Running Out of Juice

I find myself, again, at a crossroads—if not yet at the end of this road—in the sharing of my life with my mother through this blog. She continues her spiral deeper into cognitive dysfunction and crazy talk as she desperately clings to whatever bit of control she can muster.

I could use this space to relate the daily insanity—and how it drives my sister and me to the brink. Like how this week she asked me to bring the jumper from her closet along with a half slip from a drawer on the right side of her dresser (the second drawer from the bottom, to be specific). She has not worn a dress other than to her birthday party, for years.

“How,” I ask, both smug and curious, “will you keep your legs warm?”

She is always complaining of being cold, not surprising given her emaciation, along with the dementia-enhanced inability to tolerate the slightest discomfort for the least increment of time. I don’t mention that she takes her sweater off when she goes to the bathroom for fear it will get in the way. How will she manage a dress, for gawd sake?

“I thought it might be more comfortable on days that it is too warm in my room,” she says.

I could have just brought the darn jumper, one less thing hanging in the closet I have partially taken over. But I cling to my own insatiable need for control.

“You have a thermostat in your room. If it’s too warm, ask someone to turn it down.”

Oddly, she has asked a couple of times lately if it feels too warm to us. Oddly, for once, it has not. Is this another brain thing? Maybe remembering the heat of summer, not the current autumn chill?

“Just bring the turtleneck that’s hanging with it,” she demurs.

So much for that theory.

“There wasn’t one with it,” I say. “Can you describe it to me, and I will see if it’s somewhere else. Is it silky?”

“No!” she says, more forcefully than called for. “It’s lavender and matches the jumper; pretty well, at least.”

I look in the dresser drawer in her room at the Manor and pull out a lavender cotton turtleneck and don’t mention the fact that she has said she can’t get turtlenecks over her head anymore. She feels of it, asks about its label (not L.L. Bean) and guesses it is the one. Nothing more is said of the jumper.

She asks me to bring her “old threadbare nightgown” from home because, she says, it’s warmer than the ones she has been wearing (arguably). But she doesn’t want me to purchase a new flannel one or put the flannel sheets on her bed or add a blanket; because, she says, it is too warm at night.

She says we should hire more help for her because she doesn’t want me and Rebecca to have to take care of her needs. She tells me this after I spend two seconds straightening her bedding for her afternoon nap. It was still to be done because, according to a note left by her morning paid caregiver, Mama snapped at her to leave her bed alone. I wasn’t going to do it either; maybe after I left she would realize that it’s always ready to get into because we are all looking out for her. (Most likely she would say no one had time to do it, her go to phrase when something isn’t as she wants it.) But before I could escape, she tells me it needs to be done before she can take her nap. Mama is Obsessive—capital “O”—about her bedding and trying to get right the moving target of  perfection is enough to drive anyone to drink.

“You told the paid help you already have not to spread the covers,” I impatiently remind her.

“I TOLD her not to do it unless I was THERE!” she retorts.

I know if she had said that, the caregiver would have called her over so she could do it with her. She has more patience than I do, which is probably the real reason Mama suggested getting more help. But I don’t say anything. Nor does Mama inspect my bed making, perhaps knowing she is pushing my tolerance, since I had already tried twice to take my leave before the bed prep came up.

Anyway, I could relate these anecdotal evidences of decline each week—but that feels disrespectful.

Rebecca and I are moving on with our lives as Mama clings by her fingernails to hers. I’m working at my new mini job as assistant baker at a deli, coming to the end of facilitating my first series of a writing circle, visiting my grandsons, running my Airbnb; and, in a financially courageous move, resigned the remote job I’ve had for four and a half years that wasn’t bringing me joy.

Rebecca was elected to the city council Tuesday, in a surprise victory over the incumbent (adjectives will remain silent, suffice it to say this is a good ol’ boy conservative county), while running her business and dealing with insurance adjusters and contractors to repair her building that was crashed into in June. Our lives are full, even as we continue to remain dutiful in the care and feeding of our mother.

Now I’ve written a whole post when I had nothing to say. Expect occasional skipped weeks in this space as I continue this stroll with my mother, or guest posts about other writers lives with an elderly parent. Thank you for being here, as always.

Post script: When I visit this afternoon, Mama says she wants her yellow wool blanket she used last winter put on the bed—”if [she] still has it”—because the lap size comforter she has been using for six months slides off, which she has never mentioned before. Because it doesn’t. I tell her the yellow blanket is in her closet and ask if she would like me to put it on the bed. “No, not now,” she says. I won’t tell you about the toothbrush conversation.

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7 thoughts on “Running Out of Juice

  1. We all love what you do here…please don’t stop 😘
    My friend just lost her mother at 105…loss of physical strength, immobility, hospice, death…and I am facing the conversations we never had about her…basic conversations. It always seems to be that way and I must live with my omissions. The gift you give yourself as you write about the comedy/trajedy that is life, you so honor everyone involved, and it’s an immeasurable contribution most of us just wish we had done. I have found it so satisfying to note and converse with siblings about my brother who passed suddenly a year ago September, but this is a great miss! Even so, as I listen to his vinyl classical organ collection and hear pipe organ music as often as possible, I have a certain experience of redemption, and it brings me joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this affirmation, MaryLou. Writing the blog is a gift to myself; I hadn’t really looked at it that way. And whatever I write is getting woman story out into the Universe, both mine and my mother’s. And that is a good thing. Love to you and to conversations and music. G

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  2. Gretchen, your story here is so much more than the day to day changes in your mother’s life. Personally, I read to know how it all feels to YOU. I read for the clarity of your insight into the hard stuff, like what it means to lose patience and enthusiasm as a caregiver. I feel guilty having those feelings and I haven’t even begun, in earnest, my own turn as Daughter on Duty. I know it isn’t always easy to admit, but you have never bored us with the sugar-coated version. The story here, for me, is about how you have transitioned and how your own life is unfolding despite these changes and challenges. I am SO grateful for all you have shared. As one staring down hard days ahead in my own life, I appreciate you more than you probably realize. And I honor your path wherever it leads.

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    • Thank you, Bonnie. This helps. I do not disrespect my mother, and I don’t want it to ever appear that I do. I am, after all, just a few brain cells and a handful of years away from my own decline into dementia, and there is nothing to be done about it, hers or mine. I have always wanted this blog to be read as an anatomy of old age and the struggle of those who care for their elders with love and exasperation. And maybe I need to explore that in a post!

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  3. From Gheeta:
    Gretchen,

    When this iteration of your blog comes to an end, I will miss the updates. But remember that the blog isn’t about your audience’s wants and needs…it’s about what you need(ed) to do for a time.

    All good things…etc. It’s been good vicariously sharing this journey with you. My own aunt passed from Alzheimer’s about a month ago. I’m glad I stumbled across your blog a five years ago when she was first diagnosed…your trials with your mother have been a helpful insight…both with how I interacted with my aunt and cousin–her caregiver, and my own aging parents.

    Most importantly, though, you must do what’s best for you…I have a feeling your readers will understand no matter what your choice.

    Peace

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, Gheeta, thank you again for your supportive words. I guess it’s not like I’ve never been disrespectful here, huh? I appreciate your encouragement and affirmation that it’s helpful. And maybe just knowing other people are in the trenches is what matters to readers, less than what I actually write. And you are right, first of all I write it for myself.

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