Dementia, Health care

Foggy Bottom

Autumn is in the air. I love autumn. I love the word “autumn.” Yesterday, even though the day was on the way to warm, I could feel the change. There were leaves on the deck, and that certain crispness in the air. Some mornings the valley has been full of fog and some mornings it floats about the valley floor under a pale yellow sky, the mountain rising above the mist in silhouette.

I have pulled the bean runners off the trellis in the garden and removed the bachelor buttons from the wildflower border, along with the tiny-white-flowered plants from the wildflower mix (I don’t know what they are), and the alyssum. Pulling out spent plants and restoring empty space always feels like a relief to me. New room to just think and be and contemplate what’s next. Maybe the odd squash plant will produce now that it has space and sunlight. Or maybe there aren’t enough warm days left. We’ll see. The tomatoes are still producing like rabbits, and the Brussels sprouts are still a mystery. Probably I should pull them, but what the heck, I’ll give them a few more weeks to get it right—the leaves are pretty. I planted a fall vegetable crop, but it should have been in a month ago. I forgot to research; but it’s all an experiment anyway. My life feels like an experiment these days, so the garden fits right in.

Mama has been cold. She would have had the furnace on all summer, to take off what she perceives as a deep freeze in the morning, but I pushed back and quietly turned it off in July and she didn’t say anything. I don’t understand turning the furnace on in the mornings, only to have to move to the basement to stay cool when the outside temperature climbs into the 90s in the afternoon. But I’m not 98 and I don’t weigh 77 pounds. She was generous to let me have my way over the summer, and didn’t say a word about it—except to Jo Ann earlier in the week when she thought I wasn’t listening. So I repaid the kindness now that the nights are cooler, and fired it up, even though it’s supposed to be near 90 during the coming days.

My sister returned home to Virginia Wednesday. I’m alone now. And feeling it. It was good to have a witness, and a less-invested voice of reason. Thursday was crazy. Mama has been complaining of constipation all week. And her hand had been numb all day. Wednesday night she told me she wanted me to make an appointment with her primary care doctor. I called first thing Thursday, and miracle, they had an early afternoon cancellation. “Good,” Mama said.

She filled the nurse in on her presenting problems. The doctor came in and said, “So you’re having trouble with your bowels?” Mama said, “Well, I’m having trouble breathing at night since I broke my nose.” I dropped my head and shook it; the doctor looked at me and smiled with understanding. That helped. I said, “Let’s stick with what we came for. You’ve been constipated.” “Oh, that’s better today,” Mama said. I just stared at her.

I picked two buckets of the neighbor’s apples that afternoon and canned 21 pints of applesauce after 3:30 in the afternoon. Mama was stunned. “I couldn’t have done all that so fast! Even when I was your age.” “I’m a marvel,” I said. “I keep telling you that, but you don’t believe it.” She smiled.

She didn’t like the dinner I cooked, even though it was what she asked for and cooked to her specifications, near as I could manage. Either she changed her mind as she was eating, or accepted my suggestion rather than saying what she really wanted. Mama has never been able to say what she wants, and less so now, though she doesn’t hesitate to say after it’s too late. I need to remember it’s not about me, even though she does her best to make it about me to avoid making it about her. If I can’t figure out the right questions to ask, I have to accept what she tells me and let it go when it wasn’t really what she wanted. And maybe she didn’t even know; she didn’t practice knowing what she wanted when she was younger, and now it’s impossible. Note to self: practice knowing—and saying—what you want, Gretchen! Next time this pasta request comes up, I will get it right. No, I won’t. I won’t ever get it right. And that’s okay. It has to be. (The following night she wanted angel hair again, prepared the way I did it the previous night, because what she said she wanted next time was “not a good idea when she’s constipated.” Yes, she still is. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know what you wanted last night,” I said. She laughed.)

I couldn’t get to sleep Thursday night, after the wacky day. The half moon was too bright through my window, Mama was snoring loudly through the monitor, my hip hurt. Then I fell down that “what is the point of my life?” rabbit hole that always seems to strike in the middle of the night and grows big enough to hold a crash of hippopotamuses.

Fog is returning to the morning valley. I hope it  clears from my head soon. Every day is a new day to start again to do it better; by which I do not mean perfectly, or learning to mind read. Be more patient with Mama, more forgiving of myself when I’m not. Let her stuff be her stuff; it’s not about me. And most important: Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.


8 thoughts on “Foggy Bottom”

  1. Reading this made me think of the Polish proverb, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. The other thing that struck me as I read were these 2 phrases: “she smiled” & “she laughed”. What a gift you are and give to your mother in these days.


  2. I’m doing a big SIGH aloud on your behalf. I hear so many things in your voice, and I’m sending a big hug to you. I appreciate the ‘exformation’ quality of your writing here, so good to place it on paper. I wonder what additional suport you ‘want,’ in the short and long term in terms of caring for your Mom?


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