Not quite the plan

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


Thinking of Dad.

With father’s day this past weekend, I was of course thinking of my father.  I thought about digging out a photo of us together to post on facebook or doing one of the other small tributes that people do.  But none of them felt quite right for my third father’s day without him.

Then, I came across an article on what a caregiver learned from his father.  It inspired me write my own reflection on what I learned from my father that makes me the caregiver I am today.  My father was a caregiver for my sister for many years, and had begun to care for Mom, so I had his example to live up to when the caregiving responsibilities passed to me.  So here goes:

1. Keep it fun.  One of my dad’s best characteristics was his sense of fun and humor.  He always had a joke or way to lighten the situation and connect with all the people around him.  In taking care of Mom these days, using humor is one of the best ways I have found to reach her.  Even as conversation fails, she responds to silliness, joking tones and funny internet videos.  Sometimes even my most pathetic attempts at these elicit Mom’s biggest smiles.  She still loves to laugh.  I am grateful for Dad’s lifetime lessons in using humor.

2. Get things done.  Dad was always working and in motion.  He never lazed around or talked about his need for rest, the way I often do!  When dinner was over, he was up doing dishes.  When something needed to be fixed, he was heading for his toolbox.  Sometimes this feels challenging to me, but thinking of him inspires me to make the effort on some of my more tired days.

3. Stay committed.  I often remember a conversation with Dad about my sister when she was doing poorly.  He told me– taking care of her is my job.  I start at this time and end at this time every day.  That is what I do.  There was something so strong in this.  When I have days that I really feel that I have no more energy for my family, I think of these words.  It’s my job.  One that I committed to, and recommit to day after day.

Obviously if Dad was still here, these past few years would not have been nearly as challenging.  He and I could have supported one another through this time.  Sometimes of course I wish things had played out that way.

And yet, he gave me so many strengths and values to draw on that have guided the caregiver I have tried to be.  And it feels like a appropriate father’s day tribute to think of this.



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Car keys.

So I wrote up my rather absurd efforts to find my moved by Mom keys the other day.  Finally last night, I had to admit defeat and call a locksmith to make me a new key to my car.  The other missing keys are more easily dealt with but my spare car key had gone missing some time before so I was stuck.

Two hours and 220 dollars later, I was functional again.

So this morning, I went in to Mom’s room to find her sitting on her bed with all the sheets and blankets stripped off.  In typical fashion, there were several piles of books, magazines, papers and odds and ends covering the bed. 

I looked more closely.  And saw my spare car key. 

Guess I can skip today’s planned trip to the hardware store to make a spare! 


Ice cream dance.

A few years ago, in the midst of one of the hardest few weeks my Mom ever lived through, she and I went to the grocery store.  She told me on the way there that she needed to buy her favorite kind of ice cream.

Let’s be clear how hard this time was.  Mom had lost her husband of more than 40 years, her best friend and life partner.  He had gone off to work and hours later she was flying up the freeway to the hospital to discover that he was already dead of a heart attack.  In that moment Mom lost her sense of security in life, and for a woman managing dementia, that is no small thing.  Everything about Mom’s life changed in the moment.  She had been a non-functional mess– understandably.

So we find ourselves in the grocery store and for the first moment in a few weeks, Mom looked actually happy as we headed over to find her favorite ice cream.  She was in fact so happy that she started to do a little ice cream dance with funny swinging arms right there in front of the grocery store freezer.   It was lovely, especially since Mom has always been a self conscious dancer.

Now, Mom will do an ice cream dance any time I suggest it and sometimes just spontaneously.  (Of course, actual ice cream has to be on hand to inspire the dance.)  Every time it makes me smile.  It reminds me how we can all find something to celebrate even in the hardest of times.  All of us have our version of an ice cream dance inside.


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Mom, unfiltered.

Somehow I made it through several adult years without knowing that Mom had a major crush on Pierce Brosnan.  The other day we were in Target looking at $5 movie rack movies since I try to keep a stock for Mom.  (Operating the streaming options on our TV is confusing to her so actual DVDs are the way to go!)

What did Mom want?  A set of the three Pierce Brosnan James Bond films.  We picked up a few other films as well but when we got home, it was Golden Eye that went straight into play.  She has watched the Thomas Crown affair more times than I can count.  It cracks me up, especially because Mom has tended to be quite proper so seeing her just go full force with her actor crush is kind of cute. 

Some of the ways that dementia can pull away a bit of her usual filter can be inappropriate.  She often comments to me about overweight people around us for instance.  Recently in a grocery store she started demonstrating to me how pregnant someone down the aisle was by placing her arms out as if to circle a huge pregnant belly.  But there is something refreshing too about seeing Mom’s thoughts and impressions expressed so directly. 

That Pierce Brosnan sure is nice looking.  Let’s watch him again. 

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A sweet benefit.

As I have mentioned, Mom loves the ice cream.  Last night at dinner, she ate half a carton of ice cream and then we headed out to do some errands.

In the car she mentioned that when we arrived home she planned to have some ice cream.  Enter daughter diet enforcer.  I told her she was not having ice cream for the second time in one day.  She asked, “when did I have ice cream?”  to which I explained that she had eaten it after dinner.  Without hesitation she responded, “I don’t remember.”

It was dark in the car, but it looked like Mom was laughing over there.  Most of the time Mom truly does not remember, but in that moment I was certain that she did or at least that she had happily decided to take full advantage of her memory gap.  Mom was enjoying this moment, I could tell.   She was happy to pretend that she did not remember and eat the ice cream a second time.

For a moment at least Mom was finding some pleasure in the lack of memory.

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Just a couple of drunk girls.

Mom has always had a good sense of humor and the dementia has made jokes one of the primary ways that she relates to me.  We have a set of running jokes around the house, her favorite probably being her alcoholic daughter — moi.  Mom is a non-drinker.  I am nowhere near having an alcohol problem but it’s a well established joke now.  When I pick up a bottle of wine at the store, we kid about how quickly I will drink it.  Even better is if I buy a couple of bottles because then the fact that I am going to drink it all in 10 minutes is even more hilarious.  In Mom’s mind, there are virtually unlimited opportunities to make jokes about my excessive alcohol consumption.

To be fair, sometimes I think the wine talk is partly her recognition of the stress that I do have and an acknowledgement that I need to relax more.  Mom seems to really enjoy filling up my wine glass, usually far more than the splash that I tend to drink with dinner.  It’s sweet, especially when she runs off to find the bottle and pour it for me.  She does no meal preparation for herself and tends to be quite happy for me to cook, bake, set the table, and serve everything directly to her.  But then she will get up to pour me some wine.  

Lately though, the joke has taken a new turn.  Mom has started complaining to me that she feels drunk herself first thing in the morning.  I interpret this as her way of explaining the fogginess in her brain but it is somehow creating a bonding moment for us.  I get to joke that we are both stumbling around drunk.  Neither of us have been drinking a bit that time of day, but the joke works for us.

And in a weird way it’s true.  Both of us are a bit out of our element in life right now and making all sorts of mistakes.  I guess we are just a couple of drunk girls, living in an apartment in the city.

With this in mind, I tell her that she is a fun roommate. She laughs.