When we moved to the annex I was prepared for Mom to have a level of disorientation. I was prepared for her to be anxious about this new place, to get lost in it, to forget where the bathroom was. I was prepared for her anger and sarcasm to come out. I was even to some degree prepared for the perseveration on the question as to what was happening ( although I do have to admit that answering the question “How long are we going to be here?” almost non-stop for the last two weeks on a never-ending loop is getting a little wearing).
What I was not prepared for and suddenly came to a realization of last night was that over the course of the next eight weeks Mom may, at some point, come to think of the Annex as her home and when we move back, we may go through the same confusion there as we are experiencing here.
We were talking for the one hundredth time for the day about the work being done at the Vicarage and how long it is going to take when Mom interjected a new question.
“Well do we actually own that house?”
It stopped me in my tracks and for a moment I couldn’t answer. Then the cold realization that we have seven more weeks for Mom to forget her home of the last fifty years settled in.
I started the day hemming my Mother’s new pants for her Drs. appointment. No, I didn’t sew them. I cheated and used hem tape. Even knowing what hem tape was made me feel positively domestic.
Do you use hem tape or is that too much of a short cut for you?
If you read yesterday’s “Day At the Vicarage Post”, you will remember that today Mom had a cardiologist appointment which she was pretty nervous about. This morning I helped her get dressed and then we took off for the Dr’s. office. It’s in our local hospital building over in Gardner MA.
Mom now uses a wheel chair to get around the hospital for appointments. She tried to walk the first time we had an appointment here and that didn’t go so well. So now I have a system:
I drive her to the front of the building and help her get seated on one of the front benches. We have to have the mask conversation every time as she gets out of the car….
Mom: Why do I need this.
Me: Because of Covid.
Mom: Oh! Is that still a thing?
Mom (puts on the mask.) Wow! The world has really changed!
Me: It sure has.
After this I park the car in clergy parking….because I’m clergy….to which Mom responds “You have your own parking space at the hospital? Impressive.”
I go to the little check in tent next and requisition a wheelchair which means I ask the super bored door monitors where the wheel chairs are. They point. I go and get one.
Once I get Mom comfortable seated in the chair we go through the check in procedure….the questions….the responses…..the washing of hands….the directions to the particular office….the reminder that we cannot wander around the hospital…the giving of our little tag which tells the hospital staff where we are supposed to be.
Today we got to the office just in time to fill out the forms needed and then we were off to the races. Weight, height, medicine list, EKG and then the big wait for the Dr.
“I hope he’s nice.” Mom said. “How’s my hair?”
Then the Dr. came in. It all went better than expected. The Dr. said her results showed normal calcification of the heart valves for someone her age and since she is not displaying adverse symptoms and is already on all the meds he would recommend he saw no reason Mom had to come back to him.
Here is our parting salvo with the Dr.
Dr. Gibson: Of course you know they pay me to tell people to quit smoking.
Mom has a pack a day habit.
Mom: And how much do they pay you to do that Dr.?
Dr. Gibson: Not enough!
Mom: That’s probably because you are not very good at it.
Mom has a Drs. appointment tomorrow with a cardiac specialist.
She is actually pretty nervous. Though of course, she would deny that if you asked her. I can tell she is nervous because today was the day we had to try on her new “Dr’s. Office Clothes”.
Mom hates to wear anything new. I have bought her several new pairs of pants. She likes her old ones. I have bought her several new shirts. She hates them. The problem is, her old clothes have holes in them. They are just worn out. I do not mind her wearing them around the house but I am not letting her out the front door in them. I am certainly not taking her to the Dr’s. in them.
Today I wanted her to try on the new shirt and pants I had for her. The string of obscenities launched at me for that infraction is what let me know she is nervous about the consult. She doesn’t want to hear what she already knows. She doesn’t want to have said to her what she says to us everyday. That is, “She is dying by inches.”
She can confess it she just doesn’t want to have it said back to her. It is that way with a lot of things around here: If we deny the roof is 50 years old maybe it won’t leak; If we don’t go out on the stone porch maybe it will stop crumbling; If we don’t look out the back windows maybe the giant dead maples won’t fall on our house.
I like denial as much as the next guy, but it is no solution to real life problems. Mom is not at a place where she can face the problems on her own. So I am going with her into those problems.
I called the roofers and they fixed the roof. I called the tree guy. Our dead trees are stuck in some town committee, but at least we are in process. There are a bunch of other things to do, but it is not denial that is stopping them from getting done now just a lack of time and cash.
The Dr. may give us a bad report tomorrow. At least we will know what we are dealing with. Then again maybe we will get a line on some treatment for her circulation no one has thought of yet.
In order to tell you about this day, I have to go back about 36 hours to Sunday morning. It’s where the thread of this story began.
I got up at about 6, walked the dogs as usual and then started the morning out with prayer and some house work. Mom and Amanda got up, so I made the coffee and sat down to breakfast with them.
“What are you guys doing today?” Mom asked
“It’s Sunday. So we are goin to church.” Amanda returned.
Without missing a beat Mom replied, “Oh I meant to tell you, I got a call. Church is cancelled.”
Amanda and I smiled at each other and then I asked, “Oh? Who called?”
“God.” Mom returned with a dry smile.
Amanda and I laughed as I said, “Well I guess He would know.”
Mom has always had a sharp wit. It is sometimes even more spectacular now as her filters are going away. Church time came. We went to church without heeding God’s call. That always spells trouble. Trouble this day came at 5:30. My phone rang. It was one of our elderly ladies from church,
“It’s your bad penney.” she said. Then she went into a rambling explanation of how she was somewhere ,and her car wouldn’t work, and they said it was fixed now, and she supposed she could find her way home.
“Where are you________?” I asked her.
She handed the phone to a lady who explained that she was at a market in Pennacook NH, about an hour and a half from us.
Needless to say we were on the road in a matter of minutes. Our lady had gotten herself really lost. My GPS took us through deep woods and onto dirt roads until we found the little market where our friend was stranded.
When we arrived the sun was setting. Our friend was tired, scared and very confused. Her car was no longer driveable as she had hit either a really tall curve or a very deep pothole with it. The tow truck driver was pretty sure she had bent the rim and maybe even the frame of her car.
We got the car towed and drove our friend home. It turned out we had arrived just in time as our ride home was overshadowed by beautiful but rather frightening thunder storms, with lots of lightning and even more rain. I shudder to think about this dear lady caught outside in that!
Anyway we got her settled in for the night and then went home to close up The Vicarage.
This morning I set about making some calls to social services in my friend’s town. She is a widow without family and so we are going to build a safety net around her now to help her at home with quality of life.
At noon I took Mom to a Drs. appointment. The Dr. wants Mom to have lots of tests. Mom wants to have none. The Dr. wants to prolong Mom’s life. Mom thinks that the Dr. is barking mad. For me once again this is all about quality not quantity of life.
Both of these ladies are in their mid eighties. Both of them are in failing health. Both are looking forward to their home going. Neither wants to do anything to lengthen their days. For myself I think now is a season of ministry to both of them. It’s not about the number of days. It’s about the quality of those days. I hope I can make the time they have left here on Earth a little more comfortable and a little more pleasant.
Since March the world has settled into a new rhythm.
Five and a half months in, I have grown use to the new pace. I do wonder how much of my old routine I will even want back when the pandemic is over.
Tuesdays is staff meeting day. Since our offices at the church are still not officially open, we meet by Zoom. A few staff members, including my daughter, vid in from the church office. I work from home.
So the rhythm for this day is: rise by 6 or 7, walk the dogs, pray, write the morning blogs, exercise, go to the store for mom’s daily supplies (papers, scratchies and cigs), then it is back home and with any time left before staff meeting I study and pray a bit more.
In answer to the question you may have asked in the last paragraph, yes Mom smokes. She has for almost 60 years. Stopping at 85 would probably kill her. She has no wish to stop and I really have no wish to fight that battle.
To be honest smoking is one of the few things Mom enjoys now. Dementia has stolen from her the ability to be comfortable away from the house. She gets very nervous even going outside now because it is too confusing.
She likes her living room, her TV (The Hallmark channel almost exclusively), her newspapers with the crosswords, and suduko (which amazingly she can still do), the daily comics, which after she has read, she likes to color…AND she likes her cigarettes.
Her doctor has tried to get her to quit, even using the argument that it will lengthen her life. That argument does not work because Mom has no wish to lengthen her life here, She is beyond ready to move beyond and is, as the saying goes, “Waiting on God”.
I have to say being the child of a parent who is fighting the battle with dementia can be confusing and difficult. As we lose mom…as she loses herself by inches to this disease we are caught between the two ideas of losing her to death or losing her to dementia. Part of me wants to have her stay with us in any condition because I do not want her to go. Another part of me doesn’t want her to suffer the ravages of this horrible disease. Both mindsets come and go, and both of them feel selfish in turn.
one of the reasons I love the pandemic rhythm is it has given all of us here at The Vicarage precious time to be together. To sit together. To watch TV together…. and it has given us time to talk, even if we do answer the same questions over and over, even if some of what is said is just silly.
Tonight after I had finished a remote sustainability seminar put on by a local resource group, I came down to sit with Mom, Brenda and Amanda. We were having a discussion about gall bladders….yes…. gall bladders.
Here is how it went in my daughter’s words
Convo with grandma… Me: grandma do you still have your gallbladder? Grandma: nope Aunt Brenda: when did you lose your gallbladder Grandma: I didn’t lose it… Aunt Brenda: what do you… Grandma: *interrupting aunt Brenda*… it got cut out Everyone silent for a beat…then busts out laughing.
This new rhythm is perhaps the most massive lifestyle change I have experienced since my divorce. It has been hard and uncomfortable Honestly, though, I never want to go back to normal if I can keep having conversations with Mom about gall bladders.
Well i have blathered on long enough tonight. So I will sign off here saying….
During this corporate season of prayer I have filled my journal with hundreds of entries from my personal prayer times. Here is one of the thoughts I have been contemplating since Jan. 26.
“We are only empty vessels. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can stop trying to accomplish things in our own power and we can allow God to fill us and flow through us with His power. In His power we can accomplish eternal things if impossible magnitude.”
I am aware that God is bringing me into a place where I recognize my powerlessness. This sense of my own fragility is the key to operating in the supernatural power of the Living God.
Are you becoming aware that you are not equal to the task in front of you? What is your answer to it?
Dear Evan Hansen is one of my favorite musicals. It’s a modern day commentary on: family, peer pressure, truth telling, rejection, fatherlessness, and well so many other things.
A few days ago I was working on the church’s prophecy board (more on that another time) when I just felt I had to listen to the music from the musical again. I knew as I did, it was God telling me He was going to reveal emotions I was not being honest about.
So many of the songs resonate with me even as a pastor/prophet. This time, though, the songs that hit me hard were “So Big So Small” and “Does Anybody Have a Map”, which are the mother’s songs from the musical.
In the middle of both songs I began to cry. SUPER UNEXPECTED! I actually closed up shop and went home because I couldn’t take it anymore and I couldn’t figure out why. The next day I told Amanda about it and then I played the songs again for her and… Yep!…. You guessed it. I started crying again. I realized I had work to do.
I have spent many hours in prayer over this and I think I have a bit of revelation. I am relating with this lady…not because my son is in trouble but because Brenda, Amanda and I are becoming parents by increments to my mom.
It has hit me that Brenda will soon be heading back to her mission, I think I am afraid of this. When Brenda goes back to The Netherlands I will be a “single parent” : I will make the meals. I will pay the bills. I will make sure Mom takes her showers. I will do the doctors and the dentist appointments. I will do the laundry and…. and….and….and … this house seems so big and I feel so small.
AMANDA WRITES…Well, while half of the Vicarage is in Florida enjoying Disney the Eldest and youngest of the Vicarage are left to guard the home front. This is quite the change for Grandma as she doesn’t see me as an adult quite yet. Just last month she started to allow me to wash the dinner dishes! With that being said, Dad asked me, what were the easiest and hardest things about being left alone with Grandma for a week.
The easiest thing is listening to her stories from her childhood and learning how my dad grew up. The first day dad left she was missing her kids, and she took out photos I had never seen before and with each photo she showed me she was able to tell me all the details of that time. Having these memories and moments are precious and I don’t take them for granted.
The hardest thing is the questions. As grandma grows older her memory is not what it once was. In the evenings we sit together and talk and she asks the same questions over and over. “when’s your father coming home?” “Is Brenda coming home at the same time?” “Have you walked the dogs yet?” “Where’s your cat?” While these questions aren’t hard to answer it’s the repetitiveness and the realization of what is slowly being taken away from her that is hard and frustrating.
J. WRITES… Thank you Amanda for giving us this time.