Deep Breath, Start Counting

MommaLast night, after putting Mom to bed to read herself to sleep, I noticed it had begun to snow.  Because she likes snow so much, I went upstairs and tapped on her door.  When I opened it, she was sitting on the edge of her bed, rifling through her bedside stand.  “What are you looking for, Mom?”

“I need rubber bands to put around my pajama cuffs so they don’t ride up my arms.”

“Rubber bands around your wrists probably aren’t a good idea…”  And then I saw it.  A scrap of orange plastic laying in her drawer.  A scrap of orange plastic that, so far as I knew, was around her left wrist.  Her temporary DNR (do not resuscitate) bracelet.  The bracelet that should not, under any circumstances, be removed because emergency personnel will not honor it if it has been tampered with.

“What’s this doing in here?” I said.

“It poked my skin, so I cut it off,” she replied.

“You were supposed to leave this on!”  I know I spoke more sharply than I’d intended, but it had taken much paperwork and two longish trips to her doctor to get this accomplished and I had hoped the thing would last until her permanent, metal one arrived.

“It poked my skin.”

“This is your DNR bracelet,” I said.  “If something should happen now blah-blah-blah, I told you blah-blah-blah…”  And then, of course, it hit me.  As it always does, as it probably always will, because even when you’re dealing day-to-day with someone with memory loss, YOU forget they have memory loss.  Sure I told her.  So what?  She didn’t remember.  And getting angry at her because she didn’t remember, because she can’t remember, is a pretty useless way to expend some energy.  (Although, admittedly, for about an nth of a second I wanted to pitch her off the roof.)

So she said she was sorry and I put her back to bed.  I called the doctor this morning.  I can make an appointment to bring her in and have another temporary put on (the permanent one isn’t due in until probably the middle of January).  And it’s all okay, but for the frustration, the constant feel of “One step forward, six steps back” that is the daily grind of living with someone with dementia, that sense of futility, of knowing that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you try to work around things, it isn’t going to make a bit of difference in the long run.

And I wonder why I’m tired.



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.
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6 Responses to Deep Breath, Start Counting

  1. Larry says:

    One more example…. Of why it hurt me so when you, Ed and I drifted apart over the years (as many Navy affiliations do)……. Your compassion and loving heart are as big as the planet…..

    I feel your pain, after my mom’s stroke it made my realize how little patience I had and it took lots of practice for me…. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of your LARGE heart!!!

    • Thank YOU for giving me a pat on the back when I need one. We’re always hardest on ourselves when we lose patience with others who can’t help how they are…and maybe we should be. There but for the grace of God go we. I often wonder, “If I were where Mom is now, would someone be patient with me?” I sure hope so.

      I think drifting apart is often a natural part of relationships. However, I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t really drifted all that far, when you think about it, as we’re still in communication despite being several states away. Happy New Year!

  2. Lisa Sherman says:

    Did you show her the snow?

  3. Barbara Davis-Dickman says:

    We used to have this same frustration with my mom when she was living with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. I found I would get frustrated with her for not remembering, more frustrated with myself for not remembering that she wouldn’t remember, but ultimately,even more frustrated with my dad for reminding her that he had covered the information with her before. I think one of the worst things was realizing that all he really wanted was his wife back and I don’t know that I figured that out until it was far too late to be any comfort to him. Dementia is so difficult for everyone involved with a person living with it. I don’t wonder at all why you’re tired and I have such respect for you, or anyone, who lives with this every day. Virtual hugs, Melissa.

    • Thanks for the hugs, Barbara, and for understanding. I, too, dealt with the frustration of my father’s response to Mom’s Alzheimer’s. As you said, all he wanted was his wife back. Dad kept thinking that if he kept reminding her, she would eventually “snap out of it” and become her old self. I finally had to sit down with him and gently explain that it was never going to get better, that she was never going to be her old self, and that we all had to learn to accept her where she is…and on a daily basis, because where she is CHANGES on a daily basis. Hard for him to hear; hard for me to say. Difficult to live with…but then I see her own frustration at her limitations and think “Thank God, I’m on THIS side of it” and not the one who has Alzheimer’s. Maybe that’s what something like this is about — relearning gratitude for what we have (and what we don’t have).

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