aging in place, Dementia, family caregiver, mother daughter relationship

Why, Oh Why?—Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

For almost three years I have observed my mother putting a quarter of a paper towel on top of the VitaMix base. There are no open parts and I have never understood why she keeps it covered. I haven’t asked why because she does a multitude of things that are a mystery to me; and, I have come to understand, she can’t answer “why” questions and therefore they are disrespectful.

I kept my mouth shut when she kept asking the cardiologist this week about her nighttime breathing difficultly due to a deviated septum probably since birth, but exacerbated when she broke it in the fall in the garden a year ago. “It’s my biggest complaint,” she told him. He was curt—a pompous ass, if the truth be told—and dismissively told her that wasn’t his area. But a few minutes later, after I asked him some questions actually related to his expertise, when she asked what sleeping position to assume to help her breathe better, he joined the game.

“There’s no right or wrong,” he told her, “whichever way feels best at any given time is fine.” (Which is what every doctor has told her for the past year, from her ENT to her eye doctor to the visiting nurses; and she will ask the ENT again in two weeks, and her primary care doctor at the end of the month.)

To my question about her medications, he said, “No, there is no reason for her to take the tiny dose of blood thinner or the low-dose aspirin. You have won the race!” he told her. “You don’t have heart disease and, at 99, you are not going to get it now.”

That night, when I was filling her medication box for the next day with her whopping pile of pills—vitamins D and B12, the 25 mg of metoprolol she takes every other day for high blood pressure, which she doesn’t have (the dose that would have an effect on someone who needs it is 100 mg a day), and the baby aspirin—I asked her if she wanted to stop taking them. “Not right now,” she said. I did not ask why.

Pretty Daisy

Dan the Handy Man started up the weed eater yesterday morning and began to cut down the meadow of daisies around the apple trees below the house. The daisies are in their prime and we all love daisies, and would get irritated at my father for keeping them mowed down in the meadow up the driveway. “What’s the deal?” I asked Dan.

“She thinks cutting the grass will reduce the risk of wild fire.”

“Oh for goodness sake,” I said. Yes, it is dry here and hot, a weather state we should not be experiencing until August. But the adjacent woods are full of years worth of tinder-dry branches and twigs, left to lie because Mama didn’t want the property to “look like a park.” Cutting down daisies in their prime is too little too late. I gathered a bouquet, remembering the photo of my mother saving daisies from a meadow being flooded by a dam, and said nothing to her, though I was sorely tempted.

Pretty Daisy

It’s been really hot, but it cools off at night, because this is, after all, the Pacific Northwest. I asked Mama if we could leave the living room window open all night. She said the bugs would come in. I didn’t point out there was a screen on the window because I knew she would say there was a hole in it, or there might be. I suppose she figured the retort was on the tip of my tongue, and she told me anyway.

“The light will attract bugs,” she said. Leaving a light in the living room burning 24/7 “for security” is another of her habits I don’t understand. And the bugs come in anyway, we live in the woods, and they don’t need a light or a hole in the screen; but it does no good to challenge her logic. Problem solving is a better tactic than questioning.

“How about we turn off the light?” I suggested. She agreed to turn it out that night. The next day it was back on. Now I just turn it off and open the window after she goes to bed.

Pretty Daisy

Sometimes, maybe even most times, her routines and rituals are completely reasonable to her. It doesn’t have to make sense to me, and I don’t even need to hear her reasoning. In fact, it’s easier to let go of what makes no sense to me if I don’t know. So mostly I don’t ask.

I don’t know why, after nearly 36 months, I suddenly had to know about the paper towel. I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and Mama was milling about and the square of towel got the better of me.

“Why do you put a square of paper towel on the VitaMix?” I asked, my tone as deliberately absent of mockery as I could make it.

“Because a full towel is more than I need,” she said. “I don’t want to waste it, so I put it there so I can find it.”

Oh my god. It has nothing to do with protecting the VitaMix, perhaps from the bugs that come in through the hole in the screen. And that’s the thing: I assume her dementia colors more than it does. But I don’t have a corner on logic; hers makes as much sense to her as mine does to me.

Pretty Daisy

Last night Mama asked if she had ever told me the best placement of the custard dishes in the dishwasher.

“You have been telling me the only right way to load the dishwasher since 1960,” I said. My patience runs only so far.


8 thoughts on “Why, Oh Why?—Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

  1. ‘But I don’t have a corner on logic; hers makes as much sense to her as mine does to me.’ wise words Gretchen; words I can use to guide me when I try to understand my children’s logic. Thank you. xx


  2. Well you think you would have learned about the dishwasher by now :).

    I sympathize with your frustrations since I deal with many very similar things every day. Like you, I have learned it is better not to ask, but also sometimes I throw common sense to the winds and ask anyway.


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