Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mom On Line

We now share a "party line" with Mom. Those of you over 60 know what I'm talking about.

When Mom moved in nine years ago, we had two phone lines. We had a dial-up modem, so "Mom's line" was also the modem line. She never understood why "her" phone also rang on the two-line phone in our kitchen, while "our" phone never rang on the one-line phone in her room. She always assumed that all calls were for us, even when the incoming call was on her line. She'd say to her friends, "I always let THEM answer the phone."

Last summer we changed internet service providers. We no longer needed that second line, although we kept it for awhile out of inertia. When our answer machine recently died, I decided to get "Home Voice Mail" from Verizon. However, Home Voice Mail was not available if you had two phone lines. Something about "rollover" and "hunting." So we got rid of the second line.

Mom was pretty mad at first. Her line was dead for four or five days until a helpful neighbor rewired her phone jack, putting her on our line. "My phone hasn't rung for two weeks, " she complained, peevishly. Now the woman who never used to answer the phone answers it constantly. "What? Who do you want? Who? Sorry, you must have the wrong number." Mom gets just one regular phone call a week, from her old neighbor, Barbara, who calls on Tuesday afternoons. I've told Mom to just let the phone ring, unless she was expecting a call, so that Home Voice Mail would record the message if I could not answer the phone. Such knowledge is too wonderful for her.

During the days of Arlo, our beagle, we had an expression: "You might as well talk to the beagle." When it comes to Mom and these new-fangled telephone services, you might as well.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Something Just Clicked

For years I've wondered how my husband could stand to watch so much TV. 'Anything that flickers" is the way he puts it. Talking heads, screaming heads, murder, mayhem, baseball, basketball, boxing, football, golf, hockey, Dog Whisperer, Meerkat Manor, and sometimes even the insufferable Bill O'Reilly. He lounges on the couch, remote in hand, click-click-clicking away. Sometimes I'm passing through the room when a fleeting image catches my interest. A frantic-looking woman will be saying, "--but when our dog dug up that skull in the back yard, we--" CLICK!

"Phil! Get that back! I wanna see that!"

"Wha--? Huh? Sorry." Click, click, click.

But the segment has already ended. "Even the toughest grass stains come out with --"

I can no longer point fingers at him. We've had our new computer for nearly a year. I've discovered blogging and now spend WAY too much time click-click-clicking away on the keyboard. Is there a 12-step program for blogaholics?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Losing It

This morning I lost it.

I hadn't slept well. I'd been awake since 3 AM. At 8 AM, Mom shuffled out of her room to complain, for the hundredth time this year, that something was wrong with her sliding door. Georgie, the cat, wanted to go out on the porch, but the door was stuck. Phil went in to open the door. He tried to explain, for the hundredth time, how the latch worked. I went in just in time to hear her say to him, --"and I don't need a lecture from YOU on how to open my door!" Well, I lost it. I screamed like a crazy woman. "I don't want to hear another word about that door! NOT ONE WORD!"

Mom is losing it too. Later, as I was driving her to the salon for a shampoo, she asked, "What ever became of that little girl who was living with Gram and Gramp when I married your father?" That little girl was me. It seemed futile to try to explain that to her, so I just told her that the girl was my cousin, Elaine. Mom said, "Of course. I knew that."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hissy Fits Are Tiresome in Very Old Ladies

Monday morning I was at the dentist's for one and a half hours, having prep work done for two new crowns. When I got home, numb from chin to eyeball, Mom was in our family room, rocking in the big brown recliner, hands folded, with that aggrieved expression on her face.

"WELL! Where have YOU been? Two cancelled appointments in a row with Debbie! (Debbie is her nurse practitioner.) First, Friday and now today! No one around here ever tells me anything."

"Mom," I said, "you're the one who wanted to cancel your appointment on Friday because you were too tired."

"I know. I know. I just never dreamed you would cancel my Monday appointment too," she replied indignantly."

"But you never had an appointment today. The swelling in your feet went away by itself by Friday, so I didn't make another appointment."

"Well, if I were still in Meadville, I would be seeing Dr. Thomas every six months. He was so good about that. Better than Debbie. The girls would call and say it was time to come in."

"You saw Debbie in January. You don't have to go back until July."

"But if I were in Meadville--"

"OK. OK. I'll get you an appointment with Debbie, but there's a lot going on already this week. On Friday, you have an appointment for a shampoo and set."

There was nothing more she could say, so she trundled off to her room to check on the cat. Later, she came back out and said, "I guess we can put off my appointment with Debbie this week. Can I have some ice cream?"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Crazy Conversation

This weekend our younger daughter, Becky, came to visit. Her husband, Tom, is on tour in Hawaii with the army band. She brought along our 3-month-old grandson, Nathaniel, plus a breast pump, bottles, frozen packets of breast milk, back-up formula "just in case," the baby's stroller, his floor gym, diapers, bibs, and numerous little outfits. She also lugged in a cat carrier containing one (1) cat, Clarence, plus cat food, a litter box, litter. The last to come in was Sophie, the enormous brindle mutt who belongs to Tom. Ramsey, Becky's lovable Baltimore street dog, has been residing temporarily with us since February.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mom came out during Charles Stanley's weekly TV sermon.
"Mom," I said, "You're missing your program."
"Oh, I don't care about that," she replied, waving her hand dismissively. "I'm worried sick. I couldn't sleep this afternoon. Who are those two big dogs and why are they here?"
"Mom, you know who they are. One of them is Ramsey. The other one is Sophie. You've met Sophie."
"Oh, I know who Ramsey is," she replied, crossly. "Just tell me who those two big dogs are."
"Mom, there are just two dogs here. Ramsey and Sophie."
She shook her head in disbelief. She gave up and went back in to listen to the rest of the sermon.

Later, when Phil and Becky were in the family room with Nathaniel, she came out to question them some more about the two big dogs.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Tree Hugger Speaks

I was shocked when my husband, gazing out the window, asked, "Do you think those girls with white undersides are grade school?"

What he actually said was, "Do you think those squirrels with white undersides are gray squirrels?"

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Busy Day

Mom had a very busy day yesterday. In addition to washing and changing the sheets on her bed, she decided, early in the morning, to defrost her mini-refrigerator. Usually she asks for help with this job, but yesterday she decided to attempt it on her own. After switching off her refrigerator, she promptly forgot all about it. The melting ice soon filled the shallow tray under the freezer compartment. When she tried to empty the overflowing tray, she spilled the water, soaking the carpet.

I have noticed something new about her. She's a little more nonchalant these days after years of worrying and fretting over every little thing. Perhaps chronic low-level anxiety is why a doctor put her on valium over 30 years ago. In any case, she usually has to have things just so. A year ago, she would have been in a tizzy over the wet carpet. This time, she merely said, "Oh, it'll dry in a day or two."

She has been uncharacteristically stoic about recent major losses. When she accidently threw out her wedding and engagement rings in February, she "was awake all night" after first discovering their loss. After a day or two, it was, "Oh, well." Similarly, I thought she'd grieve deeply when Arlo, our beagle, had to be put to sleep. She surprised me. The woman who's always claimed an extraordinary love of animals, the woman who sobbed over the death of her cat, Sadie, just a year ago, the woman who spent every day for the past nine years with Arlo at her feet, appears to miss him not at all.

Springs of Compassion

One of my favorite blogs, MY PERSONAL LENS, has a quote today by George Washington Carver, reminding me to be compassionate with my frail, elderly and often cantankerous old mother because someday I will be frail, old, and cantankerous myself.

I am a caretaker whose springs of compassion threaten to run dry. Mom is 99, and will have lived with us for 9 years come August. A friend e-mailed me a "thought for the day" a few weeks ago that I did not take as intended. It advised a woman to live in such a way that, when she gets out of bed every day, the devil says, "Oh, hell! She's awake." I immediately thought, "That's just the way I feel when I see the light on under Mom's door in the morning."

These days she's a combination of fogginess and demandingness.

"I need you to call Debbie (her nurse-practitioner) and ask her why I have to take all these pills." (She's been taking these pills for the last 30 years. She forgets how angrily she rejected Debbie's suggestion that she could get along without her daily valium and nightly sleeping pill.)

"I need you to take me to get my hair washed today."

I know Mom is bored, lonely, and depressed. Macular degeneration has robbed her of the ability to read or even watch television. She listens to, rather than watches, her two favorite televangelists. She used to receive books-on- tape from the library, but has lost interest in those as well. This one's voice is too high. That one's voice is too low. This book is boring. That book has too many swear words. She says she "doesn't have time to sit around and listen to stories." I suspect that she can no longer follow a complicated story line.

Conversation can be a challenge. "What was that terrible noise at two in the morning?" she asked recently.

"I don't know. We didn't hear anything."

"You didn't? That noise lifted me right up out of my bed! I opened the door but you were nowhere to be seen. It was the same noise I heard two or three years ago in the middle of the night. What do you think it was?"

A helpful book** I found at the library yesterday suggested a way to enjoy better conversations. The authors state that folks nearing the end of their lives engage in a process called "life review". They suggest setting aside 30 minutes as often as you can for just listening to your parent talk about his or her life. They even present a list of questions you can ask, such as "What were you like as a child?" or "Where did you live as a young adult?"

We caretakers are told that we need to take care of ourselves. One suggestion is to join a support group. I am a homebody. Once I'm home, I want to stay home. The mere thought of driving across town just to talk makes me tired. That's why blogging has become so important. I feel as if I already have a virtual support group. The comments of on-line friends are like a cool drink of water.

**THE END-OF-LIFE HANDBOOK: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One by David B. Feldman, PhD, and S. Andrew Lasher, Jr., MD.