Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Temper, temper

I began this blog as a way to help me cope with my travails with my mother. It was a fun way to explore and share what I was going through, much of which wore me out, sometimes frustrated me, occasionally upset me, but overall I accepted as my turn in the circle of life between a mother and daughter. A lot had happened in the span of ten months because of Mother's illness, up to and including my finding out I was adopted and being laid off, but I managed to keep trudging up to the nursing home everyday, doing the less than fragrant laundry and trying to attend to her affairs without causing a total loss in her dignity and sense of control(I think). But, then suddenly, the events of June 20th happened and the delicate balance we had arrived at tipped over, and I have wondered and worried over why ever since. I think it is a complex mixture of things, most of which I have to realize is out of Mother's control at this point in her life. She will do and say things that are unintentionally hurtful, irrelevant to the situation at hand, or potentially damaging to her own well being just because she is a 90-year old woman with dementia. She didn't change her core personality when her mind began to break down on her, but she can no longer filter how she acts for the sake of discretion. Candidly, she was always a little weak in that area when it came to her family. I know all this, but suddenly I can no longer deal with it very well.

Part of the reason is the most simple and obvious; I am tired. I think the strain of simply trying to get through a day with some sense of normalcy completely exhausts me. At night, I often feel that level of exhaustion that gets down to one's bones and makes the entire body ache. But sleeping is not as easy as it once was. Oddly, perhaps, my dreams are more disturbing now than they were immediately after my daughter died. Now nightmares rule my sleep, so I will pull myself out of some twisted horror show a few times a night. Before all of this, once I nodded off, the entire Steeler roster could run drills in my bedroom, and I would be none the wiser. So, everyday by the time I make it up to see her, I am dragging my feet, blinking profusely just to keep my eyes open, and hardly in any shape to scream across the room at her just to try and have a conversation where what she says make zero sense and what she hears me say doesn't either.

Then there is the heat. That alone is enough to make anyone murderously grumpy. You want to question the legitimacy of climate change? Live in Texas for a week and then tell me what you think about that. We have got to be breaking some sort of record for consecutive days above 100 degrees. Now add that to menopause, and I have grounds for being unhappy even if nothing else was happening in my life. Having a hot flash when it is freezing outside is just sort of weird, having one in your car when it is 105 is truly like torture. Dick Cheney could get me to say just about anything at that moment.

Then there is Mother's natural response to feeling neglected. She pouts. And, truthfully saying this with no fault attached, in some ways her current mentality is much like a child's, and children like being the center of attention. She is really not alone in that. I have noticed many of her fellow residents have dolls and stuffed animals and will look up at me and Cheyenne with wide, curious eyes as though they have never seen anything like a woman and her dog before, despite seeing exactly that almost every day. Since her accident, Mother has been front and center in my worldview. Suddenly she had to make way for something larger than her, our sorrow. And she cannot counter that by insinuating herself into our grief by taking over our affairs or buying this or that to help out. She is just stuck on the sidelines for this round, and she is straining at that restriction.

Then, as with her mother before her, is the ill temper. My grandmother was notorious for being a grouch (I really wish I could tie Grandfather Bleiler into that sentence somehow, since his name was Oscar - the potential for an Oscar the Grouch joke is too good, but I couldn't make it apply). Mother always claimed two primary things about her mother; she did not like children, despite having six of them, and Mother was never going to become like her. Unfortunately, she became like her mother in just about every way. All of the sisters had a little "Ade", as she was known, in them. They were all independent thinkers, strong willed, hard working women with equally strong personalities. But Mom and her sister Merle got the biggest dose of that famous stubborn temper. Merle countered hers with a highly defined sense of humor. Mother, not so much. Add to that the dementia, which, I recently came to understand, often manifests itself as temper, and she's ready to rumble over just about any little thing these days.

As an example, there is a picture of Marissa and me from two years ago that I framed in a Steelers frame and have in her room. The other day, she looked at the picture, then over at me, then back at the picture, then to me, finally turning to my husband and announcing to him that I had my hair parted differently. Honestly, I could care less how I part my hair these days, it more or less parts itself, so I just shrugged and Greg acknowledged her with a small little smile. On our way out, she admonished me and told me to part my hair the right way next time. That was actually mildly amusing, and I'm sure, under different circumstances, would result in weeks of fun for Greg, allowing him to tease me daily about my hair. So, I'll probably just take to wearing my hair in a ponytail until football season, when I rarely venture anywhere without a ball cap anyway, and it'll all be good. But, I was a little less amused the day she called the house after we had been up to see her scolding us for how short our visit was. She fussed that I wasn't there long enough to tell her when her upcoming dentist appointment was. I reminded her that was because I had spoken to her on the phone earlier in the day and told her about the appointment. "Oh," she sort of huffed, "Well, you were hardly here for any time at all." I swallowed the very strong urge to tell her there is really not much to visit about when we see one another every single day and she won't wear a hearing aid so she knows what we're saying anyway. She called back a couple of hours later to ask me when the dentist appointment was again, by the way.

But, for me, for some reason, the closest I came to walking off the ledge was yesterday when I was loading her back in the handicap van to take her home after the dentist appointment. I hate that van, which has a story in and of itself, but I have to keep it to transport her effectively, so drawing my attention to it is always a little risky. Implying that I somehow mis-manage it is taking your life in your hands. As I pulled down the ramp to wheel her in, she announced with about as much righteous indignation as she could muster, "Who pulled one of the letters off the van?" Confused, I asked her what she was talking about. "The letters on the side of the van, someone pulled one of them off." She pointed at the logo painted on the side. "Ameri Van" with the two words separated by a swooping eagle. (It screams Social Conservatism, probably just another subliminal reason I hate the thing.) Hot and tired, I was a little less than sweet when I retorted the observation. Next thing I know a small argument broke out over it. Whatever rational part of my brain remains was trying to tell me I seriously did not want to be hassling over this, she just can't see the eagle very well and assumed a letter was supposed to be there. Just explain that nicely and then let it go. The larger, exasperated, tired and frustrated part of my brain was shouting over top of the Rational Me, "Who the f*%k cares if a letter is missing, the blasted van belongs to me anyway!" Verbally, that translated to my snapping at her, "No, Mom, all the letters are there." Finally, with neither side convincing the other, she begrudgingly let the subject drop, I wheeled her into the cavernous, gas guzzling, hunk of junk, and the two of us, both madder than wet hens, drove the half block back to the nursing home.

As I write this, I have already received a call from the nursing home today. They spoke to me about her yesterday too. Our little cat fights are spilling over, and she is becoming harder for them to handle. So, I need to find a way to find my Zen-like place and bring the temperature of our relationship back down to a simmer. Understanding the dynamics of how we got this way helps - until I'm actually there with her, that is.


  1. It makes me mad that the nursing home called you to complain. Isn't that a little bit like a doctor calling to complain that all he does is see sick people? Uh, yeah. Kinda why I needed you in the first place.

    But to be more helpful, have you thought of taking a game for you both to play? Something easy that doesn't take too long. I don't know what her limits are but checkers or card games like Go Fish, or Crazy Eights, or War are quick and fun. Maybe Scrabble? If she wants to get points for spelling cat "xgt" give it to her - the point is not to win but to have something to do besides talk/argue and keep her engaged. Dominoes is easy and is of her era. A puzzle (with big pieces) that you could bring when you visit (they have puzzle wraps for transporting). Even if she says she doesn't want to, bring it or a game for you and Greg, she will probably want to join in. Scrapbooking? I am not quite sure what that is, but I know it involves a scrapbook, pictures and embellishments. Maybe go to Hobby Lobby and pick up some different types of fake flowers and some $1 vases and tell her you are putting together some centerpieces for a friends party and need her help - let her arrange them. Just some ideas. Hope one of them helps.

  2. Actually, those are great suggestions - I took some games up there for her, but I was hoping she would play them with other residents(hence making friends and being less reliant on me for her sole break in the day). And, I think it will be a case of spelling "xgt", and I'm not sure she can handle a puzzle piece anymore. I guess I should learn Bridge - she'll never be too old or too ill to play that one.

    I should clarify, however, the nursing home isn't calling to complain. They are required to call anytime something unusual happens, and her behavior lately is unusual and difficulr, so it's more of a report - with a bit of a "come deal with this" hint subtly dropped in.