it is not enough.
Somehow I did appreciate the fact that she reported that at some point in her wandering she managed to make it to a bookstore that is a preferred walk of ours– the store is about a mile from our place and we often go there in the evenings. Mom points out to me that she found the bookstore just fine. I point out that she did not find our house again afterward. Her response to that was that a description that she was close, but just a little bit off. By the description, I suppose we can say that she was just a little bit unsafe. Oh, the reassurance.
This is the name of one of my favorite songs, a song that I listened to countless times in the weeks after my father’s death. For me, it captures the nature of grief and our struggle with mortality, a moment that I find myself in again tonight. I sit here listening tonight to the Mynabirds:
“And I got something I don’t wanna lose.
But I’m learning to let go of you.”
My best friend- also in her mid-30s- lost her mother this week. It makes me so sad for her, for me, for all of us who lose our parents much too early. In the story of how life is supposed to go, our kids are supposed to grow up with grandparents. Our parents are supposed to be there for advice, future Christmases, shared humor and memories, and simply love, for many years to come.
I wander down the hall to check on Mom, who uncharacteristically headed to bed early tonight. I could not of course simply appreciate this but have decided to worry that this means there is something wrong with her. She is fine. Within a moment of me poking my head into her bedroom, Mom and I are laughing about a stupid joke. Loss reminds me to be grateful for our middle of the night laughter.
When I started this blog, I was committed to keeping the overall balance of this blog on the lighter, happier moments and have been feeling less of those over the past few weeks. But one serious bright spot was when I recently got tickets to take Mom to the symphony. Mom has always loved music and various performing arts and when we moved in together I had made a mental commitment to take her about once a month to some sort of performance. It’s one of the ways that I think that I can realistically give her a higher quality of life. She appreciates watching and listening to things as it is increasingly difficult to think of the right word or string together the coherent idea that she wants.
Music is high of the list of things that she responds well to– mostly when I play CDs around the house. So I expected that the symphony would be a hit. It certainly was. Mom actually sat there, so moved by the music that she waved her arms to the melody, as though she was conducting herself. I had a few moments of feeling a bit awkward toward the other patrons and then decided that this was a moment when I was grateful for only being able to afford the cheap seats in the back! There was no one near us so I let Mom wave her arms in the tune to the entire symphony. She loved it. And I was grateful to be able to give her something that brought her that much joy.