Tuesday, 14 October 2008

birthday: part II

Mum was inching her up the corridor to her bedroom when I arrived. She was unable to work out how she could turn around to greet me so she froze, clinging to the railing with one hand and holding her stick in the other. Her face was bright red and peeling, as if from a bad sunburn. A staff-member told me that they'd found some face products in Mum's bathroom again - she's under instruction not to use these as they encourage a fungal infection that is inflaming her skin.

Mum's white hair and red face seemed cruelly mocked by her white blouse and red skirt.

I gave her my arm and we slowly made our way to her bedroom. I've never seen her move so slowly and in so much pain. I kicked myself for not buying her a 'walker' rather than this silly photo frame.

When we got to her room, I let her use the toilet in privacy, but she had to call me inside since she couldn't find the toilet paper or the toilet flush (she was turning to her right when both are to the left).

I sat next to Mum on her bed to show her the digital photo frame. The first picture that came up was one of Mum and my Dad. Mum poked the glass, leaving a smudge over his face. 

To my horror, she asked: "Tell me, who's he?"

I died inside.

We watched just about all of the 400 or so photographs as they displayed. It was so difficult to keep Mum's attention on the slideshow, as she kept looking away to the bathroom door. I found myself announcing what we were seeing, because hearing her pathetic guesses was heartbreaking. By the end she was getting better at spotting childhood "Greg" but she occasionally turned to me when my Dad came up and said "that's you, of course." Mostly, it seemed, she just wanted to go to the toilet again.

Afterwards, I got 2 plates and some cutlery from the kitchen and I cut us each a slice of the cake I'd brought. It was a shame to cut into it, but it proved to be equally delicious as it was beautiful. Mum didn't use her fork but instead grabbed chunks of rich chocolate sponge and chocolate truffle sauce by hand and crammed them into her mouth, making a mess everywhere. When she had eaten most of her slice she became distressed looking down at her chocolaty hands and told me that she couldn't understand how they'd become so dirty. I fetched some napkins.


After cleaning her up and helping her down to the Lounge again, I started to feel very sad and I decided that I had to go. In any case, I was supposed to be at work this afternoon and it was already 4:30pm. I had a two-hour journey home ahead of me, followed by a delayed "afternoon shift" that would take me through to midnight or later.

On my way home I pondered my unhappiness. I realised that I had put myself through a LOT of stress to get every detail perfect for someone who could no longer appreciate these things. Who had I really been doing this for? Myself, maybe? Mum would have been happier to be taken out somewhere instead. It's late and I'm exhausted ... I'll have to come back to this.

* I have chosen photographs that make Mum look a LOT more lucid than she proved today because I just can't bear looking at the ones I've discarded.


citygirl said...

Greg, I am almost in tears reading your entry and writing this comment. You are a WONDERFUL son and I don't think anyone could say you didn't do the most thoughtful, loving and fun things today for your mom.

I know I died inside when I showed my mom a picture of my dad and she didn't know who he was (and she didn't know who I was that day either!). It's so hard to have that moment.

Your mom must have enjoyed the beautiful and delicious cake you brought. I laughed at her eating with her hands - my mom used to do the same thing!

I also teared up at your ride home. I'm so sorry that you were so sad. I know I used to do things like this for my mom and then beat myself up after too but our moms did/do appreciate our efforts. What you did today was very touching and loving and your mom felt your love even though it might not have been apparent.

A side note about the cream and the walker...our home banned any creams/etc from being in the resident's rooms. At first, I wasn't happy with this but then realized it's really for their own safety so they don't use the wrong products in the wrong way (esp. if they are medicated creams or such). This rule was also in place so the residents didn't ingest anything (like drink a bottle of mouthwash by accident).

We also thought about getting a walker for mom when walking became difficult but didn't get one. We were worried she wouldn't be able to use it without hurting herself (I imagined her rolling forward fast and falling flat not knowing how to "brake"). She managed to get around holding onto the railings all over the home and then she eventually started getting wheeled around in wheelchair when the distance was too long for her. My sister was horrifed at this but I reasoned it was better than falling and breaking a hip (because that is usually a really bad turn in elder-health). Wow I've rambled on today!

Sorata said...

Hey you,

Before I give you a smack on the butt, let me just say the cake looks UNBELIVABLE, and what a wonderful project that you did with the slideshow. You are seriously my idol, I can't possibly be anywhere as considerate as you with this type of things. *hugs*

Now, onto the smacking.

It must be so sad for you that your Mom can't remember who's in the picture with her, but it's not your Dad that she forgot, it's the image of your Dad. I am sure she still remember him and think about him, it just might be a different kind of "image" in her head, in which she can no longer put the two together, just like a kid can't associate a red pepper and a yellow pepper because of the colour differences.

The 400 or so photographs is just as important as the crane if you ask me. I can just imagine your Mom sitting there looking at photos and maybe even showing others all those fond memories of hers. And who knows, maybe when she settle down a little and look closely, she will recognize and remember the people in there. Afterall, she was under a bit of pressure earlier: her favourite person is there with her, you can't possibly ask her to focus on photoframe when YOU are around. :D

And you know she appreciated it, you are just upset because you have a different kind of expectation. I think this photoframe is going to be a very long-term gift for Mom in which she can enjoy for a very long time, you will be surprised to hear what she has to say about it next time when you see her. So take a deep breathe and let go the unhappiness. Okay?

*Lots of hugs* Don't be sad, because when you are, you make us sad too.

pablo said...

Hey Greg,

I am in tears reading your entry. "Big Hugs" to you as I know doing what you did for her takes a lot & her mental state takes a lot out of you.

I know deep down inside your mom appreciates it, it's just that her brain can't associate like she used to. Don't let this get you down. I agree with Sorata, in that the upset comes from your expectation of how your mom 'should' be responding.

With my mother-in-law, I used to think "If I show her pictures, her memory will be jogged & she WILL remember - OR - if I remind her of the good times, surely this will bring her out of 'it'." I had a very difficult time accepting that she is not the same. I wanted her to 'snap out' of it. I learned from my wife acceptance of her mother's illness, that this is what was causing my upsets.

I would agree with you that you did this for her AND you did it for yourself. AND there is nothing wrong with that. Enjoy how you bring love into her days. Her soul knows it - even though her mind can't show it.

Greg, My only words of advise are, live the moment for what it is.
Love her how she is and (even harder) how she is not. Give up how it 'should' look and enjoy the moments you have.

You did a beautiful thing for your mom!! I am proud of you and the example of a 'son' that you are setting.

Big Hugs to you!

Greg said...

Thank you all so much. It's funny but the entries I'm least happy about publishing here are the ones that provoke the most helpful comments. Last night I was miserable when I was recording what had happened, but I feel a lot better now for reading these comments.

Citygirl, it really means so much to know that you've been through these experiences before: everything from your Mom not recognising her Husband to the business with the creams and your thoughts about the walker. It's incredibly strengthening to have someone walk alongside me when I'm not sure of my way. Thank you.

Sorata, quit spanking your idol :D I think you're absolutely right that Mum remembers and loves Dad but sometimes loses the cross-referencing in her brain and can't recognise his image, or thinks that I'm him. I believe you're correct that this frame will help over a longer time. I spoke to someone on the staff today and they said that Mum had been showing them some of the pictures on the frame, so at least she's noticed it. As she becomes familiar with the pictures, she might rescue some scraps of memory, possibly.

Pablo, thank you also for your encouragement. I think I made the error of providing a gift that was more appropriate 2 years ago. It's the nature of the illness that it progresses and I've got to learn to anticipate things and try to provide ahead of the way. When I don't get it right I just end up upsetting myself.

Thank you all for responding so emotionally to a story that still had me confused as I was writing it. You made me realise that I'd recorded something worthwhile, and your responses have helped me enormously in working out what was really going on for Mum and for myself.

Sorry I made you cry, but thank you for your hugs (I'm turning those spanks into hugs, Humphrey!)

Love to you all

G x

LSL said...

Hey, I could kick myself for not getting here sooner. I've been saving these entries for the weekend, and I regret not reading them right away.

First, those do look like shoji doors :)

Also, gosh, I just feel for so much of what you've gone through and are going through. It's incredibly moving, but not only as an observer and friend, but as someone who can relate to a lot of what you're describing. I don't have a similar situation in my family, but I do relate to some of the feelings you're experiencing. It's all such an intense process. The birthday and the weeks leading up sound exhausting. (What a great description of your party-planning relative. I have at least one of those.) Anyway, I just hope you're hanging in there. I'm sending lots of good thoughts and hugs your way.

Matt said...

Oh, Greg ... when you wrote about your Mom not recognizing the image of your Dad, and writing "I died inside" - I felt that. I remembered times that I died inside a little, too.

You are a far stronger man than I am. I hope you realize just what an incredible son you are, and the difference you are making to her, whether you realize it or not.

As always - big, big hug to you.

Greg said...

Thanks for your thoughts and hugs, LSL and Matt. I'm hoping that the next time I visit I'll find that Mum has developed an interest in the pictures, but I think I've learned my lesson not to build up my expectations. With Mum these days "it is what it is" and I have to remember that. It suddenly occurs to me that I, in my own way, was acting like my party-organising relative: I got upset because I didn't get the reaction I had been planning for. Like my relative, I had turned the whole thing around and made it all about me. I just need to learn to be a bit more of an adult around my Mum.

You see why I have a problem with you lovely people calling me a 'good son'?

Great to hear from you both. Congratulations on your recent anniversary, Matt.

G x

cb said...

I've tended to find that the older the picture, the easier it is to be related to. Good luck with the search. There's so much love evident in what you write. Thanks for sharing it.

Greg said...

Thank you, cb

I don't understand why but it's not like that for Mum. She's shockingly bad at remembering the old stuff and sometimes surprises me at her ability to retain the new. I've taken some family items into her that were from the 60s and 70s and she's not recognised them, and the picture of my Dad she didn't know was one from just before their marriage. Mum's past is continually re-fabricated from broken shards in whatever pattern makes sense to her, but she mostly lives in the present with a pressing concern to go to the toilet and a healthy appetite to satisfy. There really isn't much else that interests her, except watching small children - she LOVES babies and children up to about 5 years old.