The Dementia Chronicles #1 is a culmination of strife brought on by one family’s experiences with an aging parent with dementia. As the writer, the point of view will be through my eyes and memories but will include other family members’ comments and any emotions they offer for these writings.
So, what is the purpose in doing this? Possibly, as a cathartic exploration of dementia and its effects on people caring for a family member with this disease. Possibly, as body of work that will help other people dealing with family members who have dementia. Whatever my reasons, I’m sure they will be revealed on a day-to-day basis.
Also, please know that as an author of fiction, these Dementia Chronicles are nonfiction and completely out of my breadth of writing knowledge so bear with me. These installments will come weekly and as issues arise with my mother who suffers not only from dementia but from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
This first installment will catch you up, why it happened, and how we have coped with everything.
So, here we go…
Past tense, third person: Once upon a time… a young naive young lady met a schooled young man. They fell in love and had two girls. At twenty, the young lady who was now a mother began to smoke cigarettes–a pack a day and didn’t stop until she was seventy-years-old, after fifty years of smoking.
By then, cigarettes had drastically reduced her ability to breathe. Heck! She never breathed well during her entire years smoking. By thirty, she had already developed a cough that rattled mucous around in her chest like pebbles in a tumbler. She needed to clear her lungs no fewer than up to 2 times every 30 minutes or so but would she stop smoking? No. Even as her children grew, even as they begged her to stop. Even after her husband died of chronic heart failure “brought on (words spoken by his cardiologist) by cigarette smoking.” Dad was only 69 when he died. January 1996.
Do we ever get over the loss of a parent? No. I think they drag us into their graves.
One child, the youngest, moved away while the eldest remained in Phoenix where most of their family lived. The mother followed her youngest daughter north to live on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Where the younger provided her mother a separate home on their 5 acres. (This may seem like bloated information, maybe even info-dumping but it has become crucial to the storytelling of this family’s coming events).
Past tense, first person: Then, in 2003, my husband and I got married in the backyard of our home. Mom was at our wedding and seemed bitterly weak. She needed a lot of help and could barely make it to her chair. Within that very week, we had to race her to emergency services on the island where they determined her breathing was impaired by scarring–an effect of the COPD. But she never seemed to get much better. She was 66 at that time. Still, she didn’t quit smoking.
…during this time we witnessed her very first signs of dementia
Mother had gotten a new little dog during those next 4 years of ill-health. And at 70, she decided to give up cigarettes, finally, “For Teddy,” (her dog) mother said. And, let me not water it down, here–my sister and I could go into years of psychoanalysis just on that statement alone but allow me to forego our emotional issues with this. What’s past is past.
In 2010, mother was put on oxygen and a new series of medicines–two inhalers and blood pressure medicine. And these new medicines worked great for her and she was actually able to walk Teddy for a while–albeit at the paced of a racing turtle–up and down the street about 500 feet or so. I believe it was during this time we witnessed her very first signs of dementia. We didn’t know that then.
During her 5-day-stay in the hospital, I had been making sure her pets, Teddy and Timmy, were tended to–fed, cat box cleaned, let out. Before mother returned from the hospital, I cleaned her house and stocked her refrigerator and cupboards so that she could manage a little better when she got back home. When I brought her into her house, she seemed pleasant enough and just wanted to be alone, to rest in her bed.
My sister called the next day asking, “What happened with mom?”
“I got her home and she seems fine,” I said.
Then my sister said, “She’s pissed off at you.”
“She said you’re trying to take over.”
My sister went on to tell me mother was angry that I had cleaned and gone to the store, that she could take care of herself. And, back then, she could have if she were well but she was in the hospital and I wanted to make things easy for her upon her return. Well, I didn’t handle mother’s reproach well. In fact, we had a huge fight. I look back and chastise myself because she was obviously having trouble with memory loss and cognition, in general. Something we learned a couple of years later.
…she told the doctor that I never came over… her anger flashed…
When we were at the hospital, she told the doctor that I never came over. Which was a complete falsehood. Bob and I visited mother at the least once a week at her home and at the most (back then) three times a week. It was, and is, impossible not to see or visit her, given our proximity. Her house is only 200 feet away from ours on the driveway. We see her coming and going, for crying out loud. Our dumpster sits just past her house as does the mailbox. We retrieve all the mail and take hers over to her. We maintain her house whether by going to help with cleaning or by mowing her lawn.
Does it sound like I’m defending myself? I guess I am but, at the time, I felt like we were in constant defense of ourselves.
We noticed her anger flashed, occurring for no reason at all, abrupt and virulent.
In the summer of 2013, she began to have trouble again. She was accusatory and picked fights about senseless things.
Then, one day, she called after seeing me drive home.
“Did you see those men?” She asked.
“What men, ma?”
“There were two electricians here.”
“You needed work again?” I asked.
“While one was in the bedroom, doing something, the other one was stealing checks out of my checkbook.”
“They stole my checks and now the bank is calling me saying I don’t have any money.”
“They stole checks?”
You have to understand where we live. First of all, if you can ever get an electrician to show up, you would throw your checks at him. Second, it’s a tiny island where the crime rate is next to nill.
“Yep. The bank called and said I bounced some checks.”
I won’t go into all the mess of what ensued but it was an adventure! It was also the first distinct sign of hallucinations brought on by dementia.
This past Christmas, 2014, mother envisioned that her older brother had died. My sister called. Mother didn’t call herself.
“Did you know that he died?” Lizz went on to ask.
“No. How sad.”
“I’m not sure he did. I checked the internet. No obits anywhere.”
“I’ll check too.”
During this fiasco, the only way to determine fact from fiction, was to (somehow) retrieve our uncle’s phone number from mother. It turned out he hadn’t died but this is how mother’s hallucination went: he had died in a fiery automobile accident that took out both my uncle and my aunt. It gets more interesting. Mother said a man from Kentucky (my uncle lives in Tennessee) had called to tell her that he was dead. He was someone from the government in charge of this sort of thing. After asking, “Who from Kentucky?” Mother then changed her story to say that her niece and her niece’s husband were playing a cruel trick on her.
The story was elaborate and horrific–if it were true. But it wasn’t.
We had to take force her into a situation where she couldn’t drive. She would give up her car willingly. Even after the doctor had ordered her. Even after the DOL was alerted to the doctor’s order. That happened last fall. This past week she tried to buy a new car but, fortunately, no one would sell her one. Thank God for small towns and the people living in them.
So, we’re pretty much caught up now. These things that have happened sound funny, I’m sure, to others about mom’s total confusion and her fabrications. We see that. Hey, we even laugh but then the humor slips away about mom’s strange missteps. Sadness and frustration delete the humor. We sigh. We check on mom to see if she has remembers what has most recently happened. Sometimes she does. Mostly she doesn’t.
Mom used to paint and has a beautiful portfolio of art, oil paintings and sculptures. She also used to paint the exterior of her home–nearly once a year! It took her weeks but she’d get out there on her ladder with a bucket and brush, a cigarette dangling out of her lips, and swash on a fresh coat.
Mother used to be vibrant and bold, independent and ferocious woman, manipulative at times. If we could get the old healthy mom back–the controller who would not be questioned–for this new version, we would trade. In a heartbeat.
Our peace is found in our faith and we hold on to that.
“[ By Faith We Understand ] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11-1
No truer words.
You just finished reading installment #1 of the Dementia Chronicles.
You can read more about aging in this New York Times article entitled, As We Age, Keys to Remembering Where the Keys Are
By JANE E. BRODY, at: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/as-we-age-keys-to-remembering-where-the-keys-are/?src=me