aging in place, Dementia, family caregiving, memory loss, mother daughter relationship

‘Tis the Season

It’s time for my annual rant about Christmas and how it’s not the same as when I was eight and I want it to be. And how it’s not the same as when my children were eight and I want it to be. And how I have an eight-year-old grandson and have yet to spend a Christmas morning with a grandchild and I want to. And about how I have had a hard time finding the Hope, Peace, Joy, Love in Advent since The Divorce when Everything Changed. And about how I don’t even have a church now. Okay, I’m done with that rant. Moving on.

Mama continues to be more confused, and to sleep poorly, and to issue complaints of this or that malady made up and not (it’s hard to tell the difference); and I wonder if the holidays are getting to her, too. We are in the second year of a new tradition in the extended family who will be present on the hill on the 25th: giving one handmade gift wrapped audaciously for a white elephant exchange, and small gifts that will fit in each person’s basket. There’s a twist this year, though, it doesn’t have to be handmade by the giver and the bodacious wrapping is optional. And the small gifts don’t have to fit in a basket. But I don’t have to be in charge, so it’s all good, if confusing. Mama is trying to wrap her head around it, as well.

She is looking for photographs for her gift project. Have I mentioned there are boxes, albums, envelopes, accordion files, and uncontained stacks of photographs in four bookcases, a closet, on and/or under three tables, on two desks, and on the floor? Mama, with her caregiver’s help since she can’t see, can’t find the specific panorama photos she wants. Apparently she has decided I moved them when I “cleaned up the family room without her”recently. She told Rebecca; she has not mentioned the unauthorized clean-up to me, nor did she attribute the lost photos to me last night when she told me she couldn’t find them.

If she had mentioned it, I would have assured her I did not touch any photographs—except to put the tops on the boxes in one of the bookcases—and I did not disturb her “projects” (abandoned or in progress, I’m not sure, but I knew not to touch them) on the round plus two leaves oak table in the family room, the one my parents started housekeeping with 71 years ago last week. I knew I was taking my life in my hands by cursorily making the room look like a place a person would want to walk into. I had just read this quote, and I wanted to try it out: “Everyone has a ‘risk muscle.’ You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t it atrophies” (Roger Von Oech). I didn’t want my muscles to atrophy, and it’s winter so solo hiking was not an option. To think I could get away with it was delusional.

I understand how frustrating it is not to be able to find something. I don’t understand placing the blame on someone else. Mama would say I will understand when I’m old (which will be tomorrow at this rate) what it feels like when someone takes over your life (which she is doing to mine), e.g. makes improvements without being asked. No, really, I won’t ever understand that. To have someone sweep in and make my space look beautiful when I no longer can, sounds like Christmas when I was eight. She told Rebecca she has wanted me to “help her” clean out, but I’m “too busy.”

I did help her, twice, attempt to clean off the table in the storage room. It still has a pile of dry-cleaning bags and various sizes of those zippered bags bedding comes in that she wouldn’t let me take off the table because she might need them for something and she needed to be able to find them. In fact, for everything (and there wasn’t much) we took off the table, two other things have taken its place. I have resisted getting involved in her photo sorting for two and a half years because I value my mind. The way I will sort her photos someday involves a moving box sized for bedding and a shoebox. You guess which one the discards will go in. I’m a hurricane when it comes to cleaning; she is a slow drip. We are incompatible cleaning partners.

I had a grand time in my NaNoWriMo novel fictitiously cleaning out this 3200 square foot house. But it will remain in my dreams until Mama is gone. Apparently I can’t even move a stack of phonograph albums upstairs to where the record player is, shred years-old bank statements, and stand stacked books in the bookcase on their ends (they have been in the lying down state since 1995 when my sisters and I attempted to clean out the bookcase when we were home for our father’s memorial service and Mama wanted to ask this or that person if they wanted this or that book), and  throw away four old (and uninteresting) rolled posters that have been living on the hearth. The only way, with her diminished vision, Mama could have known I had been there is because it looked vaguely better. Kind of like the difference between a gift wrapped in brown paper tied with string and one wrapped in colored tissue and pastel ribbon. Something is different, not sure what.

Mama is not of the illusion that aliens—aka the children—are stealing her stuff. She just likes to be in control; or likes to think she is. The fact that she really can’t be is not a consideration. I do my best to help her think she is, and mostly fail. I wonder how you wrap up the handcrafted gift of eternal youth? Very creatively.


5 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season”

  1. I think you have the patience of a saint with your mom….who really is a sweetheart. It does seem strange that she can notice things have been moved with her eyesight., maybe she can see better than you think. If I could take back every irritated word I said to my mother………I might say the same thing in a kinder tone of voice. We only get one mother.


  2. I agree with dk . And I do hope matters will get better, though heaven knows how or when. Please know that lots of friends love you and wish you the best. And not just at the holiday season.


  3. Ah Gretchen…You capture universal vulnerabilities so well: like having a hard time finding the Hope, Peace, Joy, Love in Advent since The Divorce when Everything Changed. I was feeling melancholy the other day, thinking about my dearest friend and husband who is gone now. I picked up the phone and called first one daughter, then the other. Neither answered or called back. Sigh. You’re not in it alone, dear friend!


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