This is what I must remember: tonight’s panic will be forgotten tomorrow. That’s how this nasty business works.
Lately, Mom’s sundowning behaviors have been more aggressive, leading the staff at the home to call me to see if I can calm her down. She grabs for the door and tries to run away. She hasn’t tried anything like this since last summer, when she still lived at Emeritus and had to be watched by additional hired guardians.
The staff knows I’m OK with receiving these calls. If I can soothe her by phone and keep them from having to give her additional meds, I’m glad to do it. Many other families reject such calls. I prefer to know what’s going on and I do what I can.
It tends to be exhausting, though. Trying to parse what bee got into Mom’s bonnet isn’t easy, especially as her language skills are declining, and her ability to report on the myriad fleeting thoughts zipping through her neural net often eludes her. So I try to sift through the quicksand for something I can grab hold of and manage.
On this particular Monday afternoon, Mom was sure the place was being evacuated and she had to get out of there. She didn’t want to bother me, but she didn’t know where she’d be able to lay her head down come the evening.
I told Mom I would make phone calls to ensure that she could stay put. I would have Julia Roberts* get involved if necessary.
“Well, that’s fine for you to say, but I need some assurance.”
“Okay, Mom, I can come see you tomorrow.”
“When? What time?”
“I can come in the morning, Ma. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Then I asked to speak to the gal who dialed the phone. This was one of the more senior people who manages the facilities. Mom handed the phone back to her.
“Mom thinks the place is closing. Can you please reassure her? I’ll come by tomorrow, but in the meantime…”
“That’s what was upsetting her? No problem, I’ll let her know she’s safe.”
Thanking her, I hung up and reviewed my schedule for Tuesday. There was nothing that couldn’t wait, so I sent emails and rescheduled things. I could run some other errands, too.
Monday is my yoga night. I look forward to the class. The regulars are all dear women with great energy, and the instructor is awesome, intuitive and nurturing. I make a point of getting there every week.
Sure enough, our instructor keyed in on the vibe in the room. Dealing with my mother really does deplete me. Anticipating seeing her saps my strength like nothing else.
One pose in this practice was one I’d never formally tried before, although it’s kind of natural for me to arrange my body in that way without knowing its name: the Turtle. Wrapping your legs over your arms helps you to fold forward in half, and feel protected by your limbs around your torso. I got deep into it. I felt the tension melt. I went meditative. I completely related to the spirit of the pose.
Back when Mom still lived with us, I tried to explain our dynamic to my husband. When I was a child, my mother leaned on me for support and friendship. She was never a social person. The older I got, the more I needed to retreat from her. I’d hide in my room and immerse myself in my music, my art, television, radio, books. My father referred to me as “The Hermit.” This was self-preservation. This was my respite from my mother’s neediness, neurosis and demands.
Living with her once again in adulthood, the remnants of the old dynamic remained, but I couldn’t just run away now; that could be dangerous in her compromised state. No matter how crazy she made me, I would have to stick it out and try to cope. Sometimes, I’d get nasty with her, and Bob would defend her and chastise me. He couldn’t know how tough this was for me. He hadn’t known me as child and tended to simplify the situation as he understood it.
So now I have the luxury of long periods of respite. But I don’t get to stay away. I still have to manage Mom’s care, visit her, talk to her, keep her feeling reassured that she’s safe.
So on Tuesday, I got an early start and ran my errands, all the while buttressing myself for my visit to Mom. I entered the home and was greeted by one of the care-takers.
“She’s right in there.”
Mom was dressed and seated at one of the tables, receiving a manicure from one of the aides. She was quite calm and chatted amiably with the gal. She looked up at me, clearly pleased and a little surprised. I kissed her and sat down.
“What brings you here?”
“I told you I’d come see you this morning.”
“Oh? Well, that’s nice. Where’s Bobby?”
Clearly, she did not remember that we’d spoken the evening before. But she did remember the fiancé of the gal who painted her fingernails and that they were soon to be married. Amazing.
I stayed and chatted a while. Her conversation meandered. She was disappointed at not being able to get Herby (my father, who died in 2004) on the phone and the other one (?) either. I tried to follow what she was saying, but I would get lost in her confusion, and I guess the fatigue showed on my face. She asked if there was something I could take to perk myself up. I told her it was a little stuffy in there for me and I’d wake up when I got outside. When I felt like she was content, I rose to leave. She walked me to the door, I kissed her good-bye and off I went. No unpleasantness. No pleading. No acrimony. No lunge for freedom.
Back home, I felt quite relieved and was able to resume business activities. I felt better; lighter; productive.
Around 5:30 pm, just as my husband was arriving home, my phone rang. The caller ID displayed Mom’s number. Huh-boy.
One of the aides was on the phone. Mom was freaking out. Again.
I inhaled and told her “I was just there this morning.”
“I didn’t know that. But you know, I come in at 3. She’s trying to leave again. And I don’t want to give her drugs if I don’t have to.”
“Of course. Let me talk to her.”
Anticipating the usual “sky is falling” “home is closing” “need a ride out of here” lines of hysteria, I was surprised when Mom told me she was concerned about her social security paperwork. Was there something she had to sign? She couldn’t find her ID (all of which I have).
“No Mom. Not to worry. I took care of it. In fact, I went to Paterson to make sure all the paperwork was done properly.” This was the truth. Several months ago, I had to go to the Social Security office in the county seat to fill out paperwork to become Mom’s Representative Payee. This enabled me to switch banks and have her Social Security checks direct deposited into a new account for her. I used that experience to formulate an explanation which calmed her right down. I told her she could call me anytime she had questions or needed anything. I told her I loved her and she said the same to me as we ended our session.
“I couldn’t believe you were on the phone with her. Didn’t you just see her this morning?” asked my incredulous husband as he kissed me hello.
Sure I did. But that was this morning. She’s better in the morning. She had just recently had her morning meds and breakfast. Later in the day, the meds start to wear off, her blood sugar drops, her head fills up with uncontrollable thoughts and the phone calls begin.
So another piece of the ever-changing puzzle falls into place. See her in the morning. Listen to her as necessary and reassure her in the evening. And make time to do the Turtle in between.
*One of the administrators at Potomac resembles the actress Julia Roberts, and Mom is certain she is in fact the actual Julia Roberts who flies in weekly from Hollywood to oversee Potomac Homes