Not quite the plan

on finding my groove as a 30 something single girl and caregiver for mom with dementia


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Nights like these.

Nights like these are not for going to sleep early.  Whether it’s the rain or the fact that it was a shower and fresh clothes day, or some other inexplicable tilting of the universe, Mom and I find ourselves hanging out in the kitchen cracking jokes tonight, so very late.  My plans to get some rest after a long day that began at 5am are set aside with only the mildest hesitation.

I have pulled out the ice cream, the good stuff that I keep hidden in the back corner of the freezer for just this kind of evening.  Mom’s delight is worth it.  Her ability to find humor in these moments amazes me.  She tells me she is cold, and I ask whether she is too cold for her ice cream.  The reaction is priceless.  She makes faces at me between mouthfuls.  She is cheerier than I have seen for weeks now.

Mom tells me my cat, also in the kitchen with us, wants dark chocolate and I pull out a bag of what is left of of the birthday chocolates Mom’s sister sent her.  We do not share any of them of course with the cat.

Suddenly, we are sitting in every kitchen as mother and daughter late at night, laughing.  Nothing feels that serious.  There is a camaraderie in the simplest of pleasures, sitting up together too late at night with treats.  This moment could be when I was a little girl eating goldfish crackers, delighted that I don’t have to go to bed yet.  Or letting Mom distract me from worries over what I should do with my life over my preferred late night meal of stacked up cheese sandwiches as a hungry teenager.  Or a night as an adult visiting home and spending that last night hanging out with Mom before heading back across the country to my busy life and months before I would see her again.  Or now where I am the one stashing the ice cream for Mom and doing the dishes as she enjoys her treat.

It is any of these times and all of them.  In the end, this is why I keep Mom at home, postponing again the inevitable.  These times are where wee find family, in kitchens over food, laughter and the ordinariness of the day.  Or the ordinariness of a night when we delightfully stay up too late, indulging ourselves as we can, lingering here for a little bit longer.  Always, hoping for just a little bit longer– before bed, before separation, before yet another change, another goodbye.

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What makes it home?

A few weekends ago, I took the family to a cabin in the woods overlooking a lake.  I was hoping for a simple relaxing time together where I could read my book, build a fire, cook us a few nice meals.  I found a simple state park and booked us there without giving it a lot of thought.

Upon showing up, Mom expressed that we were “in Minnesota,” her home state and spent the weekend delighted by the lake, the deer, the few remaining fall leaves on the mostly bare trees around us.  Whatever it was that triggered the feeling of being in Minnesota, I cannot be certain.  But Mom was happy.  She spent much of the weekend in a rocking chair in front of my efforts to build a fire — pathetic the first night and better the second night!

I suspect that the feel of a small space shared with family in the beginnings of winter evoked deep memories of her childhood in that cold state.  Of course perhaps that is her crazy daughter over analyzing the world. It may have been simply seeing the lake outside.

Mom often requests to go home. I don’t know exactly what she is hoping for in that home, but apparently we found it for a weekend. Minnesota is not such a long drive after all.


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Nostalgia trip.

Seeing that Mom is growing increasingly confused by the world around her, I decided to take her on a likely final big trip.

We road tripped it from the East Coast out to Minnesota where Mom grew up.  Her entire family still lives in Minnesota though she left I believe the same day she married my father, to move with him for his job in Ohio.  She never moved back home.   But every year, no matter where we were living, Mom took a trip to Minnesota.  She would do a whirlwind tour to see each aunt, second cousin and sibling in a week or two trip, returning exhausted and happy.

So it seemed fitting to repeat the trip with her now.  We did a test run of an overnight weekend trip a few months ago and it gave me to confidence to take on the 10 day trip.  I of course had to do all the driving, and was matching the trip up with some work meetings, so it was a 17 hour drive over 2 days for me to arrive in time for work meetings.  Which would have been fine if Mom had not spent most of the trip asking me to turn around and take her back home.  She was stressed and confused the entire drive out.

Then, we made it to the Twin Cities and started seeing family, and Mom was happier than I have seen her in a long time.  I kept the visits low key, but we saw all her siblings who were around, a few nieces and nephews and a couple of her closer cousins.  Mom kept talking about how nice it would be to live near all of them– something I am far too aware of.  We spent some long days after my father’s death weighing the pros and cons of having Mom live near her family or near me.  In retrospect the decision had to be made to keep her with me, but I often wish that I could easily find the right job for myself in Minneapolis where she would benefit from the greater community.

And let’s be clear that a woman who spent most of Baltimore’s mild past winter complaining of the cold and refusing to go outside might no longer be cut out for Minnesota!

But the trip was a dream.  The one big disappointment was taking Mom to the town where she grew up and finding that she no longer recognized the run down house as the one that she lived in as a child.  But she was shockingly able to lead me directly to her parents’ graves in the local cemetery when we stopped there to pay respects.  It continues to fascinate me which habits or deep enough memories stay with her and which things fade faster as her mind goes.

Family always mattered most to Mom, so it was wonderful to see that she recognized them all, and she spent the days in a haze of laughter and togetherness.  I am grateful that she knows she is loved by those folks and we have the photos to took at together now to remember the trip.

 


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Boxes of photographs.

I had to clean out my parents house rather quickly after my father’s death to move Mom cross country to live with me.  It was not a pretty pack job in the few days I could manage off work.  In the midst of everything, I quickly threw every family photograph I could get my hands on into five medium sized moving boxes.  They have been sitting in the corner of Mom’s room every since.

Following my hospital scare last week, I have been feeling a lot of nostalgia.  In less than two years, my father died, my only sister’s health has been rocky and Mom was diagnosed with dementia and then scared me with a trip to the ER last week.  It’s been a tough couple of years and I am all too aware that the road ahead only gets harder.

So in thinking of all of this, it felt like the perfect time to bust out those boxes of photos from happier times.  Mom and I sat in her room for a couple of hours this evening passing cute pictures back and forth.  Sometimes she connected the cute baby or little girl with me and sometimes not.  A couple of times she asked if I had met various family members that I have known all my life.  But mostly it was lovely.  I pulled out Mom’s high school photo that I had never seen before– it was actually stunning.  There were a couple of photos from my parents’ early marriage in full 70s style.  And there were various cute ones of my father holding me as a baby or young kid that I particularly cherish now.

Just the other weekend I spent some time with a good friend who has a 6 month old baby.  I took a ton of photos of mom and baby to make sure to have some great ones for her.  And for her baby boy for when he grows up and one day finds himself looking through old photos for signs of joy and laughter.  It means the world to me now that there is so much of both to be found in these boxes!