Just A Simple Magnifying Glass

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction Phyllis had when I set the magnifier in front of her.  “Oh my!  Look at that! Can you believe it?  Wow.  I can see the detail!  Oh my!  Wow.  I just can’t believe it.”  Her response went on, “I bet can I read the newspaper now!  Look at that!  And the menu; I’ll be able to read the menu now”.  

Seriously?  It’s just a magnifying glass with a simple stand..

Before long she had all the other art “students” looking through the glass. They were not as impressed as Phyllis was, but then, they are not legally blind.

However, they were all very tickled at her reaction, and feeling her joy.

Phyllis has come to every session of this art class in my Mom’s assisted living facility, but she has struggled because of her eyesight.  She wanted to participate, and did, but it wasn’t easy.   When I left after class two weeks ago, I wondered if there was some way to make the class more enjoyable for her.  I decided to buy a small, inexpensive magnifier with a stand to help her see the detail of the picture.  I also outlined her sketch with black permanent marker to make the picture “pop” for her.  What a difference it made.  “I love this.  Thank you!  This is so much fun, isn’t it? Don’t you guys just love to do this?”

 

To prepare for their class, I had sketched scarecrows onto canvas panels for the residents to paint.  I also came across some watercolor markers for them to try. And even though I only had a few primary colors, they were a big hit, and everyone used them to “paint” their autumn picture.  I actually painted with them this time, and I used a set of watercolors.  And by the time class was over, I had paint brushes and watercolors in their hands as well to do some of the background.  

When we were almost done, Phyllis asked if she could buy the magnifier from me.  I love that.  I was very touched that such a little thing made a big difference in her world.  “No, Phyllis, you cannot buy it.  It is my gift to you.  I am thrilled that you are so happy.”

When class was finished, another resident retrieved a newspaper from her walker and asked Phyllis is she could read the print.  Phyllis said, “Oh!  Let me see.  Where is the obituary page — I only want to see who died.”  We all had a good chuckle over that.

As Phyllis turned to leave, she had one last thing to say to me, “Can I give you a hug?  I love you.”  Aww, how sweet is that?

Her apartment is only steps away from where we painted, and as I was cleaning up the mess, I could hear her on the phone,  “…she brought me a magnifying glass.  I can read the paper.”

Wow.  I am still kinda stunned.  It was only a simple, inexpensive magnifying glass.  Makes me wonder how many other residents would benefit from such a simple thing.

Needless to say, Phyllis made my day.  What a blessing she was to me!

I have been going twice a month to do art with these wonderful people. During class they asked if I could come very week. “Every week?  Well, yes.  Yes, I can.  I would love to.  I’ll see you next Friday.”

I’ve ordered a few more canvases.  I’ve found a few more colors in the watercolor markers.  And I’ll be sketching a few more seasonal pictures over the next couple of days.  Just a few simple things…

I can’t wait til next Friday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adjusting to Assisted Living

I spent the day with my mom on Friday.  As I had planned the visit a few days in advance, my sister (the one who lives by Mom’s assisted living facility) called and asked if I would take her to a doctor appointment.  Mom had complained about being uncomfortable the last few days, and with her continuous weight gain, my sister felt the doctor should be consulted.doctor-clip-art-4

I don’t even know how to explain the appointment.  It was almost like a comedy routine between the doctor and my mom.   This doctor is probably 70 years old himself, and  has only seen mother one time.  He was kind of lost as her medical history over the last year is very complicated.   I tried to fill in the blanks and walk him through it, but well, it’s just complicated.   All I’ll say is at the beginning of the appointment, he said, ‘your thyroid is doing great; those numbers are good’.  And at the end of the appointment he said, ‘your thyroid is dead’.  Ok then.

But by the time we were walking out of the office, a CAT scan was scheduled for next week.  Good enough.  That’s all I wanted out of the appointment anyway.  Mission accomplished.

In the parking lot, Mom says’, ‘do I stop taking my water pills?’   ‘No, everything stays the same until we get the results from the CAT scan’.  We head for a restaurant to eat a late lunch, and Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy.’  ‘No, Mom, they aren’t going to do anything until after the scan’.

Mom and I make small talk at lunch, and once again she laments about not being in ‘her own apartment’.   Then she proceeds to tell me about her play money she won at Bingo.  She uses this cash to buy toiletries in the facility store.   She has recently changed dining tables for meals, and she tells me about her new friends at that table.  She talks about her watercolor class and her euchre game.  She tells me how much sewing she has been doing.   Oookkay…..

Last summer I read many books and articles about dementia.  One report said that loved ones will always want to go home.  No matter how content they are in their new surroundings.  No matter how long it has been since they were home, they will always want to go back.   They will continue to ask about going home.    The article suggests that saying things like, ‘well, that isn’t an option anymore’, or ‘this is your home now’ only causes frustration and anger for your loved one.  It is better to say things like, ‘I know you miss your home.  Some day, we can talk more about that’.  Then steer the conversation to different topic.   I have tried to implement that advice, and it really seems to work.  So when Mom talks about home, I listen and sympathize; I don’t get upset or try to talk her out of that desire.  I just move away from the subject, and we talk about other things.

When we are about done with lunch Mom asks again about her water pills.   ‘Yes, Mom, continue to take them’.

We go for some blood work and then head back to her apartment.  Walking into the facility, Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy’.   ‘No, Mom…’

After spending a few minutes looking at her watercolors in the art room, someone mentions the Good Friday service is about to begin.  Mom quickly walks me downstairs and says her good-byes.  I am not offended that she rushes me off.  I love that she wants to go to the service and be with her new friends.

As I take my leave, she asks for the third time about her water pills.

home-sweet-homeOn my way home, I do NOT cry — this is a first.    In the past, I have cried because my mother’s world had shrunk so small.  I grieved for her and the life she knew and missed.  But today, not only did I see confirmed that her short term memory loss is certainly still an issue, I saw her world enlarging again.  As Mom has settled into her new life, her heart has softened, and she is opening up to friendships and activities.  She is finding her place once again.

She may grumble.  She may always ask to go home.  But I’m not worried about her anymore.

She is content.  She may even be happy.

This IS becoming home.

 

 

Motherhood and the Circle of Life

circle-of-lifeI’m in a funk today, and tears have come too readily several times.  So unlike me.  I went to see Mom yesterday, and once again, I cried all the way home.  I’m not even sure why.  She is really doing okay.  Much better than any of us dreamed she would be doing in assisted living.  I got there just in time to sit in on the last 15 minutes of her Bingo game.  Mom looked up when I walked in, but barely acknowledged me as she continued to tap the corner of her bingo card.  Evidently Bingo is serious business.  I quietly grabbed an extra chair and just slid in beside her.  As they continued to play the last few rounds, I looked around the room and took in the other residents — they too were “nose to card”, so I could observe them freely.  Gray heads, feeble hands, canes, wheelchairs, walkers.  Everything you’d expect in a senior home.   All but two ladies were quiet and concentrating on their cards.  Those two were playing their own cards as well as their neighbors, reaching over to point out B10, G59.  They do this frequently and it irritates Mom.  I hear about it later (several times).    As I study these men and women, a sadness comes over me.  Really?  Is this where Mom fits in?  Is this her peer group now?  I struggle with accepting that.  The game finishes, Mom jumps up, and as we walk out of the room, she says, ‘see all my loony friends? it’s a loony bin in here’.  Sigh.  I’m a little offended at her words, yet I know what I, myself, was thinking.  I didn’t call them loony, but…

I spend a couple of hours upstairs with Mom in her apartment.   She does do some repeating and I can see the short term memory lapses even in the brief time I’m there.  I know she can’t live on her own anymore.  I know she might not even want to — although she’d probably never admit it.  I know she is in a good place.  I just can’t get over how small her world has become.   Can she really be happy?  Can she be thriving in this environment?  Does she get any stimulation from other residents?

As I’m driving back home, my thoughts go from Mom to my own girls, all grown now, the last one finishing up college this semester.   I have 4 daughters.  That’s right, all girls.  Only one lives close to me; the others are scattered all over the country.  Could this melancholy be connected more to them than my Mom?   Maybe I’m a mess today because seeing Mom has just stirred up motherly emotions.   Has Mom mothered enough?  Have I?  I am 25 years younger than my mom.  25 years…  That isn’t a long time.   And no guarantee of even that.   My girls have been my whole life.  And to be honest, I struggle at times finding my place without them under foot.  They defined who I was: Mom.  I know all the parenting books say we shouldn’t let that happen, but, well…

We are daughters by no volition of our own, but we enter motherhood, normally, by choice.

Yet we really have no idea what we are taking on.

Motherhood redefines us.

It changes everything.

Forever.

 

 

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Bibs for Everyone

Mom is sewing up a storm.  Every other day, the Activities Director knocks on Mom’s door and has some mending for her to do.   When Mom tells me this, she pretends it’s a bit presumptuous of her, but I think she is loving the attention.  Mom has always had a love/hate relationship with sewing.  On the one hand, she loves the challenge and creativity involved.  But on the other hand, she hates the drudgery of alterations and mending.  I know the Director is probably searching out sewing jobs for Mom to keep her engaged and busy.

When I called her a few days ago, Mom said, ‘I made myself an apron from some material your sister dropped off’.   ‘An apron?  Why do you need an apron’?  Mom replies, ‘well, it’s a bib, really.  I made one for myself and everyone at my table’.   I can’t believe my mother is willing to wear a bib — even the instigator of wearing a bib at mealtime.

Wow.  I don’t even know what to say about that.

Yesterday I joined Mom for an early Thanksgiving meal prepared by her facility.  When we arrived downstairs, she haimagesnded out a few more bibs to appreciative fellow residents.   It got a little comical as Mom couldn’t remember which women had asked for bibs.  One woman got one and didn’t know why.  Another resident wanted to know why she didn’t get one.  It was kind of funny, and I think Mom will be making a few more this week; maybe everyone will be wearing a bib the next time I join her for lunch.  The dining room was overflowing into the hallway as  family members and guests gathered for this lovely dinner.   I did notice that Mom did NOT wear her “apron” for this meal.  The bibs evidently are saved for regular, no-guests-present, kind of meals.  Good for you, Mom.   You had me worried there for a minute.

Health wise Mom is doing very well.  After some routine blood work, the doctor put her back on thyroid medicine (her weight gain was also evident that something wasn’t quite right).   She has made great progress over the last 3 months, and we are happy about her renewed strength.

Her memory is still playing tricks on her.  The sequence of events and remembering recent happenings are still her biggest struggle.  She is guarded when questioned because she has caught on that those are her weaknesses.  Visits with her are taxing because she has become quiet.  Quiet is not an adjective that would ever have described my mother in the past.  She answers questions when personally addressed, but she does not initiate most conversations.

I think we were prepared for the memory lapses as we thought that was the definition of dementia, but this whole new personality change has us all a bit perplexed.  It’s like getting to know someone new.  And that’s okay.  Three months ago, we didn’t think Mom was going to live.

I have much to be thankful for this year.  So many blessings.  And the biggest and best is my mother will be sitting at our Thanksgiving Dinner table.

I wonder if she’ll bring her apron?

No Pedicures For Us Today

I went to see Mom yesterday.  I intended for us to go for pedicures.   My sister had mentioned a couple of times that Mom’s piggies could use some attention.  Sounded good to me… who doesn’t love a pedicure?  Well, Mom, evidently.   There was no persuading her otherwise.  I tried.  I really really tried.  I texted my sister, ‘unless I tie her up and drag her to the car, there will be no pedicures today’.   Ok then.

Mom has gained almost 30 pounds in the 8 weeks she has been at the assisted living facility.  My sisters think she is feeling better and eating too well.  (I could write a whole blog about my skinny sisters, food struggles, and my weight, however, my anxiety level is high enough today)  ‘They give her dessert at every meal”.  Well, yes, but 30 pounds?!  She isn’t chowing down and bingeing on bowls of ice cream every night.  Of course, there will be some weight gain as she was down to 110 pounds, but this much, this fast, isn’t a normal, healthy weight gain.  No, I think maybe the recent downward swing of that thyroid is still playing havoc with Mom’s body.  Doctors have adjusted her meds again.    Recent doctor’s appointments have yielded praise of Mom’s rebounding health, and frankly, no doctor is concerned about her weight.  Seriously?  I’m kinda concerned… and I don’t think its the Moose Tracks.

She called me on Monday because she was frustrated with a sewing machine someone gave her.  The bobbin thread was in a tizzy.   Anyone who sews knows that messed up bobbin thread can make you crazy.  I told her I would bring my extra machine.  “I’m not using it.  I can help set it up.  I’m coming tomorrow so I’ll put it in the car right now”.  She called me again on Tuesday morning before I left.  …the bobbin thread on that machine was in a tizzy.  Anyone who sews knows…    bobbinYep,  a repeat of the conversation from the day before.  Oh, Mom.    She called me twice more as I was driving, remembering things she needed me to pick up for her sewing tasks.  Setting up the machine and filling extra bobbins of various colors was a fun, normal thing to do.  It was so good to see Mom in this setting.   It would have been “just like old times” if it wasn’t for the repetition.  I think three times, she said, ‘I wanted you to pick something up.  What was it?’  “Pins, Mom, you asked me to pick up straight pins.  See, here they are.”

I am still a little shocked at the repeat questions.  It may be something I never get use to.  How does the brain work?  Why do those recent words not stick?  I want to take her face in my hands and say, listen Mom, listen to what I say.  As if only listening were the answer.  Remember.  Please, remember, Mom.

She hears the repetition in her fellow residents…  she says things like, “they are like my Mom was…”   I just nod, and my heart is sad.  Very very sad.  Dementia is a cruel disease.  It is stealing my mother.

She doesn’t even know she’s leaving.

I hate dementia.

I fear dementia.

 

 

Dementia? Yes, but best day ever!

Ok, two posts in one day, but I just can’t wait to write.  My mom had 2 doctor appointments today, and earlier I had talked with my sister briefly about how the day had gone.  My sister didn’t even want to talk about the actual appointments, she just wanted to talk about the personal strides in Mom she saw.   After talking with her, I hung up the phone, and called my Mom.  I wanted some of that.

She was energetic on the phone and talkative as she offered all kinds of info.  “The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me, so I guess I’m ok”.  “We went out to lunch, and were gone all day.”  “Just got back in time for my dinner”.    “There was a new woman admitted today, and they asked me to talk to her”.   “They asked me if I could sew; so I spent 3 hours sewing yesterday”.    What???  Wait?  What?    Who are you, and what did you do with my mother?  (I know I’ve said that before in a post, but hey, seriously, we are trying to figure out who this woman is).

So, yes indeed, a new resident was moving into her facility today.  The woman — and her daughter — were very distraught.  The mother was evidently crying, and when the Facility Director saw Mom walking in the hallway, she asked her to come talk with them.  Wow, bold move, Miss Facility Director!   But I guess Mom told her frankly that in the beginning she was very very angry.  And stayed that way for about a week.  But then things got better and, “I’m ok now”.    I just started crying when Mom told me that story.   Mom told me that she has good days and bad days, but she’s weighed it out in her head, and its ok.  “I probably do more things and am busier here than I was at my old apartment”.  Wow.

And yes, she did do some sewing for three hours yesterday.  Mom is an expert seamstress.  She had an upholstery shop in our home; also did some tailoring.  That facility found a gem.  I’m sure they will keep her busy with all sorts of projects now that they know what she can do.   They are evidently having a luau this weekend, and had Mom sew tablecloths, napkins, etc. to get ready.

And Bingo.  Mom is loving bingo.  Evidently they win play money.  Mom loves a competition.  And every few days, they set up a market with toiletries, etc., and the winners can spend their money on those items.  It’s a win win situation.

I am amazed.

Everything Mom told me lined up exactly with what my sister had said.

Mom did tell me some things 3 times, (smile), but I’m ok with that.   Yes I am.  Glad you’re back, Mom.  I’ve missed you.

Best day ever.

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Maybe That’s Why She’s Quiet… I hate Dementia

Mom continues to gain strength, and has actually gained around 15 pounds as near as I can tell.   Over the last several weeks, when asked about her weight, Mom would reply that she weighed 112 or 127 or 119 — all within the same conversation!  My sister and I were concerned because Mom’s weight is relevant due to her Congestive Heart Failure.  My sis has since bought a small dry erase marker board which sits right by the bathroom scale.  Mom’s daily journal seems to confirm the 127, give or take a pound each day.

However, it is complicated because now that the Hyperthyroidism is under control, of course, she is gaining weight.  Her appetite is back, and she is eating well again.   I try not to take offense to “the eating well again” comment when my sister says it.  Hey!  I was feeding her well when she lived here.   But, seriously, 85% of the time Mom was with me, she was a very sick woman.  And with the thyroid out of control, it didn’t seem to matter what she ate, she still lost weight.  I haven’t opened any of Mom’s cupboards in the new apartment, but my sister says she tends to gravitate to the candy aisle whenever they are out shopping.  That, too, could be responsible for a few extra pounds.  She also has dessert choices at every meal in the dining room — she does love her some lemon pie!  That’s okay, eat whatever you want, Mom.   At 84, some habits are just not going to change.

Since I posted last, I have seen Mom a couple of times.  She has been fairly reserved and quiet.  She will talk when asked direct questions, but she rarely begins any conversation herself.  I think that is the biggest personality change I see.  She doesn’t seem mad anymore, just not herself.

I hate dementia.  What an awful disease.  There she is right in front of me.   But where is SHE really?  Like many other daughters around me, I have cried myself sick over my mother.  (The hour and half drive home serves me well that way.)  Grieving…

Our family worked like crazy over the last year to get Mom healthy again.  We fought the doctors at every turn when they gave up.  And we were right when we said,  ‘something isn’t right; you are missing something’.   After eight months, the doctors landed on the correct diagnosis, and here we are two and half months later, Mom is certainly healthier — she has gained back strength, stamina, and weight.  She looks good.  But, I can’t help but think all that havoc on her body accelerated the dementia.  She is a different woman than she was — even 9 months ago.  Sure, we saw the signs, and we knew things we a bit amiss, but the rate at which her mind has stopped playing nicely is alarming to me.  And it grieves me.

I think it grieves her too.

Does she hear the repetition?  I know she hears the repeating stories in some of her fellow residents, and it drives her crazy.  (smile)  Yes, that does make all of us kind of snicker.  Oh, Mom…

Does she know she is confused?

I think she knows.  And it probably scares her death.

Maybe that’s why she’s quiet.  The less she talks the less she reveals to us … and to herself.

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