Sometimes I have caregiver envy. All caregivers are stressed. Any caregiving is a challenge. But I look around and see that some caregivers have cheerful, pleasant individuals for whom they care. I hear from some of you that sometimes the person may even say thank you. I watch the interactions of the lady who resides across the hall from my mother. She is in a wheelchair, she has limited mobility – mother uses a walker sometimes but is often in her wheelchair as well. This lady always has a smile on her face, I see her daughters visiting her and they laugh and chat. The staff members have commented on her, and tell me she is “so sweet and a delight.”
Not my mother. Whew! No, she is negative, angry, and aggravated – nearly all the time. The pleasant side of mother is seen so rarely that I have taken to calling her Dr. Jekyll and “Mrs.” Hyde, and mostly we see Mrs. Hyde. This past week was particularly challenging.
Mom had been complaining for weeks that she thought she needed to see her doctor. She had no specific complaints – she just kept saying she thought she needed to go to the doctor. In fact, she had seen her geriatric physician – who comes to the assisted living, in the past two weeks. But we also had an appointment with her neurologist so even though I informed her of that upcoming appointment, I also wrote that visit on her calendar and on her large white board so she could easily see it. I hoped that would ease her mind. This physician happens to be in mom’s hometown, an hour away. We continue to go to him as he is not only an excellent physician, but a good friend. He allows me to email him when issues arise, and quite simply – we trust him.
Let me back track a bit. When mother had her second hip break just one month after the first, and the doctor said she absolutely could not go back home, even with the daily caregiver who had been coming for a couple of years, my siblings and I made the decision to place Mom in an assisted living near me. We knew that leaving her close knit group of church friends would be painful, but the need to have her near one of us seemed imperative. We vowed to make sure they kept in touch, via phone calls and visits. It wasn’t the same, but we also hoped mother would make new friends at the assisted living.
Mother can be a snob. Sorry to say it, but it is so. In three years, she has finally made a few friends at the assisted living, but in her “Mrs. Hyde” mode she refuses to attend most of the activities at the facility, keeps her door closed most of the time and refuses to be social. She consistently complains about the food. I bring her yummy snacks that she gobbles quickly, but then says “why do you bring me all this junk?”
So back to last week’s events, it turned out that the day of her doctor appointment was the same day as her church circle was meeting. I had called her good friend, Pauline to arrange a lunch with her while we were in town, and she informed me of the circle meeting. What luck! Mother could see several of her friends and participate in the group of which she had been so fond.
I realize that having a dementia, means mother will need lots of reminders and warnings of events to come – thus the calendar and the whiteboard within easy sight. And she is quite fashion conscious so the night before, she insisted we pick out the outfit she would wear. We talked about the circle meeting and how nice it would be to see her friends.
On the day of the doctor visit, Mrs. Hyde was out in full force. She insisted she had not known we were going, even though the assisted living staff said she had rung her buzzer frequently throughout the night, to remind them I would be there soon to take her to the doctor.
As we drove she complained about the cold weather, she complained about the length of the trip and of course, about my driving. No matter how careful I drive, it has always been a source of complaint. Not one word about the friends she would be seeing.
Finally, we arrived at the church. We struggled a bit as I tried to help her out of the car and into her wheelchair. She looked up at me and said “Dammit, I wish you would just leave me alone.”
I will admit it – I lost my cool and said back to her, “Dammit, I wish you had a better attitude.”
With a slightly crooked, but angry finger point straight at me she then said, “I can’t believe you said that in the church parking lot!”
Of course, the visit went well. Her pleasant, Dr. Jekyll face was on!! Her friends were thrilled to see her. Mother was all smiles. I nearly lost it when one friend asked her how she kept busy in her new home. Mother actually said, “Oh, they keep us very busy with lots of things.”
Two days later I took her out to dinner. As I have said, she complains incessantly about the food. She usually eats much better when we go out and I try to take her as often as I can. As we left Hilltop Manor several of her friends bade us good-by. One said, “Have fun!” Another said, “I wish we were going too!” One said, “Oh, eat something good and think of us.” I actually felt guilty and wished I could take all of them with us! Alas, however, Mother complained that the waitress took too long, the people at the next table were “fat”, the restaurant was too noisy and “this traffic is just awful” – another pleasant time spent with Mrs. Hyde.
Yesterday, I knew I needed to stop by and see her – I had some supplies she would need. But I dreaded it. Some days I can take it. I know her life has changed immeasurably and she has a debilitating disease, and that can certainly be disheartening for her. But as I watch many of the other residents in the facility make the best of their situation, I just wish mother could see SOME bright side, some time, even just a little. So with a knot in my stomach, I made the visit.
“Well, Hi, I was hoping you would come today,” she said with a smile. I thought, “Who are you and where have they taken my mother?”
I gave her the muffins I had purchased for her and as I put away the rest of the supplies she said, “ Oh, these look good.” and she ate one.
We chatted. She was pleasant and as I got up to leave a bit later she said “Be careful, I love you.”
It was a rare appearance from the pleasant Dr. Jekyll – a moment with a “nice” Mom – a gift from above. Thank you, Lord.