Monday, February 4, 2008

Meet Momma

Momma is 90 years old. When she can’t remember something she will say “Well I am in my nineties you know.” She can rattle off her birth date but can’t tell you that today is Saturday. I’m considerably younger, having been their “Oh my God, how did this happen at our age?” child.

Momma has the kind of dementia that is caused by mini-strokes. From time to time she will complain of headache or dizziness and later we will realize that yet another hole has been punched in her brain.

Daddy used to say, “You know, your mother’s getting Alzheimer’s.” At the time it seemed a lot like the pot calling the kettle black. We lost him four years ago to this same disease.

Nearly every weekend I come over on Friday nights to stay with Momma and give her primary caregiver a break. It used to be really hard on me. Now I just accept that pieces of her are gone.

She has lived in this house since 1973 (you do the math, I’m too tired). Daddy built it for us the year we moved to Tennessee. Today she looked around the house and said, “This is a nice house.” I allowed that it was. She said, “I was thinking about making this my home.” I agreed that was a good idea. She said, “There’s R_ and W_ on the wall and T_ and C_ and their kids, and I don’t know who those people are.” She pointed at other pictures. Now how is it that she sees a picture on the wall and knows my name but looks at me and says, “I know I should know you but I can’t think of your name.” Do I look that different than I did in the picture? I mean, sure I’ve cut off my hair so now it falls softly around my face but I’m still skinny, still wear glasses, still have ears for Pete’s sake. A few minutes later she says, “It’s getting time we should be heading home.” I say, “I thought we were going to stay here.” She says, “I figured on going home tonight.” Someone inside my head screams, “This is home.” She says, “Maybe I could just take this book home with me to read and bring it back when I'm done.” I say, “Why don’t you read it while you’re here?” She says, “I can’t get through it all today.” I say, “Well, we’re going to spend the night so you can read more of it tomorrow.”

One thing I’ve finally learned. She can no longer come into my world so I have to cross over into hers. Her pets are all here, the dog, cats, fish, parakeets; yet she is not home. Home is someplace in Michigan where she lived in her youth.

OK, so for a humor blog, this isn’t very funny. But you know, I find I have to laugh. Not at her but at the absurdity of it all. You come into this world with nothing but potential. You learn, you grow, you keep looking to the future when you’ll have time to enjoy all the fruits of your labors. You grow old, you forget your accomplishments, you become a child again, minus the potential. Through it all, may you always be surrounded by people who love you.


Kathleen Mortensen said...

Wow. I can so relate to this post. My father (who is almost 81) suffers from Parkinson's disease coupled with dementia caused by a head-injury in incurred in 1984. In effect, we lost "him" twice. The head injury changed him into someone we didn't know but came to love and accept, and now the scarring of his brain has come back to haunt him once more. He is again someone else entirely.
My mother is 79 this year and she is his primary caregiver, but she has lots of help coming in on a regular basis.
We moved them out of their home of 39 years, just over a year ago. They now live practically around the corner from us in what we used to consider "where we live" and now think of as "where we all live". It's been tough getting used to the proximity, the responsibility and particularly having my mother so close (there are clashes). However, we have come to a nice balance, I believe and things are on an even keel. I know how you must feel.

Wamblings said...

I remember momma calling and saying "I'm worried about your dad, he hasn't spoken or eaten in three days". That was the beginning. I went over and he was suddenly all talkative but I came to realize he had lost every one of his Proper Nouns. He learned most of them back. We lost him piece by piece over the course of about 5 years. In the end he died of congestive heart failure. One month before he died, momma had a small stroke. She was in the hospital at the time for back pain and we thought it was just drugs making her loopy but the next month neurological evaluation showed she'd had a stroke. Fast forward four years and she has gone from being able to be responsible for Daddy between our daily visits to the woman I described. It seems old age in my family begins at 85. Something to look forward to, nu?

Kathleen Mortensen said...

On my mother's side, rests longevity. My grandmother was 94 when she died, her sisters all died in their late 80s or mid to late 90s. My mother is a feisty, lucid woman, but she has just learned she has macular degeneration - she takes medication for osteoporosis and has arthritis. What I find difficult in having them so close, is the facing of my own mortality. The gap between my age and the age where people start to die off seems less and less every day. I'm not yet 50, but I find myself thinking of death more and more. Of course it can happen anytime; I'm aware of that. Thankfully, I have a strong faith. That, and my husband are what keep me together.

Wamblings said...

WOW! You have the likely hood of a lovely old age. My mother has outlived (age wise) her parents and grandparents and has in real time outlived most of her younger siblings. In the end though, like her mother, she is suffering from problems in circulation to the brain. With Grandma it was big strokes. Perhaps differences in diet have set her up for this version of the disease. Her neurologist told my sister and I we should go for genetic counseling but realistically, what can they do? We both have vastly different diets than our parents *admits to being a health nut* and are hoping to dodge the bullet.

When Daddy died we thought Momma would move into the basement apartment we were preparing for her. She put her foot down and refused to move and instead my mother-in-law lives there. She is a feisty 89 and healthy as they come though she looks fragile. Her mind is sharp as a tack though she does forget things more than she used to. I think this means my husband will live forever.

I'm reading two good books on the subject of being a caregiver. Check out my "current reading list" for details of those books. I've found them very helpful.

Kathleen Mortensen said...

Thanks for your advice and suggestions, Wamblings. Thanks also for sharing some of your family history and situation. I guess writing is a big part of what keeps everything balanced. If I didn't have that as an outlet, I might just implode.

Wamblings said...

"might just implode". Yes indeed. I write sometimes to stave of said implosion. It is a way of exorcising some of the "demons" that haunt the mind. I hope you enjoy the books. One is just short bits you can easily read at a red light. *admits to reading when driving* hehe I don't actually read going down the road, well not usually, just when stopped at lights.

Wamblings said...

*off Sheesh, finger dyslexia strikes again. Stave off said implosion.

jennifer said...

Oh Wamblings, the last paragraph was the bright spot. Your attitude lets me know everything will just have to be ok. Jennifer

Wamblings said...

Jennifer, Thank you for reading. I have finally come to the place of just enjoying what of Momma I have left. I see more and more decay and it is heart breaking but she is happy. She manages to not be overly bothered by what she can't remember even as the fact that she can't remember takes her by surprise.

Life goes on and things change. Change (as much as I resist it) is the natural order of the universe. When we fight against change we hurt only ourselves. No not true. We end up hurting others too. Enough of philosophy for this late in the evening.

bob said...

my grandmother suffered the same fate. but till her dyin' days she could still belt out a rachmaninoff phrase on the piano.

beautifully written.

best of luck with your blog!

Wamblings said...


It is amazing what they lose and what they keep. Momma will get out her Bible and read (spelling out many of the words) and say "I've never read this before" and then will hit a different passage and quote it verbatim! I'm talking LONG passages too. Perhaps when I am 90 I will still be able to play the violin.