My mom is a big fan of all-things-holiday and other celebratory events. She used to host all of the traditional family meals, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. In addition, she never failed to bake a pie or a cake for each of her children on their birthdays, along with treating them to a meal at the restaurant of their choice. And many people used to affectionately refer to her as ‘the pie lady’ due to her far-reaching reputation for making the most tasty, melt-in-your-mouth pies. But life these days is very different than it was a year ago. A year ago, my mom had everyone over for a festive Thanksgiving meal with one notable change. At that particular meal, rather than being one of the ‘participants’, she sat on the sidelines. Because of her mental decline, she no longer knew how to ‘throw together’ a batch of stuffing, bake a pie or cook a turkey, let alone turn on the stove. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t take credit for it, even though my brother Clover and his wife did all of the work.
“I can still cook!” she tells me all of the time. And she really believes it. But there’s a reason why my brother tripped the breaker so the stove doesn’t work in her apartment. He’s trying to save her from herself. Time no longer plays a role in my mom’s day-to-day activities. She can be talking to me on the phone and become slightly distracted and wander away and never return to resume the conversation. She also doesn’t understand how to operate appliances any longer. Turning on a stove or oven, cleaning a load of clothes using a washer and dryer, or even warming something up in the microwave can have dire consequences. You wouldn’t think there was much that could go wrong just heating something up in the microwave, but when you press 30 minutes instead of 3 minutes and a fire starts in the microwave, and the fire department shows up after the house fills with smoke, it’s a problem. And of course, when that did happen in the fall of 2019, it wasn’t that my mother did anything wrong, the microwave was defective.
Before I continue, I should clarify that we had to move my mom into an assisted living facility. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We had pushback from half of the family (the half that’s been siphoning money off of her for years) once we made the decision, but we did it to protect her, to save her from herself. She actually toured it beforehand and ate dinner there a couple of times and found it agreeable, so my brother Clover paid the deposit to get her an apartment and started the difficult transition. And ‘difficult’ is putting it mildly. The half of the family that was against it kept putting up roadblocks, literally anything and everything to get in the way. Had any of these individuals been ‘healthy’, I would have likely sided with them, but these are folks that many would refer to as ‘vampires’. I’m not talking Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” kind of vampires. I’m talking about the kind that prey on other people in various ways, like draining their energy or even more likely, their bank account.
The vampires in our family, the ones I like to refer to as ‘the Troublemakers’, are still at it. They throw their weight around every chance they can and break the rules without any consideration as to how their actions might impact ‘the rest of us’. By that, I mean that they show no regard or concern for any possible consequence that may result due to the choices that they make, especially when it involves our mother. And the Troublemakers sure made Thanksgiving a day to remember! Despite Covid and despite the consequences that my mother was certain to face if she went out for Thanksgiving day, my sister and her daughter (Diabolical Debbie and her Mental Minion) invited her over for Thanksgiving dinner. Many of you folks celebrated together, I realize that, but my mom now lives in a center where there are ‘rules’ and ‘consequences’ if you break them. And the center where she lives gave her advance warning that if she went out on Thanksgiving day, there would be extreme consequences she would have to face. But she did it anyway, she’s not one to turn down an invite to a holiday meal!
The rest of us knew better. The rest of us knew that if we were to have her over, she would be ‘punished’. I couldn’t do that to her, I thought it was unusually cruel, and neither could the rest of the family, with the exception of the Troublemakers. They invited her over and they had a grand old time. Apparently, MM really put together a nice meal! And it was such a lovely day. When it was all said and done, they returned her to the center. My mom went to bed and was in fantastic spirits until she woke up in the morning to discover a note on her dining room table. “You are required to self-isolate through December 11 due to your possible exposure. You will not be allowed to leave your room for this duration. All your meals will be brought to you and your laundry will be taken care of by our staff,” it stated. Time to face the consequences! This is the thing, she knew (sort of) what would happen if she joined the Troublemakers for dinner. She was actually required to sign a form acknowledging this prior to Thanksgiving day.
The reason I said ‘sort of’ is because I’m not sure how you can hold someone with Alzheimer’s accountable, especially when their memory is so unreliable. I do feel like the staff at the center has some ownership in this but it isn’t all on them. There were other players who knew full well what would happen and did it anyway. And now, not only my mom is facing the consequences, so are the rest of us! I spent all day with knots in my stomach after receiving a very angry call from her late yesterday morning. “Can you believe this?” she said. “They’re saying I cannot leave my room for two weeks! This is it!! I’m getting out of here. I hate it here!!” “Mom,” I tried to reason, “That’s why Clover didn’t have you over and why I didn’t invite you, or any of the others. It’s because we didn’t want to put you through that. You can thank DD and MM for your predicament.” Oh, boy. “They didn’t know!!” she insisted. “Mom, they knew,” I told her.
It’s funny how life is. The person that was the sun, the moon and the stars to her ever since he was a little boy (my brother Clover), is now on her ‘list’. Ever since he had to start making the hard decisions as far as her ‘health and welfare’ as her POA and executor, he has become Public Enemy #1. The Troublemakers? They’re wonderful, they are so friendly and funny and they love to spend time with her. Just writing that makes me want to SCREAM!! What an upside-down world we are living in! These ‘wonderful’ people that only ‘have her best interests in mind’ have really put the ‘screws’ to all of us this time. Because my mother is facing the consequences, we are ALL facing the consequences. How do you placate someone that is essentially ‘imprisoned’ in their room for two weeks? I tried, I can’t. She is pissed!!!! And I don’t like to see her unhappy but I honestly don’t know what it is I’m supposed to do.
All day yesterday I tried to think of solutions while also trying not to have a panic attack. Maybe she can move elsewhere, but where? Maybe she can move to a different assisted living facility? Fat chance she’ll be any happier there. What about a senior apartment with a full-time caregiver? Not likely, she hates strangers living with her. What about moving her near me? I think my brain had a mini stroke after that thought. It immediately got my attention when it screamed at me, “Ummm, HELLO! ARE YOU INSANE?! You know you can only take your mother in small doses. Do you want to end up in a facility yourself?!” I also thought about the one thing I’ve always said I would never do, give up and give in and let my sister DD be her caregiver. And even though it’s really not up to me, it’s up to my brother Clover to make that determination, it’s awfully tempting. “You want to live with the Devil and her Spawn? Go right ahead! You love them so much. They are funny and friendly and they love your company. Why not? Go for it. See if I care!”
My husband’s response after I shared all of the drama with him? “Sleep on it,” he said. I am so grateful to be with someone that can weather nearly any storm. He looks at things logically rather than emotionally, which is good for me. I need someone to balance me out. Fortunately, it was sage advice. My brother Clover asked me to call him this morning and when we talked, it seemed like the recent ‘storm’ involving my mother had passed. I’m not sure what happened between yesterday, when she was tearing pictures off the walls, and today, but the anger appears to have subsided. Of course, we could be experiencing the ‘eye of the storm’ at the moment and all hell can break loose tomorrow. Either way, I’m going to brace myself. I never know what to expect from my mother from one day to the next. The way her mind is, it’s anyone’s call. On certain days, she’s exceptionally cheerful and tells me how lovely everyone is and how great the food is, and then on other days, nobody talks to her and the food is terrible and she hates the place.
Why does there have to be consequences? No, don’t answer that question! I know why. Without them, we’d all run around doing whatever the hell we pleased and eventually it would lead to something like ‘the fall of Rome’. And we don’t want that, do we? It just seems like there are so many consequences, so many that we simply don’t have any control over. The slightest little misstep nowadays can result in a tsunami. Sometimes you are afraid to breathe because, my God, what if? I’ve never been so afraid to breathe in my whole life! You breathe on the wrong person, or they breathe on you, and it could be ‘light’s out’! It’s just nuts. But don’t let me stop you from breathing, my friend! I’m going to need you to keep on breathing just in case I stop. Someone’s got to placate my mother for the next weeks or days or years, or however long she decides to stick around on this planet. And if I’m not here to do it, I choose you to do it in my stead. So keep on breathing, my friend. And if you need any pointers in the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask.
One last thing. In case something should happen to me before we have a chance to get together so I can give you some pointers, let me share this with you. There is one sure thing that’ll placate my mother or ‘tame the beast’ and that is chocolate. If she gets to the point where she starts tearing pictures off the wall, hand her a candy bar. It works better than a tranquilizer dart and you won’t end up getting mauled and torn to pieces.