Monday, July 24


It started coming apart early last week, after Mom had gone over to my sister's for a few days. My sister starts a new job today, and wanted to get this week away from Mom-related stress.

It was becoming obvious that her clan--my brother-in-law in particular--were losing patience with Mom. That revelation hit my wife and me pretty hard. There's been a slow recognition that they're part of the problem. My sister relayed her husband's solution to the Mom Problem last week: just sit down at the table and tell her she was going to a home, get packed. Mission accomplished.

We've also come to realize, slowly, again, that my sister's medical plan was that we'd get Mom into assisted living, where they'd take care of it. Last week I finally said No, and No, she's not going back to your family doctor, the one who upset her with some flippant remarks. There's an appointment with a geriatric clinic next month, assuming we all live that long.

I've sworn there will be no open hostilities between me and my sister, and I'm keeping to it, but it's surprising just how easily people can get under your skin even when you're on guard. Last week she announced (I could hear the sound of her husband pulling the strings to make her dance) that each household needed to take her a full week at a time, and that Dad and The Girls would be at The Lake for a week's vacation, starting this (last) weekend. This just happened to coincide with my wife leaving town for a week-long class at a major university three hours to our north. I guess it hadn't occurred to them we might have things to do as well. So I got to be the beta-tester of the new One Week rule, and the going away party I'd planned for my wife had to go back in my shorts.

Okay, some people live through the truly horrible every day and come up punching, so I'd soldier on. But then Friday morning, while I was out, my Poor Wife gets a call from Mom. Agitated. Wants to talk to me. Informed I'm not there she say's I'd better be there to pick her up within the hour "or she's getting on a plane and flying back to Florida". Which, of course, is what she wants to do anyway. I get home, get the story, then get a call from my sister (who's left Mom in the care of her eleven-year-old, her informant). It turns out that they had decided Mom would go with them to The Lake for the weekend, then come to my place Sunday night. Only Mom didn't get the memo (neither did we) and is now refusing to go.

I said we'd be over to get her. My sister said, "Okay, I'll tell [my husband] he can stop arguing with her now."

That is also part of the plan, I guess. Argue the point with her until she sees the error of her Alzheimer's.

She was on the couch, weeping. The daughter was freaked. My sister was jumping out of her skin. Hubby and older daughter were gone, lakeward. Got Mom home and, as usual with these strong emotional episodes, she went right to sleep. I figured she'd be out for 24 hours, but she was up by dinner time, feeling chipper and acting like nothing had happened.

This went on for the next 36 hours--I'd already resolved not to bring up any unpleasantness until my wife left. Just after she did Mom fell asleep on the couch, so I went outside and washed the deck and tidied up the garden, then climbed the stairs to read awhile.

She was up when I came back down and I could sense there was trouble. She asked if I'd do her a favor. Sure thing, Mom, just name it. Take me to Florida tomorrow. You, mother dear, are out of your frickin' mind.

Which is not quite the way I put it. More like, "Why do you need to go to Florida?" in my best nurse's/Lite Rock DJ voice. Seems the bank had called her and she was needed there right away to handle some paperwork. I was not supposed to find it odd that her Florida bank called her at my house. On a Saturday afternoon. I was, in fact, Calling Her a Liar. I told her that my sister had all the finances under control, which I knew would let me in for a ten-minute tirade about how she's stealing Mom's money, and "made herself the attorney because that girl at the bank told her to." Girls at the Bank are incredibly powerful in Mom's universe. Like purses they are some sort of portal to the Inner Light. The waves kept coming and coming, and I just tried to remain upright. "You wouldn't have to stay. Just take me down there." "I'll just go by myself. You can just drive me to the airport. You don't have to tell anybody." Finally she asked for a phone book, as though I couldn't figure out what she was going to do with it.

Phone books, too, are a mysterious force in this strange galaxy of hers. She will pore over them endlessly, fall asleep with them on her lap, leave slips of paper to mark pages she can't possibly need. I let her have the thing. She's still at it this morning. She managed to find Airport Transportation in the Yellow Pages, but she can't figure out how to dial the phone, or where to tell them to come. She called a friend of hers in Florida for assistance, but left off the dial tone. I think she got somebody's answering machine, since she just said Hello a couple times and hung up.

What goes on in her head? Emotion reigns supreme; strong emotional scenes and the emotional attachments she puts on other, non-emotional events, trump everything else. Rational thought--not in the philosophical sense, but in the sense of acting in such a way as to not be run over by a bus while crossing the street--registers mostly as emotion. It's good to take your pills or see to the day's hygiene, when the subject comes up, but these aren't guiding principles. If the phone or the remote control do not work to her satisfaction she puts them down and later mumbles about how they aren't working, which seems merely to indicate her emotional relationship to them, not a plea for someone to do anything about it. I've let her wash some dishes, twice. She'll leave the water running in the wash sink as she rinses, and moving it while warning her it's about to overflow will do no good unless you maintain the vigilance; the faucet will be aimed back at the brimming sink within thirty seconds, aimed at the single sink of suburbs long since past, I suppose, since she's used nothing but dishwashers since 1968. She dries everything, but them gets sidetracked because she doesn't know where anything goes. Never checks any of the cupboards to find out.

The phone book is much in evidence again this morning, and she still imagines she's going back to Florida. She tried to convince me to drive her to the bank for funds. I'm letting it play out until this afternoon, when we'll sit down and have the same conversation about her future we've had five times before, and maybe I'll get her to agree to get an apartment up here. In which case I'll be driving her where she wants to go, as quickly as I can get her in the car.


Anonymous said...

I hope this reporting exercise is therapeutic for you; it alls gives me pause for introspection, and whether welcome or not, is real.
Thanks and take care.

p.s. Happy birthday to me! :)

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday also, HeyDave!

Dear Doghouse, scratch that earlier comment of mine about how fortunate you are to have family with which to share the task of caring for your mom. I'm quite with you in wanting to smack that b-in-law and sister. It appears that the genetic load for empathy missed them and fell completely into your DNA. Happens like that sometimes, don't it. It's a curse, I tell you! I have no trouble at all imagining what it must be like inside the loopy world of Alzheimerville - terrifying and frustrating without end. It might be helpful to remember that "going to Florida" is, in large part, metaphorical for her, as is "they're stealing from me." These things most likely mean: "going back to a time when I was sane and in charge of myself" and "my life (sanity) is being taken from me." God (or whoever)Bless you all!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...


Good God.

I can't believe that there are siblings like that. every time I hear about it, I can't believe it, but it seems to happen so often that it must be true.

I feel so bad for your mother.

Crap, I don't know what else to say. I also hope you get at least some therapeutic relief in this writing; on this end, it gives me nothing but gratitude that my parents passed without going through this kind of thing.

Be strong. Best wishes to you and your family, and of course your mother.

Anonymous said...

And that telephone book thing: That's probably an effort to find "direction" ("Directory", get it?) - your title for the post being so very apt. To me, it seems as if Alzheimer's victims live in a perpetual dream (nightmare?) state where they become increasingly unable to communicate in anything other than symbolic terms. Also, you might check and see if there are any support groups for families in your area. They can be a great help.

isabelita said...

You are a most patient soul. Your reports from the edge of the abyss are moving. My 88 and 1/2 year old mother lives with us, and although we are not having the same experience you are, it is difficult and heart-rending and maddening to witness the decline of a person. It's like being a new parent in reverse.
I may have said this before in a response to your reports, which contain your inimitable humor. If I have, I'm sorry to repeat myself,
but it gets much on one's mind, this caretaking.
I find reading about other people's experiences somehow gives me some compass.
Gawd, I hope you can find a tolerable situation.

Anonymous said...

Geeze. Sign me up for the Smacking Your Sister and Brother-in-Law Brigade. They don't seem to have any concept of what Alzheimer's is, like she's just some annoying old lady with unreasonable demands. No wonder she's terrified.

Good luck with the whole situation.

Anonymous said...

Short of not being able to fix the problem, it's probably the most frustrating thing on earth to run into a brick wall of irrationality, suspicion, and obstinacy when trying to solve it. I've been through this for other relations, and for other reasons, but it's all the same. You have my sympathies, for what it's worth.

A friend's family literally kidnapped their mother and plunked her in a beautiful place in Virginia (near the daughter) where she actually enjoys her life there, even if she did have to go kicking and screaming. They can afford it, though. Other friends less well off had to place their mom in a rather depressing (but unfortunately necessary) nursing home.

Needless to say, hope you find some solution, and some solace in writing. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

One of these days, I'm gonna click over here and the whole post will just be a sound file of you screaming. And damn if we won't all get it.

The support group idea is an excellent one, be aware there are some online also since, if your town is as small as it seems, your local ones may all be church-run. They're less likely to be sympathetic to your urge to kill your sibling.

Anonymous said...

I can vouch for the evil siblings. I just got done with a 7 year stint of living with my (sometimes) psychotic dad. As time goes on, they only get worse.
You may want to check that phone book yourself, there are many options between letting mom live alone and a skilled nursing facility. With Medicare/Medicaid, these options are not as costly as you may imagine. Talk to an attorney about "asset protection" before it is too late. Your sister will screw mom out of her assets and rationalize it to herself.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me your sister bit off more than it turned out she and her family could chew. I can sort of sympathize, but their handling leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.

Too bad you can't get her seen by someone sooner than next month.

Anonymous said...

A book called Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen may be helpful to you. I read it in bits & pieces (it's a book of short essays) after my husband died of heart disease, and found it very wise indeed!

In the meantime, please know that my thoughts are with you and your family. You give so much joy through your writing--I hope some of that joy wings it way back to you now!

DBK said...

Am dealing with aging parents issues now myself. The most you can hope for is to hang onto your sense of humor as long and as much as possible. With Alzheimer's, they really don't have any control over what is going on and it is the lack of control over the most basic things that is most difficult for them.

eRobin said...

Hey, Doghouse. I'm sorry your family is going through this hard time. Take care of yourself whenever you get the chance. Much love and many positive thoughts your way and to your mom in particular.