Saturday, March 19, 2011

humor from the land of dementia

This is so pitiful and yet funny, I wanted to share it.

My mother is cold all the time. A condition that most elderly people experience. Some of her problem is that she is unwilling to wear sufficient clothing to protect herself from the cold and drafts while she is indoors. She complains that warmer clothing is too heavy and the weight hurts her skin. In particular she shies away from anything around her neck and lower arms, and lower legs (she wears Capri length pants year round). The other contributing factor is that she has also forgotten how to work the thermostat, but cannot admit to anyone that she no longer understands how it works.

Unwilling to face and acknowledge that her own frailties are the cause of her lack of warmth she has devised a number of conspiratorial theories to account for why she is cold now, when she does not remember being cold in the past. My brother told me that one of her frequent complaints is that the utility company (Pacific Gas and Electric) "turns down the electricity and gas" at night so that the heater doesn't work as well as it should.

In our conversation yesterday, she revealed her new explanation - that the freezer stocked full of frozen food by my brother Charlie on his recent visit, is sucking away the power from the natural gas heater making it too cold in the house. She preceded this explanation by a phrase that I have come to dread: "I woke up in the middle of the night, and got to thinking about this problem I have with being cold all the time..." Every time my mother says that she "got to thinking about" anything it's usually trouble.

This particular explanation -- of the frozen foods draining away power from the heater -- she came up with had the virtue (in her mind) of placing the blame on my brother, whom she is very angry with at the moment. It has become necessary for him to take away more and more of her financial decision making power. She can no longer figure out money at all - she cannot interpret her bank statement, can no longer correctly write a check, confuses amounts of money (mistakes $4 for $400, and $4,000 for $40,000), no longer is able to make use of debit cards and credit cards without substantial assistance. At times is willing to acknowledge it to me, but views my brothers necessary steps to safe guard her financial security as an insult to her. "I'm not so poor as he thinks" she says frequently and angrily (meaning incompetent, not poverty struck).

It's other virtue, unfortunately, was that it was something she felt she could act upon without consulting others. So early in the morning, she carefully removed every single item of frozen food from the freezer, and stacked them in the garage. Hundreds of dollars of food that my brother had purchased to keep her fed over the next month.

For some reason, my mother felt the necessity of writing down information about each package that she removed. In telling me this story, she seemed to think that she would need this information when she talked to the utility company about her energy problems. The best I could tell is that she thought that some types of frozen food sucked up more power than others (??).

Luckily for everyone, it was not long before Jennifer (her wonderful health care worker) arrived. Jennifer patiently explained that the refrigerator used electricity, while the furnace used natural gas, so that there was no connection between the two things. It was clear in our conversation, that my mother does not believe this for a minute. But she was willing to accept that no one else would believe what was obvious to her, and she agreed to put all the food back in the freezer.

Once my mother gets an explanation lodged in her brain for something that puzzles her, it does not matter how many times people tell her differently, she will never let it go. For example, more than a year later, my mother is still convinced that the reason why "there's never anything good on TV any more" is because of that "darn box" she was forced to put on the TV. The "darn box" is of course the digital converter box that allows her to continue to get over the air broadcast television on her old analog set, and has nothing at all to do with the programming decisions of the stations she receives.


Geraldine said...

Oh this brought back some sad memories for me, the last few years of my mom's life...Is your mom living alone? She must be coping quite well over all if that's the case? Cherish every day Sue, I would give anything to have my mom here with me still.

Hugs to you and to her, G

Maggie May said...

That really is very sad. Hope the food was OK.
It is impossible to explain things because it won't be remembered. That is the sad thing.
She is lucky to have you and your brother.
Try to keep cheerful....... I know that isn't easy.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

SandyCarlson said...

A powerful post. I had a beloved uncle who was an inmate of a nursing home for 10 years. He was so far ahead of the people around him, it took a decade for sad reality to find him. Your story touches me deeply.

Anonymous said...

I am with Geraldine, the fact that she is still in her home is amazing. My mom moved into assisted living three years ago, and is doing quite well. Although she is starting to have trouble with checks.

Jim said...

"So funny that it's sad" was a common comment about my MIL before we 'helped' her move to Texas close to us.

But I am with her on that 'darn box' problem. We finally had to get one for each of our sets when the FCC allowed and then required digital TV. There really aren't many good programs with all those extra channels.

Nice to hear about your new home. Will it be your retirement 'dream' home? Our next move will be to a condo or assisted living. I'm not sure which.

Oh yes, thank you (??) for writing the words to that line in Maggie May. I liked it but now I too will think of luring someone (in the past) away from where she was alone. Actually though I was the one who can be happy being alone.

Glenda Manus said...

This is sad, but it's good that you can find the humor in it. This is the first time I've read your blog and enjoyed it immensely. Your story about your mother reminded me of my mother-in-law who recently passed away at 93. She was at war with the digital box on her TV. Totally convinced that it was sabotaging her programs.