Monday, 21 April 2008

half a night's sleep

I'm jolted awake. It's dark and I'm disoriented for a few seconds. I realise that the phone is ringing. A wave of dread washes over me - a call at this time can't be good news.

"Hi Greg. I thought I'd better ring you because I'm short of money."
"Mum! It's....oh's 4:45am. You can't call people at this time of night!"

Mum doesn't apologise. In fact, she sounds completely unconcerned, as if she hasn't heard me.

We go through the standard conversation where I explain that everything is paid for where she is, that there is money for her in the safe at Reception, that in the past 5 months she has not once needed money for anything. This is all news to Mum. She asks me what I mean by 'Reception', even though she often eats (for free, as a resident) in the café down there.

I get nowhere in trying to explain why it's bad that she's called me up in the middle of the night. It's something I struggle with, her lack of sympathy, or is it empathy? Mentally I have no problem accepting that Mum's ability to to do either has atrophied. But emotionally? That's a different matter. It's been years now since I could rely on her to feel sorry for me if something bad has happened, but I still am not used to it and I feel the pain of it afresh every time.

I may have to have the phone removed from her room if this happens again. It's a good thing that she's fallen out of the habit of calling anyone else. I think back to last year when I got a few sheepish phone calls from people asking me if there was anything I could do to stop Mum phoning them in the early hours.

Finally, I ask "What do you need money for Mum? What is it you want to buy?"

"Oh, I don't know.... food?"


Tilly said...

I remember the early morning phone calls too. We unplugged the phone upstairs and put what we hoped was a soothing (Gon Away Backson) message downstairs. I found I always had to check though,in case it was urgent. Isn't it funny, odd, how dementia invokes the same patterns of behaviour? Not just mood swings, or loss of vocabulary, names, dates etc but the wandering, the calls, the capricious defiance. And you're right. It is strangely wounding, the lack of empathy. I can't remember the last time Mum bought me a birthday card or remembered to say "Happy Birthday" and for some silly reason, that hurts because she used to take such care about the cards she chose. They were all pretty ghastly but that was precisely the thing. Only Mum would buy cards like that! If it helps at all, my Mum who is farther along the dementia route than yours, has moved on from the non-empathy bit to again expressing concern when she notices that I am tired etc.
So perhaps it's not that they resign from motherhood entirely: it's just that they take a temporary leave of absence.... Stay strong - Tilly x

Greg said...

Yes, I was initially tempted to turn off the ringer on the phone by my bed, but in the end I didn't dare just in case someone DID need to contact me urgently. Instead, I raised the problem with a friendly staff member at the Home. She agreed to disconnect Mum's phone last thing at night and reconnect it the next day.

I've gone through the cards thing, too. Occasionally, over the last few years, Mum would fret about having to send a card to one of her grand-daughters, but she never did. Every March she rings me as she's worried that one of their birthdays is coming up. She's half correct - it's actually her own daughter's birthday that she's half-remembering, but since they're not speaking I don't say anything.

I'm glad to hear that the empathy thing might come back. I'll appreciate that a lot. I do find that Mum now and then performs 'Mother' by saying something that sounds right, but it's usually clear that there's no real concern behind these utterances, just a wisp of habit resurfacing.

As you say - a leave of absence - I wish I'd thought of that description!

Tilly said...

Greg - a postcript. Heard someone say recently (and have completely forgotten who!) that dementia strips people down to the core of the person they always have been. In my experience, that's a very astute comment. If your Mum was always very loving toward you - she will never stop being that even if she is temporarily AWOL! Hope that helps. Tx