Monday, November 28, 2016

Truth or Mom?

As a college writing teacher, my students were required to write essays that would answer the question: Is it ever okay to lie?

Paper after paper my students would write "Yes" and go on to support their answers. I knew many people who lied regularly. But it was unusual for me to listen to somebody defend their lying.
The situation was often this: The student would have an elderly parent or grandparent who lived far away. Very far away.  Say, for example, the student lived in New York and the elderly grandparent was living in China. The student's father was ill and nobody would tell the elderly grandparent back in the homeland. Their reasoning was this: That it would upset the grandparent so it was better to say nothing. I always just focused on the students' writing, their development of ideas, sentence structure and grammar, but inside I was kind of horrified. How could you not tell a grandparent that their son was sick? Or dying? Or dead?

Recently I've started lying to my mom. It just happens. She's elderly and has dementia. So when my husband came home from a business trip with a broken leg, did I tell her? Absolutely - NOT.
Last month I detected a large lump on the back of my head. To the doctor and hospital I went. Did I tell my mom? Absolutely - NOT. The lump thankfully turned out to be just a fatty deposit.
Sometimes I have to get my mom up and walking. She'll stay in bed all day until dinner unless somebody gets her up and walking. I'll call her around noon or 1pm and tell her it's time to take a walk down the hall. She'll ask, "Can I go back to bed after this?" I answer, "Absolutely!" Then in an hour I'll tell her that her aid is coming. I don't mention that her aid will be getting her onto the exercise bicycle.

Last week her home health aid texted me that my mom didn't want to do a certain activity. She texted me, "I hate to lie to her but sometimes I just have to, to get her there." To the home health aid I wrote, "You're not lying. You are honest when you say, "Yes, you can go back to sleep after this. You're just not telling her that she cannot go back to sleep right after this.""

It's disturbing to not tell the truth, or to withhold the truth. It's a line to be very very careful about. I have to decide in each and every case. But it does feel right to not worry somebody who, as part of her medical condition, lacks initiative and needs a little 'help' to get moving. I know what the consequences would be of my mom laying in bed all morning and afternoon. They would not be good.

With my husband's broken leg, what I don't want to have happen is for my mom to feel that she's burdening me with taking care of her, on top of taking care of my husband. That could really be bad.
Maybe there's somebody around and my mom will ask, "Have I ever met her (or him) before?" There was a time when  - without hesitation - I would say "Yes." But now I hedge. "I don't think so," and she'll feel better. It's hard enough for her - she knows, she really really knows, that her memory is failing. Badly. But I'm not going to rub it in and feel unnecessarily badly about her condition.
Okay, let's not call it a lie. Maybe let's call it less than truth.

The last time I drove home from visiting her, a 7-hour drive mostly in the dark, she wanted me to call her when I got home. It was getting really late. Really late. Like middle of the night late. There was no way I was going to phone her at 3am. I considered lying and telling her I had arrived home, safely. NO I couldn't do that. What if something actually happened to me on the road after I phoned her? Next idea: I might make her angry, but the call went something like this: "Mom, it's getting late and I'm not home yet but I'm only an hour away from home. I'm not going to call you again because it's just getting too late." And she said, "That's fine, dear. Thank you and drive safely."

My religious tradition says one may lie to preserve the cause of peace, not to hurt another person’s feelings, or to provide comfort. One may also lie in a situation where honesty might cause oneself or another person harm.

Honestly, it's not always so easy to tell what that line is. And dealing with aging parents is difficult enough. Maybe some of my students had this right all along.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Presidential Primaries Among the Amyloid Plaques and Tangles of Alzheimer's

senior voting 

In the tumult and the excitement of the decades of the '60s and the '70's, my dad insisted that I go to college, and ranted and raved if I indicated any level of disinterest or interest in attending a college that wasn't on his list. Although I would be the first child, and daughter, to attend college, the word "feminism" was never spoken in our home. I was expected to attend college but, ironically, the notion of women's rights was taboo.

My mom knew when to keep quiet so as not to raise her husband's hackles, and quiet she continued to keep for years when he had his temper tantrums -- even for years after he, the self-appointed chief of our family's Thought Police, walked out. It took another 45 years after Dad left home for my parents to be officially divorced, allowing Mom to finally sell the family home and discard as much of the old (emotional as well as physically moldy) baggage as possible, and move into the present. The hallelujah celebration was muted, however. Just a few months earlier, signs of Alzheimer's had appeared. Mom now finally free from one form of oppression, another toxic and unknown form took its place. I wondered about lots of things.

Among all the millions of little details of moving an elderly parent from one home to another, and one year later to yet another, is the change of address for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And in that process is yet another question:
If you are a registered voter in PA and are changing your drivers license or photo ID address, would you like us to notify your county voter registration office of this change? Yes or No?
YES! Sometime later, she received her official new voter registration card, which I put in a safe place.

In a political vacuum, Mom and I would talk about whether she was registered as a Republican or as a Democrat. The ghost of the conversation was always about what party her ex-husband, my father, chief of the now former Thought Police, thought was best. Pennsylvania had a long history of being a Republican state. Meanwhile, her memory and cognitive functioning were in declinem as was her ease with walking.

And then came Hillary.

Primary after primary I heard my mom talk about Hillary. Mom wasn't interested in watching the debates on TV. If the content of the debates was lacking in substance or difficult to follow an argument or a position, the brain disease of Alzheimer's made it even more impossible for her to follow the candidates. No matter. My mom knew whom she wanted to vote for. Hillary. She also knew whom she hated. Trump.

"I want to throw things at the TV when I see him."

The Pennsylvania primary was months off but meanwhile we would just have to figure out how to get her to the polls. The senior community would be running buses to the polling site. My biggest fear was that I would determine she had registered as a Republican and would be unable to vote for Hillary in the primaries. When I had time one day, I checked that out... Nope, Democrat. My other fear was that when she got into the voting booth, she would forget whom she wanted to vote for, or wouldn't be able to figure out how to actually vote. Or maybe she just wouldn't want to get up and out of bed on that day.

The Pennsylvania primary was one of the last. THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED on The afternoon before the primary, I phoned her to check in. "Hi, Mom."

In the most casual voice, she answered: "I'm sitting on the floor. I just fell. I used my cane to pull the phone toward me. My legs are off to one side. "

Okay, I remind myself to not panic. Among all the other thoughts encircling what remained of my brain was: Had she broken a bone? Had she fractured the hip that had been replaced years earlier? Did I need to figure out how to get her to the hospital for evaluation and x-rays?

"Mom, I'm going to call the front desk but they might want you to go to the hospital for x-rays. Would you be willing to go?"

"I'd rather not."

I phoned the front desk, who got security there right away and a nurse from the clinic to her apartment to assist. The nurse determined that it was most likely a groin pull. That was a relief! Still, the nurse asked me to make a judgement call on whether to get her to the hospital for x-rays, just to be certain. I hate making judgement calls like that. Just to be certain.

The rest of the evening, her aid made a special trip in offer assistance, as did my mom's sister, with ice, food, anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter painkillers, and love and comfort. Mom's sister brought the supplies of a democracy: a paper sample ballot for a serious training session. She had my mother practice picking the candidates of her choice. Also of concern was now getting my mom to the bus to the polls the next day. Mom already was walking slower than a sloth even with the assistance of her walker and making more and more stops along the way to catch her breath. How would she ever make it to the Main Building where the bus was picking everybody up?

The following day, my mom's aid showed up, got Mom dressed, and fed, iced her knees, groin area, and hip area, applied Voltaren Gel, and had her take more over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She stayed a little longer, long enough to get my mom into her car and drive her to where the bus would pick her up for the 4pm run to the polls.

At 3:35 I phoned my mom. "I'm sitting outside. The breeze is blowing and it's lovely here. I'd rather be here than inside." So far so good. Her sister would be along shortly and the two would take the bus ride together to the polls. Mom was relaxed and calm. I was not. "This is so exciting, Mom!"

"What's the big deal" my mom asked. "I've voted before."

Later that night I phoned my mom.

Through all the amyloid plaques and the tangles of the Alzheimer's brain, through the loss of memory and what they call cognitive functioning, through her depression and her desires to stop living, feminism - and Mom's voice - had finally broken through. Mom had voted for Hillary.

In the aftermath, I asked her what she liked about Hillary. Said she, after she'd had some rest, "She's a woman. I like the fact that's she's married to a president. I like her policies. Liberal woman. Aggressive. Conservative. I think she'll do what's good for women. Good for the country. Her husband was a good man and they can talk it over. I voted for a Republican candidate once but I can't remember who." 

Then she answered the question that hung in the air, which settled this question, "I wouldn't have voted for a woman if I didn't like her policies."

Nice going, Mom!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Haiku: The Calendar, our Blessing

I call it a weekly ritual, but it's not really.  Really, mom and I do it whenever we can. Ideally, it's every week but sometimes it's every two weeks. And sometimes it's whenever I can, whenever other things haven't intervened to bump this one down the priority list.

It was exceptional when we did it on the first day of January of the new year. Off the wall came the one calendar, and up onto the wall went another. Something we all do, but for an elderly parent who has dementia and isn't sure what day of the week it is, marking a new year carries heft.

My preference is to do the calendar each Sunday. It's the lightest day of the week, and prepares her for the coming week. She finds her pen and marks a big X on the day that just passed. 

It's always interesting to see what she's willing to do if we do the calendar at, say, 9pm and there are only three hours left to that day. She is not willing to X that day.

"I'll just leave it." 

I see that as a good sign. There is still time in that day, time to be lived. "Okay, Mom. That's fine."  In fact, that's great.

The ritual usually begins with "What day is today?" and I'm not willing to tell her. I want her to figure it out. 

"Well, Mom, yesterday was your doctor appointment. What day of the week is your doctor's appointment?" I want her to think this through. I want her little nerve endings to fire away and connect. I'll supply the safety net when the memory fails, which it is inclined to do.

"What day is today?" It could be overwhelming. More than 1, less than 30. Last night when we did the calendar, I suggested she try to find my birthday. She found it, and was surprised when I told her that my birthday was two weeks ago. She X'ed the days and there were a good number of X'es but she ripped right through them and landed properly on Sunday the 25th

Last night she also wrote down her 2:45 hair salon appointment for today. While I doubted she'd remember when "tomorrow" came, it was important for her to do, for many more important reasons.

All the more interesting is this process, because we do it by telephone: I'm 300 miles away.

TJ's household weekly haiku website challenges us this week with the household item, a calendar. To me, this has a unique significance. To elderly moms, to elderly dads, I dedicate this haiku:
I summon Mother
to mark this day from others.
Behold! We're still here!

This is the blessing!