If she only knew…

Sometimes it’s better not to know. For instance, when your husband thinks the dress you wore to work that day makes your hips and hind end look larger than life, you’d rather he tell you after work, not on a lunchtime date when you have an entire half day yet to work while wearing it. But that was last month.

Two months ago, it was my mother who was getting too big for her britches. I know that because my sister sent me this text:

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I’m sure we seem a bit insensitive, but when your mother has Alzheimer’s disease, you have to laugh when you can. Mom is blissfully unaware that she is gaining weight…

After my father died, followed by my maternal grandmother, followed by my maternal grandfather, all within two months, my mother lost so much weight it was scary. Hugging her was like hugging a fragile skeleton dressed in thin flesh, but she was delighted. Apparently, she had saved a wool suit from her honeymoon trip 50 years before, and she was tiny enough to wear it again. She was overjoyed; we thought she’d lost her mind.

In the years that followed, when it became apparent that she was losing her mind and her memories, we worried that my mother wasn’t eating enough. We got my mother to rent a room to my niece, because it made us feel better to know someone could at least visually check on her a couple times a day. A couple years later, my nephew took her place. When we feared Mom would injure herself or burn her house down while using the oven or stove, we started having Meals on Wheels delivered to the house. My tiny mother would eat half the meal for lunch and tuck the other half into the refrigerator to microwave for dinner. But when my sister got to the house one day to find the refrigerator collecting Styrofoam boxes filled with the food because, as my mother said, “I didn’t know whose they were,” we knew it was time to move Mom to a facility where she could get 24-hour care.

That the beautiful facility had ice cream and cookies and drinks available 24-7 was a selling point to my mother. (She had visited several facilities well before her illness became the descriptor of her status, and her current residence was her top pick.)

My mom never put much stock in her appearance. She took care of her clothes and looked nice for church or work, but at home she wasn’t prissy — and that is a huge understatement. She always put her husband and her children first. I don’t remember walking around in torn or overly worn clothing, but my mother sometimes did. She put the phobia into polyester for me — because of the shorts she often wore. When we packed her clothes for the memory care center, we found sweatshirts she’d owned — and worn — for 30 years. We also found clothes she saved with great care and hadn’t worn for those same 30 years. Saving them for some special occasion that never came.

As I was cleaning out an unused bedroom that had become a storage space this past week, I came across a notepad on which I’d scrawled pages of disjointed sentences. It was one of many times I’d taken notes on conversations with my mother in these latter years, not only because I wanted to be able to respond intelligently to my husband’s likely “and what did your mother say?” but also because I wanted to see if I could make sense of her ramblings. Looking at the notes, I could tell I had not been able to manage either. I could not make sense of what my mother was saying.

More than a year ago, for a period of a few months, my mother suffered anxiety and fear from this illness people jokingly call “Old Timer’s disease.” Tragically, Alzheimer’s disease also affects younger people, often more dramatically, as in the story Still Alice. My mom has suffered a comparatively slow regression for nearly 10 years, but other than those few months of fear, when she whispered into the phone about “the conspiracy” and her need to find an escape, she has been blissfully content and unaware.

When I phone her, the conversation seems appropriate at the start.

“Hi, Mom, this is your daughter Sara.”

“Where are you?” (That is her stock reply.)

“Oh, I’m at home in Gainesville.”

“Well, why are you there and not here with me?”

It makes me hopeful, but that glimpse of my mother as she once was is but a fleeting glimmer. The conversation is all downhill from there. If I ask a question, I get an answer completely unrelated. I try, usually futilely, to follow her line of conversation, but it includes unknown people and situations explained in disjointed sentences that make it impossible for me to understand. If I’m not taking diligent notes, I find my mind straying from what she is saying, perhaps in search of some former reality in which her words hold an anchor.

What I try to remember, when I find myself struggling with tears, is that she seems happy. Her tone and her choice of adjectives seem to indicate everything is “marvelous” and she is “blessed.” She doesn’t realize she has a broken hip that cannot be fixed and a mind and memories that are slowly fading away. But she also doesn’t notice those sweets she’s eating are wreaking havoc on that trim self she once celebrated. That should be some sort of comfort to me.

My currently sort-of trim self was enjoying wearing a maxi-dress with bold horizontal blue and black stripes against a white background one day when my dear husband came to take me for a rare lunch date. As I walked toward him in the parking lot, he said, “You look like something from Whoville.”

He didn’t mean I looked like a rock star from The Who (thankfully, actually, as they’re all men) or a character from Doctor Who. He meant Whoville as in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. I wasn’t sure if he meant I looked tiny (since the Whos were so tiny they could hardly be seen) or huge (since Horton is an elephant). He indicated “tiny” wasn’t his intent…

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

Maybe he was comparing me in my striped dress with bottom heavy Jojo from Horton Hears a Who? Must say, I've never worn that dress since.
Maybe he was comparing me in my striped dress with bottom heavy Jojo from Horton Hears a Who. Must say, I do see a resemblance, and I’ve never worn that dress since.

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Posts for NaBloPoMo 2015:

  1. Why I love my hairstylist…
  2. To NaBloPoMo or not to NaBloPoMo? That is the question…
  3. No AC November…
  4. That dubious gift of an hour…
  5. I can’t wait to be discovered…
  6. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher…
  7. Of mice and men (or when you give a mouse a cookie)…
  8. When you replace people with possessions…
  9. Do what you know is right…
  10. When your eyes are bigger than your weekend…
  11. Attempting “The Glad Game”…
  12. When the Christian life is a bit too much like a political debate…
  13. Vertigo: When the world around you begins to spin…
  14. How our Mitsubishi van became blue…
  15. If she only knew…

3 thoughts on “If she only knew…

  1. The added weight will serve her well in the end. When my MIL first moved in with us, she was over weight because she snacks when she was bored. Set on being the best caregiver I could, I took control of everything, including her weight. It was under her Doctors advisement of course, when he told me she was over weight. However that man needs a lesson in Dementia care. I have since learned in the past two years. Who cares what her weight is. What is important is that she is still eating. There will come a time that she won’t. We can not reverse the effects of her dementia, so losing weight did not do her any good. The Dr. and I were both just trying to keep my MIL physically healthy. But when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness such as dementia, who really gives a care if the person is healthy and fit. They are dying already. It’s our jobs to make them as happy as possible now, and as long as they are safe, warm and happy, who cares what they weigh!

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  2. Ah, it is a challenge, isn’t it? Your story reminds me so much of the situation with my mother. Luckily, the place where she lives does not make ice cream and cookies available all day, as she would certainly indulge herself. When she was still living alone, we were worried that she didn’t eat enough, but now that three meals a day are provided for her, she eats heartily. Her personality hasn’t really changed, but her quirks have become more pronounced and her eccentricities more noticeable. We can have a conversation where everything seems fine, until the forgetfulness and confusion come to the fore. Like you, I’ve tried to handle it with humor, but sometimes that is hard. Hang in there.

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    1. Thanks so much for your reply. It is definitely a challenge. I don’t know which is more disconcerting, those moments when she seems so normal but isn’t or those moments when I can hardly recognize her for who she was. Humor helps. I’m sorry you’re facing this too but appreciate you taking the time to share your story.
      Best,
      Sara

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