3, 2, 1, … Enjoy Your Loved Ones When You Can

momxmas2014CHRISTMAS 2013: Just three years ago, mom was opening up a basket of breakfast treats. I remember feeling a bit lost about how to manage through the holidays. It was only a few months after Dad died. With no short-term memory, Mom, with Vascular Dementia, was having a hard time remembering, absorbing, and even grieving her partner of 60+ years. I wanted her to have a nice Christmas and worked to find a cute little Christmas tree (shown behind her) in hopes she wouldn’t feel so alone in this world.

I remember at this time working with the staff in her Assisted Living community to help her manage. She was calling me repeatedly asking about Dad. She was also getting into physical disagreements with other residents and the community was having a hard time helping mom through this period. This was about the time I started to recognize that the community she was in really wasn’t the right fit for her needs. Mom needed a memory care community — not Assisted Living which addresses physical healthcare needs. She was always on the go and craved activities with meaning and purpose.

Thankfully, my sister came and spent several days with her and I had a nice reprieve from caregiving over the holidays.

kayandkittyxmas2014Christmas 2014:  I had found mom a new community, but one week before the move date, she had a terrible reaction to a pain medication that resulted in her being bed-bound for nearly a month. After being in bed for so long, she was weak and didn’t trust her own two feet. It was several months before mom was back on her feet and moving around. On this Christmas she was still using a wheelchair to get around.

I went to visit her on Christmas Day and after opening up presents and eating a little, she asks to lie back down in bed. I arrived with my ugly Christmas sweater in hopes of bringing some silly humor to the holiday. She was in good spirits and we had a nice afternoon together. Before I left, she thanked me for “making her feel human again.”

Christmas 2015: Ten days before Christmas I was in the Emergency Room with mom who was diagnosed with a broken hip. She had a mini-stroke somewhere in the midst of all the commotion. We learn she is too weak for surgery. Mom no longer recognizes me and is moved into the care of hospice. I visit mom daily and spent most days crying as she sleeps. On Christmas Day, her breathing is a little more jagged, and by early evening I get the call that mom died. As bitter as that moment felt, I also recognize that we just received a blessing. Mom no longer has to live with dementia and can now rest with Dad.

As I approach my first Christmas without having to balance life as a caregiver, or worry about how mom will spend her holiday, I recognize how quickly the journey can end. This year I will focus on the wonderful holidays I did get to spend with my parents. Reflected.

Please Santa, let me be the smiling lady that gets up and dances

friendslistentomusic2Some things the retirement communities do right. The keyboard musician that visits regularly is playing Christmas songs today. I hang around with my Mom and we sing along to the songs and I watch the joy that his music brings so the many residents grouped in the living room today. I can’t resist singing along, even though the general idea of keyboard music doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.

A few weeks ago, an old friend of my Moms came and sat with her when the musician was visiting. It’s a nice way to pass the time with my Mom. She loves music and isn’t challenged to try to make small talk.

Each time I visit, I notice one of the other residents. She is always alone, well-dressed, and smiling. I’ve never seen her speak with anyone, but she gets up and dances when music is playing. As I sit and witness the many ladies that work at the community having fun dancing and inviting the residents to join them, this one is already busy dancing around to the music without a care in the world about who is watching. I’m a little jealous because I still feel a little self-conscious dancing.

As we head into the holiday, I do hope Santa will sprinkle some magic dust on me to give me the courage to age as gracefully as this woman is doing. Wished. 

Avoid Mock Holidays after Dementia is Diagnosed

My in-laws were in town two weekends ago and we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving early. We invited my parents and I went to pick them up before our luncheon feast.

In the car on the way over my parents were unusually confounded that it was already Thanksgiving. “No, we are just pretending it is so we can celebrate when Todd’s (my husband) parents are in town.”  They would accept the explanation – only for the topic to be raised again five minutes later.

At one point my dad exclaimed “I thought it was the weekend, I can’t believe it’s Thursday!” I then shared it was the weekend.

We had a great meal together. I had not seen my parents eat as much in months. However, I realize I need to simplify how I talk about the holidays. The advance planning is stressful to my mom in particular. Now, I simply put times and events on their calendar with my name so they know I will be there to coordinate with them.

We will get to spend the real Thanksgiving at our house tomorrow. The big holidays always make you wonder how more of these we will get to spend together. Appreciated.