Guess Who’s coming to Breakfast: Pt. l

Not too long ago Miss Cathy received a telephone call from her sister-in-law telling her that she was coming north from the Carolinas for a visit.

This would be the first time any of her immediate family has come to see her since her husband died fifteen years ago and her Alzheimer’s diagnosis almost three years ago.

Mom was so excited to have ‘company’ that she was bathed, powdered, hair coiffed and anxiously waiting on the living room sofa early on a Friday morning dressed in a cream colored top with applique at the sleeves and a pair of slacks in a festive red color (so much better than her almost daily uniform of an oversized tee shirt over army fatigues).

She was like the first kid up on Christmas eagerly waiting for everyone else so they could all share in the magic of the day together.

Her favorite sister in law (widow of her oldest brother) was being driven North by one of her sons and his wife. They were stopping for a brief visit on their way up the East Coast to New Jersey to see other relatives.

“So”, I thought to myself when I heard the news of the impending visit, Miss Cathy was only the appetizer and the relatives further up the Northeast corridor the main course but, hey, “a visit is still a visit”.

Her family, mostly all of who live ‘Down South’ consists of three sisters, a brother, their spouses and offspring. And for whatever reason they’ve kept in touch pretty much the same way through the years, regardless of what’s happened, via telephone and the occasional holiday or birthday card till now.

Since I’ve lived here I’ve overheard promises from her family to visit and plans being made but for whatever reason the rubber never hit the road and they never come.

The only family she has seen since her diagnosis is her cousin, Mary and Mary’s two grown daughters who live here in the same state as mom.

But, I don’t think the reason they come is because of proximity, the come because they care.

Believe me, I am just as grateful for Mary and her daughter’s visits as Miss Cathy. They come with love and leave love behind.

It’s my firm belief that at the end of the day ‘people do what they want to do’; so wind, nor rain, nor front row tickets to a Lady Gaga concert could keep someone away from whatever it is that they really want to do.

So, the fact that not one of her siblings has come to see her is an on going source of pain, anger, disappointment and bewilderment for Miss Cathy.

But she was obviously ready to let all that go as she sat, barely able to contain herself every time she ‘thought’ she heard someone at the door, waiting for a familiar face from home.

When I walked into the room to help her with her morning meds it almost broke my heart to have to tell her that they weren’t due to arrive till Saturday.


Come back Miss Cathy: Pt. l

The 1950’s stage play (and later film version) of “Come Back Little Sheba” was a story of a housewife in crisis heartbreakingly portrayed by the late great actress, Shirley Booth.

Her character stands just outside her kitchen door (and her life) late at night where she can be heard calling for her lost dog.

During the course of the drama it becomes evident that she’s longing for the return of more than just (wo)man’s best friend.

This morning it struck me that the same could be said of Miss Cathy.

While she rarely stands anywhere for long these days she does seem to be lost in thought a lot and more often than not looking out the window as much as she’s looking a the television.

Her introspection led me to wonder…do her anxieties and nervousness go deeper than the dementia? Does the fact that the ‘present’ confuses her open her up to see the ‘past’ more clearly? And if it does, what does she see there?
Is she looking for something other than what that she’s lost since her diagnosis…her independence, freedom, sense of self?

She’s just started therapy recently and I am hoping it will help.

After her first consultation I went in to talk with the therapist for a moment, she warned me that sometimes (depending on the trauma or issues uncovered) an elderly mind can be determined to be too fragile to confront whatever has happened (this is especially true of some dementia patients) and if that’s the case then it might be best to let the past stay unexamined.

I know some of Miss Cathy’s past troubles and hardships but it’s not for me to say, nor for me to judge how she’s walked thought her life, her choices and what she chooses to talk about.

Everyone’s life contains pain and it’s up to the individual to bare witness (or not) to his or her own emotional holocaust.

With that in mind I’ve encouraged mom to continue therapy (she was questioning whether or not to go back after only one visit) and to give time time.

My hope is that in time she may feel safe enough (and comfortable enough) to finally talk about what’s been unspoken for so long.

People who need people

One day last week I was listening while Miss Cathy was talking-there’s really no other way to describe a ‘conversation’ with her really. She was telling me that she’d decided against having a girlfriend drop by for a visit. I listened as she complained about how this particular friend was someone who hated to be alone and how she constantly needed to be around someone. Mom made a point of “not” empathizing with her friend’s personality trait, saying that she didn’t understand people ‘like that’ because she was perfectly fine to be on her own.

“I get tired of her calling all the time, she’s so persistent”, she fumed, “wanting to come over here or for me to go over there. Stay home, I’m tired, entertain your own damn self.”

Exactly what she was ‘tired’ from I had no idea-a long hard day of watching TV perhaps. Frankly, I’d have thought she’d relish the opportunity to talk to someone (anyone), lord knows the two of us don’t do much of that anymore, we’re like that old married couple that’s heard each other’s stories and jokes one (or six hundred and twenty-eight) times to many-at least I feel that way.

I know it all sounds a little harsh but what do I know, they’re her friends and she’s got a right to have whatever feelings she wants to have about them. I just worry that one day she’s going to wake up and realize that she’s alienated them all and there’ll be no friends left to rail against.

She becomes quite agitated when she’s talking about something that’s happened between them. She gets herself wound up like a clock and her face becomes flush with emotion. I’ve warned time and again that she’s going to give herself an aneurism investing so much emotion in telling her tales. I try to remind her to just ‘tell the story’ and not to ‘re-live’ it-she’d have been a great Method actor.

Besides, the girlfriend she’s talking about is the very person that helped find her after she’d had her fall last year. If it wasn’t for the ‘persistence’ of this friend there’s no telling if or when anybody would have found her on her bathroom floor.

That fact alone would give that person a lifetime pass (in my book anyway) to come over or have me do whatever they wanted (you want to go to the Piggly Wiggly-no problem, I’ll push the grocery cart. Drop by at seven a.m. for a chat-I’ll put the kettle on). But hey, that’s just me.

I know she’s grateful and I know that she loves her friend but lately I’m noticing a shift toward the negative.

She’s also full of contractions, I know for a fact that as much as she rails against her friends and family she can work herself up into a panic if a few days pass and she hasn’t heard from one of them on the telephone. And telephone she does, morning noon and night, I hear her on the phone talking but that’s not how you maintain relationships (especially one’s that are within a ten-mile radius).

Besides, isn’t it better to have something to look forward to-even if it’s a visit from a friend you’re not particularly crazy about (that day) instead of just watching TV and napping until it’s time to go to bed at night? I worry that at the rate she’s going all she’ll have is the past because there’ll be no future (friendships anyway).

Maybe she has some variation of ‘survivor’s guilt’. While she’s grateful to her friend for helping to save her life maybe it’s hard to be around her now because her friend reminds her of that day and her diagnosis. I don’t know, I’m not ‘in’ their friendship. I just know that Miss Cathy seems to have less time in her day for people and the irony is that all she has is time.

Sometimes I wonder if being ornery is because of her age or her diagnosis, it’s hard to separate sometimes. Unfortunately, It’s not like I have a ‘quote, un-quote’ ‘normal’ seventy-three year in a closet somewhere that I can pull out as a control group-you know, some old person that I can gauge their reactions against hers.

No, all I have is Miss Cathy, she’s my ‘people’ and cranky or not, consistent or not, I’m still one of the luckiest people in the world because I do need her (although some days I’d just like a less chatty, nicer version of ‘her’).