Friday, March 30, 2012

My Mother and Reality

My Mother has been sick for two weeks. She is 96 years old and lives in a rest home fifteen minutes from me. She has lived there for three years after living in the house my Father built for 56 years.

A week ago my phone rang at 1 am to tell me that my Mother was hallucinating. This has happened before when she is sick. Normally, when she is not sick, she has very little working memory but she is lucid and quite with it in the present. She always knows who I am and I trust her judgement as long as she doesn't have to remember anything past thirty seconds.

My Mother is a vibrant woman who fully appreciates her life. But when I arrived at her room at 1:15 am, she was restless and confused. I realized quickly that she was operating from a different time and place. I have learned that when a person is hallucinating, it is not helpful to tell her/him that what they see or feel or hear or believe is not true. It is much more helpful to enter the world they think they reside in, because they are more likely to understand and make sense of that world.

My mother was agitated. "I have to get back to my own bed," she told me.

"Mom, this is your bed." (Okay, I started with reality, but not for long).

"kj," she said firmly, "Now you know my bed is downstairs. And these men in the room. I 'm not staying here with strange men. Two of them are in this bed. I am not going to have people talking about me."

I want my Mother to safely stay in the bed she is in--her bed. "Mom, those men are going to sleep in the bed downstairs. You and I can stay in this room alone for the night. They're leaving any minute."

"Oh good," she says.

A few minutes later, "Should I heat the chowder now?"

"No," I say. "Let's wait."

"Oh, Okay."

And, "Those men have a nerve just showing up like this. They probably expect me to fix breakfast for them. I could be mad about it."

"I'll help you fix breakfast, Mom."

"Oh, okay. You are such a good daughter."

This exchange took place a week ago. Since then my Mom has been lucid and then not lucid. She has some kind of virus and she is sick and weak, mostly in bed, not eating. This morning the wonderful nurse at the rest home called me first thing and told me my Mother said she is sure she is dying. She asked the nurse and two aides if they were angels, asked them if she was already in heaven or still alive.

I hightailed it to the rest home. "I've never felt so sick," my Mother told me. "Do you think I'll make it?"

"Definitely, Mom. It's just the flu. You're getting better."

"Really?" she asked me.

"Yes, I'm sure."

"I'll be glad when my head feels right. And what's wrong with me?"

"You're sick with the flu and besides that, when a person is older and they're sick, they can see and hear things that aren't there. It will be okay, Mom."

My Mother smiles.

Later, she asks me where 'our' mother is. I hesitate. I'm not sure what to say.

"Mom, it's me, kj. I'm your daughter." and then, "Mom, do you know how old you are?"

"I'm close to a hundred, aren't I?" A lightbulb goes off. She realizes if she is that old, her mother is not around.

"You're 96."

She smiles again. "I still have a ways to go."

"Yes," I say. "Most definitely."

My brother cannot bear to see my Mother this way. Myself, I'm glad to know how to calm and comfort her. And another thing I'm glad about: when she mixes her past with her present, I feel like she is sharing some authentic part of her life that I haven't known before. I find myself playing different roles with her, responding to her questions about where her car is parked or does she have bread to make sandwiches or how will she get to Aunt Betty's party. I tell her, not necessarily as her daughter, that her car is parked outside and she doesn't have to fix lunch today because she is sick and Aunt Betty is canceling the party until she feels better.

"Oh, that's good." I like hearing my Mother say that. She believes me and she puts her head back on her pillow.

I've always believed that time is not linear; that the past and present and future all exist collectively, all reside within us as us.

Maybe this is one reason I am able to accept my Mother's reality; in addition to the very simple fact that I love her, and it is my honor to help her find her way.

love
kj

75 comments:

  1. Both of you are very fortunate to have each other.
    We can give only that of which we have an abundance, not because we are selfish otherwise but because we don't recognize how to get it and how to give it. Love in you is as easy to receive as it is to give and your dear Mother is all the better for having given you so much love that you can do those things and she, knowing from where they come, accepts them as the true things they are: simple, powerful, the best medicine to find "her head" again: love.

    xoxoxo

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  2. ohh .. though, in reality, this must be very hard for you.. but the way you put it in words doesnt reflect the hardship.. it reflects the love and the warmth that the two of u share... i love u kj!

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    1. ditto and likewise, hdwk. ♥

      i thought about this very duality as i wrote this post. yes, it is hard and i worry. and yet, my mother is so damn sweet and her eyes sparkle, even in her determination that what is not real is. i have canceled my plans to be away this weekend, because i know her seeing me is worth so much more.....
      love to you hdwk,
      kj

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  3. i know how well you understand, my dearest friend allegra, because you hold that much love in your own heart. i am often the beneficiary of it directly, and for that i am ever grateful. i can't imagine not cherishing your kindness and wisdom.

    how often i think of you. and always with gratitude

    love
    kj

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  4. kj, you are so very kind to your mother, so very understanding. She is so fortunate to have you. And you to have her.

    Blessings and Bear hugs to both of you.

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    1. Thank you very much, bear. Your words touch me. Big beat hug back to you


      kj

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    2. Make that BEAR hug, but here's a beat hug too
      :-)

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  5. God bless you , kj, for your understanding on so many levels. God bless your mom, too. <3

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    1. It is a blessing to me that I Do understand, Barbara. It pains to think of older folks criticized for what they cannot do and children who cannot appreciate what they can do

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  6. I have and am still having similar and very different conversations of this ilk with my step-dad John. I'm lucky that a friend of mine advised me to do as you do KJ and that is to try to enter the "reality" of the other person rather than try in vain to ground them in my own. Sometimes it makes me feel fraudulent and like I am colluding in something "unhealthy" or potentially damaging but trying to think that through makes my head and heart hurt so I persevere with my approach and just hope for the best. I'm not sure where I'm going with this comment so I'll stop there ...


    ... except to say time as we percieve it is definitely not linear. That is not to say that time itself is or is not. Sometimes I can't remember stuff people said to me yesterday and yet remember whole conversations from years before.

    Sending warmest of warm hugs KJ and I hope your mom is well on the road to recovery. Much love and sorry for the relative scarcity of my visits lately. xx Jos

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    1. My most loved friend, I hope you do not feel fraudulent through acts that offer relief and kindness. I am clear about that, and happy my mother does not feel alone in her world

      There are many wise comments here. As always, we help eachother

      I have missed you and I will always wait and welcome your visits xoxo

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  7. Kj I am so glad that you have that relationship with your mother! one of these days I will write about mine, but not today.

    with a happy heart

    Wander

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    1. Chris, my Mother and I did not speak for nine years. I never thought it would be okay, but it is. We broke though sad tight walls

      Xoxo

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  8. My eyes are wet. Big hug for you and for your sweet Mom.

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    1. I love your visits, wieneke. I know you understand.

      ♥ always my friend

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  9. This is so beautiful, kj. You and she are so beautiful together, past, present, and future.

    I felt honored to be there for my mother and I entered into the strangeness of her world fairly easily until, days before the end, she looked at my husband and me with great delight and said, "Let's all go together!" I was sort of dumbstruck by that one. But Michael and I get a kick out of it now when we recall it.

    This also makes me wonder who will be there for me. It is a concern than people without children must all have to one degree or another...

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    1. Lydia if you survive past your kin, fear nothing your ancestors wait for you in that place of rest and the angels of your better being are patiently there to help you cross without fear.

      Be Well

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    2. Lydia, may I introduce you to my friend walking man? He is well worth knowing!

      Oh your mother's comment--precious !

      I have one daughter and even then I worry about her ability to singlehandedly care for jb and me if that is needed. I hope we have made loving safe arrangements for ourselves. I would sign up for my mother's rest home on the spot!

      Xoxo

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    3. Walking Man~ What a perfectly beautiful comment. I thank you so much for it.

      kj~ Thank you for the introduction. :)
      Thank you for seeing the preciousness in my mother's comment. :)
      I have not made arrangements for myself and my husband has not either. Aside from having wills our end-of-life planning is a wasteland. I'd better start thinking about thinking about it!

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  10. My lovely grandmother lived to 105. About when she was 103 I was no longer Mark, but Simon her older brother. She was a bossy little girl always reminding me I had to hitch the horses or get the chickens fed. I really think she was just trying to get me to do her chores for her. I miss her but then I have the best of her and my mom in me, so for their past in my present I am truly thankful that time is non linear.

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    1. mark, your comment is a gem. i've been laughing for a day over it. and the way you speak about carrying love inside you, i just love the way you see that.

      you crack me up

      love
      kj

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    2. I am glad that time in non linear, too. More and more frequently I have it validated for me.

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  11. you are exceptionally strong through all of this. I wouldn't be. My Mom died when I was 34, and she was 57, so I have no idea how I would even cope with an aged parent. You do marvels. keep YOUR chin up kj, and every day is a blessing that you have with her and she KNOWS you. WOW!

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    1. joss, you might have surprised yourself, as i have myself.

      i know my Mother knows. i know how much that counts.

      xoxo

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  12. perfect, KJ. Enter their world, speak their language. why not? It may feel disorienting at times to you, I dont know. It's all saying something about the way our minds/memories work.

    I hope you mom gets well from the flu. As others have said, she is lucky to have you and you to have her. Blessings, suki

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    1. suki, it was disorienting at first but not anymore. not to say it isn't and won't be frustrating if and when I cannot reason with my Mother; like, if she had insisted on getting out of her bed and heading to an imaginary downstairs.

      i am lucky i do not have to handle this at home and i am lucky i do not worry about aides and nurses being mean to my Mother.

      xoxo

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  13. I know how this feels. It's so strange to just sit back and let them 'drive the bus' so to speak, but really, I think it's the kindest thing, the most loving thing we can do. Your mom is amazing, and I can tell by her reactions to you, that she loves you so dearly. Sending you love and hugs, kj. Take good care of you. xoxo

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    1. i know you know, pam. we are not alone...... :^)

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  14. Dear KJ.... like Jos, I lost my Mum over twenty five years ago....she was still young and vibrant... my Dad, though was 80, but lucid until his final week..... I did what you are doing, leap into his world....and communicate this way. It helps...though it also hurts.


    You ARE doing all the right things...you are a wonderful daughter - and your Mom - in her lucid and not-so-lucid state KNOWS this. I saw it with my own eyes when I met her.... her love for you spilled over into the room...she is a truly remarkable woman...as is her daughter.

    Love is all....and both your hearts are filled with it. I am paying that she improves.

    I have said this before - but you know, dear friend, that your Blogging Family IS here offering love and support.

    Sending you and your Mum all my strength and love - and please kiss your Mum for me.....

    Always,

    ♥ Robin ♥

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    1. robin, how difficult that must have been for you. I'm sure your love and grace did everything possible.

      thank you so much for your words here. i remember my Mother was delighted to meet you and i was so glad to introduce you.

      i can't kiss her, robin, because i now have my own version of a cold (grrrr), been a tough winter come spring for my immune system. :^)

      xoxo

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  15. Kj, I beleive that past, now and future are all happening at once too.
    For your mom those things that are happening to her are real and dealing with it as if it were real is the perfect thing for you to do.
    Kisses to your mom, I hope she recovers soon.
    xoxo

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    1. annie, yes, yes, yes, yes!

      xoxo

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  16. andrea has left a new comment on your post "My Mother and Reality":

    andrea, i don't know why your conment hasn't shown up on my blog but it is too precious to go unsaid, so i've copied-pasted it, love kj

    This sounds so very familiar to me. What I found most interesting, personally, was your brother's reaction. My brothers were both great during my dad's decline, but they seemed to take the loss of his identity and alpha status much harder than me, particularly my older brother, and fought against it. I reasoned that it was because I'd dealt with toddlers, which was what Dad had become, and they hadn't, but I think the reasons are far more complex and compelling than that. When he died 6 months ago we were united in his passing as we had been when trying to ease the transition, which is all that matters. I'm right there with you as you deal with this latest hiccup in your mother's very long and fruitful life. Take care.

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    1. andrea, how great that you and your brothers stayed united. that makes the memories of it all so much better.

      thanks for your support, andrea

      kiss kiss

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  17. I've loved your Mom since I first read of her.
    My Dad, 92,,,lives where she does.
    My sister used to work so hard to try to encourage his mind back to the now.It only frustrated the both of them, and made for a sad visit. Myself,,I could never see the harm.I enjoy hearing about his day. Where he's been, who he's seen, and what he's been doing on any given day. All made up from his past, in the town where he grew up. I leave the rest home happy,,,,because I know that he is.
    You are a wise daughter kj,,,wise, and oh so kind.
    Give her a hug from me, please.
    XOXO

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    1. my dear sweet sweetest babs, i LOVE that you have shared this. you are a wise and kind daughter too. just what the world needs more of: wise and kind daughters and wise and kind grandmothers!

      you know........

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  18. Kj, I beleive that past, now and future are all happening at once too.
    For your mom those things that are happening to her are real and dealing with it as if it were real is the perfect thing for you to do.
    Kisses to your mom, I hope she recovers soon.
    xoxo

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  19. When I first started nursing we were taught to reorient patients, I found that didn't work at all. I grew up in a small town in Alberta and lots of the elderly had grown up on farms. Chickens were often a concern for confused patients. I always promised my patients that I would take care of the chickens for them.

    And your mum. I believe people know when they are dying. It's hard to watch and so sad but such a natural part of life as well. It sounds like you give your mother a lot of comfort, that's a big thing.

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    1. Lilith, the chicken story made me cluckle :-)

      My MOm is not dying, she was so sick she felt like it. Barring complications of course, but right now the biggest collateral worry is her falling on the way to the back room because she doesn't remember how weak she is

      Xoxo

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  20. You have a way of 'reorienting' your mom that is both tender and guiding...going with the flow. And this may just be the vet tech in me, but from personal experience with a friend's elderly mom, make sure they test her to see if she has a urinary tract infection. The 'toxins' from that cat cause just the symptoms you are seeing in your mom. As the kidney fail, just like in pets, the urine becomes dilute and is unable to 'disinfect' and keep things sterile...maybe TMI and I should have put this in a private message, but well..this way others can 'learn' too...

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    1. Teri, we checked for a uti first thing. Thanks for being up such an important thing to rule out

      Xoxo

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  21. I recognize this so much.. It is like with my Mom. We mustn't take it personal, we must help them in this stage of their lives .....
    Oh my.... difficult You want them to grow old but then again.
    I hope your Mom recovers as long as she and you are still happy .
    ♥M

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    1. oh kiss kiss marianne. you are so right.

      xoxo

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  22. Sending you and your mom all my love, dear twinkly twin. Through it all, your dear mother still knows you are a good daughter, because you truly, truly are. I hope she feels better soon.

    Love and hugs to you both,
    xoxoxo

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    1. thank you so much, angela.

      since we are twins... so who i am, you are too.

      xoxo

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  23. i surely do not have anything wise to say, its too close still for me :(

    bless her heart kj, and always, yours too. it's your mom. sending hugs and understanding to you. xxx

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    1. lori, lori, my heart walks with yours.

      love
      kj

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  24. forgot to say (((hug)))) your mom for me. xxxxx

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  25. i really have to get myself there to meet her. Hopefully soon. I already love her.

    I think this is one of the most tender posts you've done, and you've done many of those. I love the kindness and respect you have for your mom. She raised you well;)

    I wish I had mine longer. I would have done exactly what you are doing. Exactly.

    love you,

    Lo♥

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    1. lo, i would like that very much. i know my Mom would enjoy meeting you.

      thank you for such kind words. sometimes i write quickly without thinking and often those posts seem to be the most heartfelt.....

      loves you too pumpkin

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  26. I want to hug you both.
    I remember when my mom saw her mom and sisters in our backyard...and said when they came in they'd be going home.
    Fine I said although she lived with us now/then...and no one was in the backyard.

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    1. lynn, haha, you didn't have to add the explanation that no one was in the back yard!!!

      xoxo

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  27. That is such a lovely, touching post. Sending best wishes to you and your wee mum. xx

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  28. u r such a sugar heart Karen !!
    very emotional post.

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    1. a sugar heart! what a sweet thing to say!!!!

      xoxo

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  29. Your relationship with your mother warms my heart (and makes me envious).

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  30. ALL of the above comments are perfect.

    you ARE a good daughter, you truly are.

    thinking of you and of your mom and of us all being fragile humans

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  31. ...."I've always believed that time is not linear; that the past and present and future all exist collectively, all reside within us as us."...I believe that, as well.

    Excellent post, kj, really...along with making me believe I'm right there with you, this is such a great teaching post for caregivers to the elderly. I found I dealt with my mother's hallucinations in the same way you did...each time it calmed her down.

    I'll be holding you and your mom in my heart, dear kj...xx

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  32. mim, thank you. so many of us are in the same club.

    and yes, we are fragile even as we are strong....

    love love
    kj

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  33. aw hello marion, ♥

    it took me a while to learn the best way to respond to my Mother's confusion. what a difference it makes.

    and you knew already. you teach me, you know....

    xoxo

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  34. Thank you sweet friend for this wonderful step by step.I could feel it you know,as if I too were standing right behind you as spoke to her.I am so thankful for that.It makes me think of my own Momma,and how sad I feel that she is far from me...I dont like being so far apart and everytime I bring it up,the nervous laughter comes up.
    Your Momma raised a beautiful person and she knows every second that you are there.She is thankful for you as you are for her.
    Sending big hugs to you and Momma.
    xoxoyour
    Cat

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    1. Cat, I'm sorry your mother is not near. I always told my mother that parents need to move near their kids and I still think that, but how I wish my Jessica and her family would move to my town! Not going to happen

      Yes I know my mom relaxes when I'm around I'm glad of that

      Xoxo

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  35. its supposed to say...
    Sending Big Hugs to you and Your Momma.
    xoxo

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  36. I can see why you get so many comments when you post like this. It's tragic to see someone who was once so forceful and vibrant lose their cognition but it happens such a lot. I have a friend, I may have told you, who hasn't visited her mother for years because she isn't recognised. I find that incredibly cruel and sad. You are a good daughter kj. Even if she doesn't recognise you or your relationship, she clearly is soothed by your presence. I hope she's feeling more comfortable.

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    1. Hells, that is so sad....

      My mother says she doesn't give a damn that she doesn't have her memory because she still has her mind. And much of the time that is true

      And honestly, I think she will most often recognize me to the end

      And when the end comes , hell, it could be 10 years from now for all I know, I just hope she dies in her sleep or quickly, still at this great rest home

      Xoxo

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  37. Sorry that your Mom is having a hard time right now, KJ - but how lucky she is to have you. But you are having a hard time too, so I'm sending you a big hug. xx

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    1. Thanks Caroline

      And YES to new York! Wouldn't that be great?!

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  38. My darlin KJ, Thank you for being the daughter you are. Thank you for sharing this snippet with us. Please keep sharing. I need this. I need this wisdom as I take a similar journey with my parents.
    ps when i read the statement about 'time' i cried dear girl...i've always felt that this is the case...

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  39. Chrisy, along the same lines as the fact that weare still every age we've ever been.... :-)

    If any of this helps you one bit, I will be so glad


    xo

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  40. What a beautiful post. It takes a lot of strength and love to simply sit with someone and comfort them where they are instead of stubbornly insisting on one's own reality. I have a friend who learned to do the same thing with her schizophrenic mother and it's made the relationship much more peaceful. I admire your strength and kindness so much, KJ. :)

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    1. Tracy, we pick up wisdom as we go...

      Xoxoxo

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  41. Beautiful kj and thank you for sharing this very special time in your life xx take care

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  42. This is so beautiful KJ. You are the best daughter for your mother! You are very wise. Yes I believe too that time is many things all at once.

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