Mom – The Early Days

Peaches the Pony (Northern Virginia Therapeuti...

Peaches the Pony (Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program) (Photo credit: WilliamMarlow)

Well, another week has come and gone, blowing my blogging “schedule” all to hell.  I should have heard the ominous pealing of bells in the back of my brain when I promised a fresh posting on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Of course, when I wrote that I hadn’t yet decided to make the big jump to remove Mom from the care facility into which we’d placed her and bring her to live with hubby and me.

What a time it’s been.

We honestly thought we’d done the right thing in placing her.  My mom is around Stage 4 Alzheimer’s (and has chronic renal failure) and it was becoming increasingly apparent that she couldn’t live alone.  Because of distance and  work schedules, we just couldn’t be there as much as we needed to be, and she often spent whole days alone…and very lonely.  Not to mention that she’d sometimes forget to eat.  We expected the tears and rage and recrimination after she moved to the “retirement home.”  Mom’s always been one to complain and is a skillful manipulator, laying on guilt like a master.  But when she began to readily admit that the place was nice and clean and the staff always good to her…but these couple of other issues kept cropping up (loneliness and bad food; the two things we’d most wanted to fix), I decided to spend a few hours there (something I hadn’t done before as someone else in the family had researched this place; although not as well as she might have, she now admits).

Mom was assessed before she went into the home.  Maybe they have a much broader view of folks with Alzheimer’s:  “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all,” but not all dementia is caused by Alzhemier’s, not all elderly have dementia.  The majority of the folks I saw are largely nonverbal.  They spend their days seated in their rooms staring at the wall or television.  They spend their days in the “rec” room sitting and staring at the television.  They spend their days sitting in the hallways, sleeping.  Oh, I guess activities go on — I did witness one seated exercise group (during which the instructor snapped at one of the residents, “Just kicked the ball!”).  Apparently a banjo player came in once.  There are religious services.  (Mom is not religious at all.)  There are crafts.  (Mom isn’t interested, having spent her life convinced she has no artistic talent.)  Meals were supposed to be the big social time, but when no one’s talking, or those who do speak so low no one can hear them because they’re almost deaf…well, you see what I mean.

And Mom’s room was cold.  Nights in upstate New York have already dipped into the 40s.  Mom is 88, frail, and weighs somewhere around 103 pounds fully dressed.  She doesn’t produce much body heat.  How can you not heat a home devoted to the elderly?  I know all about cost and bills and what-not, and I don’t care.  Heat the place.

Mom was sick one night.  Vomiting and diarrhea.  When they came to get her up for breakfast, she told him that she’d been sick all night.  They made her get up anyway, gave her a glass of ginger ale, and that was it.  Never called the family to report it.

And the food?  I stayed for lunch one day.  Sprang myself on them, I must confess.  What they served, I would not have given my dog:  a cold, hard, dried-out biscuit (uncut) with about two-thirds of a cup of lukewarm “stew” ladled over it.  (Some sort of broth, mystery meat, and a few anemic slices of carrot.)  Not enough gravy to soften the bread and make it palatable.  I heard more than one resident murmur, “There isn’t enough gravy,” but no one asked for more.  I took one bite and set it aside.  Vile, overcooked, oversalted, ghastly stuff.  No wonder Mom was losing weight.

When I caught the administrator trying to undermine my mother’s perceptions, making her believe that what she believed was not real (something I knew was true because a staff person told me) the camel’s back broke with a CRACK! and I yanked her.

So now she’s here in Connecticut.  She made the three-hour drive without a hitch, quietly watching the scenery, sometimes remarking on the beauty of the day.  We ate apple cider donuts and talked and laughed and actually had a pretty good time.  She’s settled in.  Obviously there’s confusion and her short-term memory comes and goes, but she gets up on her own, washes and dresses herself.  She spends her days looking out the window, reading (it takes a long time to finish a book now, since she forgets what she’s read), sometimes just reading the flyleaf of each book over and over and over.  We walk (she’s determined to regain the strength in her legs).  She eats like a lumberjack now that she has good food.  She’s delighted by the presence of the two cats and the dog, calling them her “babies.”

And she wants to go horseback riding.

Go ahead and laugh, but make it joyous and not derisive.  There’s an excellent therapeutic facility near here — High Hopes Therapeutic Riding in Old Lyme.  I know it’s excellent because I worked there for five years and volunteered for a couple more and I’m mailing her rider application today.  With any luck, they’ll call for an assessment and Mom will get to ride one day a week.  What can it hurt?

So these are our days for now.  I know they’ll change, although I don’t know how.  I have an outstandingly supportive husband.  I have friends who have my back at any moment.  Mom’s prior physician, Dr. Carl Sgambati, is a phone call away and always willing to go that extra mile.  So here we are and here we’ll take it.  One day at a time.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Aging, Alzheimer's, Blogging, Dementia, Essays, Family, Melissa Crandall, Mother, Neglect and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Mom – The Early Days

  1. Susan says:

    Adding Coconut oil to the diet of Alzheimers patients helps tremendously with clairity and mental function. Also, the product at this site, reduces oxidative stress, kind of arresting the progress. You owe it to your Mom to look into Natural solutions. I sincerely hope you try these for your Mom, and for yourself. Wishing you strength and peace.

  2. Rhonda Shore says:

    good news, good attitude, good blog.

  3. How wonderful! You’ve made a huge difference in her life! I hope things continue to go well.

  4. says:

    I am still wiping of my tears after reading your post. Melissa,, you’ve done the right thing and I know it’s not going to be always easy but think about the happiness and joy you brought into your mother life. It’s the end of the journey for her and she will be able to smile and look off the window
    Big hug and all the love

    • Thank you, Adina. No, it won’t always be easy (heck, in some ways it isn’t “easy” now), but I do know we did the right thing. Mom is content and seems happy, is currently reading, having a cookie and a cup of tea. The animals all adore her and pay constant court. Each day she walks a bit further. She sat outside in the sun today while I played with the dog. It’s all good. Big hug and all the love back to you.

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