Come back Miss Cathy: Pt. V #CarefreeToCaregiver


I found myself back on the road, headed home.

I’d been parked the entire time I was having this internal debate just a few blocks from the restaurant downtown that was suppose to kick start my evening.

I was too embarrassed to walk the short distance to cancel in person so I called from the safety of my car.

As soon as I’d hung up I wondered if I’d have changed my mind and stayed if I’d gone inside the restaurant. Would I have sat down, ordered a drink, engaged my date in conversation and been able to be the person that I once was and longed to be again (at least for one night)?

The answer to that I will never know but my actions told me that it was time to stop looking back, longing for the life that I had and focus on how to create more balance in the life that I have now. Sometimes the greater challenge is accepting what is instead of expending energy trying to recreate what was.

I also made a promise to myself not to be angry with Miss Cathy.

Going back home was my decision and there was no reason to pout or act as if she’d done something wrong, she hadn’t, she was just being who she is, which is unpredictable and I was just going to have to accept that fact, too.

Once I was back at the condo I walked in, checked on her (as predicted she was back in bed wide awake and still agitated) so I sat with her for a moment so she could talk about what had happened.

In no time at all I could see that she was settling down and more relaxed because she was no longer alone.

I changed clothes (goodbye ‘carefree’ and hello ‘caregiver’) and in no time I was back into my nightly routine of washing dishes, straightening up the kitchen and setting the alarm, signaling that all was well and everyone (everyone meaning me) was in for the night as if just an hour before I hadn’t been out in the night.

As I often do, I walked through the apartment ‘fluffing and tucking’ stopping at the sliding glass doors that lead out onto the balcony.

I leaned my head against the cool glass and looked out over the complex, past the apartments across the parking lot, up to the sky, and it was then that I realized, agitated or not, confused or focused, in the past or present, manipulating me or being manipulated by her mind, Miss Cathy may be searching but she was always here….it was I who had to come back.

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#Therapy Pt. l: Old Dog, New Day, New Way


One of the revelations that came out of the ‘alz-ervention’ a few weeks ago when the family sat down to talk to Miss Cathy was that she expressed an interest in therapy (I immediately went to the window to see if pigs were flying but it was just the blooms off the Cherry Blossoms).

To say I was surprised, shocked and elated (is true) but mostly I was happy that she was
ready to face some of her demons, many of which have nothing to do with Alzheimer’s but the Alz has definitely ‘heightened’ some of the parts of her personality that are….how shall I put this? …..strong (read: annoying as sh*t) but seem to me to be (deeply) rooted in some pain or past that hopefully she is ready to face.

I’m a big advocate of therapy, it’s helped me immeasurably at different times in my life but I also know that sitting across from a stranger, though a professional they may be, is not for everyone and especially someone Miss Cathy’s age (and generation).

And I know that the ‘Greatest Generation’ is not ‘great’ about ‘sharing their feelings’…especially when it involves the kind of navel gazing that my self absorbed generation (the last of the baby boomers-thus aptly named the ‘Me Generation”) is/was all to eager to explore.

We (me) grew up reading “Jonathan Livingston’s Seagull”, ”How to be Your own Best Friend” and “I’m OK, You’re OK”, while our parents still remember reading the WWll mantra “Loose lips, Sink ships” (and internalized that to inhibit introspection apparently).

But, it was because of their stoicism growing up during the depression and thriving after the war(s) that we were able to run around with feathers and flowers in our hair (be it an afro or parted in the middle and worn as long and straight as you could iron it), drink Coke (and later snort it) and ‘try to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’.

So, giving the differences of how we learned to cope I applaud an older person, specifically my Miss Cathy for embracing self-reflection.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new ways to contemplate.

Sometimes all you can do is #laugh


“Can you come here for a minute?”

I heard the familiar refrain come from the direction of Miss Cathy’s bedroom the other morning as I got out of bed to greet a new day.

“I can’t even put my damn bra on!” She said with disgust.

Well, at least she’s not trying to put her tee shirt on as pants I thought to myself as I wiped the last of sleep from my eyes.

And sure enough, as I walked the few feet into her room my newly wakened eyes saw that her bra was not only on backwards…it was inside out as well.

It’s been about a month now since her step downward; it started with a loss of vision, compounded by confusion over the ability to see and use everyday objects. And now the simplest of tasks (things she’s been doing her entire life) have become complicated.

Watching her struggle with her under garment, as if someone had made an over the shoulder Rubik’s cube instead of a brassiere, looking nothing like the iconic Horst P. Horst photo of a woman caught in the act of snapping her brassiere, so famously paid tribute to in Madonna’s “Vogue” music video, Miss Cathy seemed as emotionally twisted as her bra straps.

She’d managed to put one strap up over her shoulder but the other was lost under a fold of skin in her armpit, somehow the back was in the front, the whole thing was inside out and the closures were pressed down on her breasts with the cups hanging off her back, looking about as useful as tits on a bull.

“How in the world?” I started to say, then I had to laugh and so did she.

“Damn!” she said between chuckles as I gently unhooked the closures, releasing her ample bosom, taking the garment off her to reconceive it for its intended purpose.

“All these damn titties!” She said looking down at herself and talking as if she were divulging a secret her body was not aware of.

“I hate these fuckers!”

“Well” I said giggling, helping her to put her brassiere on correctly.

Nothing like seeing an old lady topless, especially your mom, first thing in the morning to let you know what kinda day you’re in for.

“Put you boobs away.”

“I wish I could cut ‘em off! I hated them even when I was a girl and they first started growing. I know men are suppose to like’m.” She said, arranging herself into her bra.
“I wonder what they’d think if they had them instead of balls and they had to lug’m around all the time.”

I helped her snap shut the last closure in the back the helped her with put on her top tehn said, “I’m sure if they had tits and no balls they’d think they were women.”

….more laughter.

Home


“When I think of home I think of a place where there’s love all around me. I wish I was home, I wish I was back there”…but there is no there, there.

All Dorothy had to do was click her heels in the movie or on the Broadway stage and there she went, back over the rainbow safe and sound to a familiar place.

Great sentiment and a wonderful feeling I’m sure but I haven’t felt at home for some time now. I left my life to join Miss Cathy in hers in her home some time ago but it’s never felt like “home” to me.

I told an ex of mine once that “home” is wherever your mother is-not the address or the physical place. But now, as Alzheimer’s has started to claim even a fraction of my mother’s mind she’s less “mother” and more “patient”.

Alzheimer’s has turned what used to be a safe place into a battleground; full of land mines that have to be avoided less they blow up into harsh words and tension.

These days I find that it’s easier to isolate myself in my little bedroom to avoid conflict. So, I inhabit the different areas of the room or “zones” as I call them as I move through my day, always having an ear out for when the coast is clear to go to the kitchen or use the balcony.

I don’t think I’ve sat in the living room in months, and if I have it’s just for the few moments it takes to relay some information to Miss Cathy or to listen to a request of hers.

Things have gone downhill since my last post which is the reason I haven’t been writing. It’s gotten too real to relay. I found that (unlike before) it wasn’t therapeutic or helpful to write about what’s going on because it was too painful emotionally to relive it on paper (on online as the case may be).

So, I don’t feel like I have a home and with no home you have no foundation and with no foundation you have no support and without support you’re all alone and that is a lonely place to be, “especially in a crowd” as Marilyn Monroe says in Gentlemen prefer Blondes.

But, what I have learned even in the face of no home, no foundation and no support is that I have “me” and that’s a pretty good start. I think of me as being a brick, and my “will to continue” my mortar so with brick(s) and mortar I can start to construct my own foundation, my own support and ultimately my own home.

Or maybe…just maybe, because I’ve always had me- like Dorothy I was (am) home already.

Blame it on the a, aa, ak, uh alkaline


I finished my first week working as a cater/waiter last Thursday, which was good because I couldn’t have worked one day longer. If I thought it was hard to run a 10k (back in the old days, after a night of serious disco dancing and drinking) well, standing around holding trays full of drinks and being “in service” makes that seem like a cakewalk.

The job is not without it’s perks; I’m getting out of the house, (re) learning my way around Washington DC, I’m getting a behind the scenes look at what it takes to put on events (intimate and extravagant) and there’s the scrumptious food, floral arrangements and gift bags that we’re allowed to take home (depending on the event and the captain you’re working for).

I did meet an interesting woman at one of the jobs sites. Her name is Lois and we met after “service” as we were all taking a well-deserved break and making our dinner from the leftovers. Like I said already, I have not been working long but what I have noticed it that there is “a lot” of food left over after these events, sometimes even after the staff has eaten, there is a lot that is thrown out-the abundance and the waste is amazing. Anyway, I was loading my fourth cupcake into a take out container when I heard, “Somebody sure has a sweet tooth.”

Embarrassed, thinking that it was a captain (the person that is in charge of all of the cater/waiters) I turned to see Lois, who was in charge of the pantry. She’s not my boss but an important person in the “food” chain. There is a hierarchy to this industry that I’m still figuring out but one thing I know already is that it’s best to know your place in the queue and who can help whom.

So, I said (quite honestly) “No, it’s not for me, I like to take my dinner home and share it with my mom -she’s the one with the sweet tooth.”

I’ve only been a week but Miss Cathy and I already have a little routine established, she kinda stays up waiting for me after my shift (or her eyes pop open the minute she hears my key in the door and is calling out “Heyyy”) and I share whatever food I manage to bring home and stories of how I’m trying to do a job that I have very little experience at (remember I “padded” my resume to get the job saying that I had cater/waiter experience back in New York when in actuality I went on a few jobs when friends in the industry needed an extra hand. I so impressed my new boss that he thinks I’m a seasoned cater/waiter and is ready to put me in charge of people when in fact I’m just impersonating a cater/waiter and learning on the job as I mimic others but I’m determined to become who he think I already am).

Anyway, back to the “cupcakes”….we sat down to take our break before “tearing” down the event, she with her dinner and me with my take out container full of goodies from the dinner I just served to a baker’s dozen of the “Masters’ of the Universe” at the Capital One Corp offices. We started to talk and I told her that Miss Cathy has Alzheimer’s and to my surprise she said that her dad does too (although why I’m surprised “should” be the surprise since the alz.org stats say that someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 69 seconds).

I was shaken out of my “thought bubble” when Lois asked,” Does she drink soft drinks?” and proceeded to tell me that her father (and her whole family) only drink “AlkinWater” and that they never ingest sodas. She’s a firm believer that the chemicals in soda pop cause/exacerbate or contribute to Alzheimer’s; she then told me that I should google Alkaline and its effects on the brain.

I didn’t think that working a catering job would be the place where I’d find information about Alz but “hey” you drink where you find the water so I started taking “sips”. In the short time we sat together she went into great depth about Alkaline, which medications to avoid (I gathered she’s not big on western medicine) and a host of other topics. We had to get back to work but we exchanged phone numbers and Lois said she’d email some more info to me.

I started doing some research on my own and came across some interesting information, Not sure what I think about the whole holistic eating and living approach but it is food for thought.

Wiz-zed


I’m in Kansas City now and won’t be back in Greenbelt till the 21st. Without balloons or fanfare I gave Miss Cathy a hug and a kiss and took the train to New York last Thursday to hang out with Chad in the Emerald City and now we’re in the land of Oz.

I feel like I’ve escaped from the Wicked witch’s tower but that would infer that Miss Cathy is Glinda’s evil sister from the East. By the look on her face (utter joy) when I was standing at the door to leave I could see that she was a fellow escapee, too. She was looking forward to getting rid of my ass and as much (or more) as I was looking forward to leaving. How can you blame her really, I mean, the poor woman hasn’t been alone in over a year.

So, I guess that would make Alzheimer’s the Wicked witch that’s swooped down and turned our little world to black and white from color; dementia the evil tower, her paranoia and anger issues would be the flying monkeys (which scared the be-Jesus out of me when I was kid by the way) and lately her behavior threaten to send me under the bed once more.

If it’s true what Mr. Baum says that I’ve been home all along then why is that when I click my heels nothing happens? I’ve lived in the Emerald City (New York), the land of Oz (Kansas City) and even over the rainbow (on the left bank in Paris) so why oh why do I keep waking up in Greenbelt? Since becoming suburbanized I’ve traded in my designer shoes for Nikes but the result should be the same-when am I going to wake up in an overstuffed feather bed next to some little hairy beast surrounded by extended family and the hired help?

I left Miss Cathy with her lifeline alert necklace (more powerful than ruby slippers) so I feel like she has some protection. I called to check on her yesterday and she sounded as happy as the mayor of Munchkin land. She could have been sitting there playing with her own feces for all I knew but that’s a stretch in behavior (thank the lord for now) but I am cognizant of the fact that one can give “good phone”-meaning that a lot people that are ill can “sound” healthy and capable over the airwaves.

So, I’m conscious of that and I also know that she couldn’t deteriorate that quickly in just a few days so I’m listening for things other than the scatological. Is she present? Is she clear? Does she sound calm or confused?

Once I ascertained all of that I could confidently sit back and let her tell her latest story of what hillbilly relative did what to whom wash over me and feel confident that I could hang up the phone and start skipping back down the yellow brick road.

Shades of grey


I’m off to the estate-planning seminar on Wednesday to get a jump on long term financial decisions that will have to be made but I’m coming up on a grey area in this whole care giving business. I try to stay out of Miss Cathy’s personal affairs as much as possible but we live in close quarters and lets face it-once you’ve had to bathe someone and help them in the bathroom the boundaries get a little blurred.

I’m sitting in the car right now writing as I wait for her while she’s in the bank “taking care of some business”. What the “business” is I didn’t ask (thinking it’s none of mine) and she didn’t offer. The caregiver in me who is aware of her finances is wondering what she’s up too and if it’s responsible of me to not be in there with her while she does whatever it is she’s doing (a light shade of grey).

Tony has taken over paying her bills and I handle her day-to-day financial needs. Now that she’s feeling empowered by the Neurologists visit it seems (to me) that she’s flexing her independent “muscles” a bit (if only that included some exercise like going outside and walking like the doctor suggested, too). Anyway, it’s her money but now that Tony and I are involved it’s our business, too.

I don’t know what she’s doing in there right now but I do know that she’s a senior citizen on a fixed income who’s been “pretty” responsible about her finances but she has made some (how shall I put this?) questionable choices money-wise that may or may not have anything to do with her condition-again (we’re in that grey area).

All I know is that I’ve “chosen” to respect her privacy and hopefully she’ll tell me what’s she’s up too. I’ll know soon enough because I have access to her accounts, but that’s not the point really. I just hope I’m not going to have to find a financial mess that Tony and I will have to clean up.

I guess the best I can do is to look for patterns, see what her financial reasoning is on paper, judge how responsible her choices are moving forward and deal with it then and that’s pretty black and white.