Well. There’s Always Hope…

March 7, 2018 at 12:53 am | Posted in Depression, Family Ties, Miscellaneous Crap, Toeses and Noses | Leave a comment
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It’s late, I know, but I have to write this down to get it out of my head so I can sleep. Lavender Oil is NOT working tonight…

This year marks the third year since my Mom was first put into a Nursing Home.  Mom, who is suffering from advanced Dementia, used to be a fabulous cook, a great Grandmother (and a Great-Grandmother too), and was someone who fiercely loved her family.  She was many other things too that would take a whole other column to write down.  Now she’s a shell of her former self.

She didn’t plan on living her golden years in a place where she’s lost her freedom and her memories too quickly.  I honestly think that there’s an epidemic among our seniors where they fall into frailty soon after leaving their homes.  I don’t think they wouldn’t be as far gone as they are if they could just stay at home.  The decline in her mental health, so rapidly, is alarming.

There is this one resident who keeps trying to get into my Mom’s room, thinking either that it’s her own, or that it’s ok to go in.  My Mom hates her.  I was standing in the hallway, waiting for my Mom to roll out this past weekend, and this resident approached me.  I was blocking the entrance to my Mom’s room so she couldn’t go in.  I said ‘hello’ and she gave me a big smile.  She told me how much I had grown and would I like to go home now?  I could go in the car with her if I really wanted because I was a good girl.  This woman that my Mom hates is really very nice.  She obviously confused me for someone else, possibly one of her own kids.  She seemed lonely.

When my Sister first brought my Mom to her new home, my Dad was already there and only had months left to live.  They had been married for almost 56 years, and she couldn’t stand to be apart from him.  She was depressed when she was lucid.  When she was having an off day, it didn’t really matter.  The main concern was her safety.  She forgot how to use the stove, and couldn’t remember how to make toast.  Food in the fridge was still good, according to her, even though it may have been long past it’s prime.

Soon after moving into the Nursing home, she forgot how to use the phone.  Whenever she would call me, if I wasn’t home to answer and the call went to voicemail, the recordings were just like those annoying overseas telemarketers… ‘hello?  hello?  Hello!?’.  Now she doesn’t know how to call anyone.  I remember at first it was a combination of funny and frustrating.  ‘Ugh Mom, it’s voicemail, leave a message’.  She would wonder why I’d be so upset.  She didn’t understand.  Most of the time she doesn’t know who I am when I call.  She doesn’t understand the concept of ‘daughter’.  She knows I’m close to her and she loves me, but sometimes I think she just sees me as a nice person who calls.

When she first moved in, she was able to walk, and would do daily laps around the circular corridors inside.  She wouldn’t go outside unless my Brother or I were with her. She didn’t feel safe.  I think she knew she would get lost.  She’s in a wheelchair now.  She no longer has the strength in her legs to hold herself up for more than a few seconds, her muscles have weakened through lack of use.  She falls every couple of weeks.  The last time left a bruise on her cheek from her face colliding with the floor.  ‘Oh it’s nothing’, she says, wondering what all the fuss is about.

Before my Dad passed away, she was very protective of him. She had to know what everyone wanted, and he had to sit next to her all the time.  ‘So I can keep my eye on him’, she’d tell me, quite seriously, paranoia already creeping in.  Every morning, she’d pull his wheelchair into her section of their joined rooms, whether or not he felt like sitting there.  She was the boss.  They would watch TV.

After my Dad passed, she mourned him and to me, she seemed so small and vulnerable. She was alone now.  Stuck in that place forever.

After a while she moved into a private room and seemed to enjoy it.  Flowers were growing on her windowsill.  Her TV sat on a very old Telephone Stand that my Dad restored years and years ago.  Pictures of her family, mostly my kids, were hung everywhere.  If there was a blank wall, she’d fill it with pictures.  She no longer recognizes herself, or most others for that matter, in pictures.  ‘Who’s that?  Do I know him/her?’  Now she either overwaters her plants to the point where a litre or more pours out when I empty them in the sink, or they dry out and wither because she forgot to water them.  She used to have a green thumb.  We always gave her our plants to nurse them back to health.

It saddens me the most that she’s nearly completely forgotten my Dad.  She just glances at the pictures, no longer showing the same interest in pouring over every detail of my kids’ faces, or remembering the time my Dad got his foot caught in the snowbank in one of my favourite pictures of him.  Or the birds that would come to visit on their balcony outside the house they loved deeply for 30 years.

When she first moved in, she was comfortable in her new room and would love to go on outings organized by the home to local restaurants or fall fairs.  We used to find her in her room on our days that we visited.  Sometimes she would be watching TV, sometimes she would be napping.  Now she waits.  The TV hasn’t been turned on in months.  The digital photoframe I got her for her first Christmas there hasn’t been turned on in over a year.  Now she sits in the entrance of her doorway, her neck is always craned in the direction of our approach, but I don’t think it’s us she’s waiting for. She’s waiting for something, maybe it’s hope.  Hope that soon she’ll be able to leave, whether through a transfer to a home closer to her kids, or in the same manner my Dad left…

When she first moved in, although she repeated herself often, her sentences were coherent.  She remembered a lot more.  She could hold a short conversation.  Now she mostly speaks in gibberish, frustrated with her lack of communication.  When she can get the words out, it’s usually in German, a language she hasn’t really spoken since she was a young lady.  She still has good days though.  Those are the ones I cherish the most.  She tells me over and over again how much she loves me, and is so thankful when I call her.  I don’t want to end up that way.  It terrifying hoping you don’t share her fate.  When I forget details, I worry – is this the start?  My body aches and I see myself turning into my Sister who was crippled by arthritis, and that scares me because I once vowed I’d never turn into the miserable hag my Sister was; yet I see the signs.

I too need hope.  Hope that there’s a brighter future in store.  Hope that someday soon she can transfer to a closer facility before she completely forgets us.  Hope that one day it will be better.  I cling to that hope.  It gets me through the day.

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A Very, Merry, Un-Birthday to Me…

September 8, 2016 at 12:02 am | Posted in Birthdays, Depression, Family Ties, Miscellaneous Crap | Leave a comment
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Judging by the number of candles, this was my 5th Birthday cake – my Mom always added 1 extra for ‘good luck’

I miss my Dad.

I lost him a year ago, on my last Birthday.  That’s why I’ve decided not to ‘celebrate’ my Birthday this year – it’s too painful.  Not that I’ve ever really celebrated my Birthday in my Adult life.  I’ve never liked it, but was never sure why.  I think now that it may have been foreshadowing.

I had so many things I wanted to write about him.  I can’t see the point right now.  He’s gone and it still hurts, nothing will change that.  I’ve felt so lost this past year, not really knowing what I was doing – everything was just automatic.  It’s been very difficult getting over the grief.

My Dad and my Brother on his 2nd Birthday

My Dad and my Brother on his 2nd Birthday

I have so many good memories of him. From the many camping trips we took when I was a kid – my brother and I lying down in the back of our Zephyr Stationwagon – seatbelts were not mandatory in those days.  We drove through Hurricanes to reach the East Coast, only making it as far as Prince Edward Island.

My Dad's homework when he was first learning English

My Dad’s homework when he was first learning English – my favourite line “dont say ‘vicious’ when you mean ‘wishes’…”

Back in the early 1990s, my Dad took my Mom and I home to his native Denmark to reunite with family that he hadn’t seen since he moved to Canada in the 1950s.  I have such fond memories of that trip – Denmark is a beautiful country.  It was fascinating seeing the Viking Longships, meeting relatives made infamous in my Dad’s many stories and just taking in the breathtaking countryside.  I learned a lot about my Viking heritage during that trip and my Dad was so proud to show me his country.  He was a lousy translator though.  Apart from the fact that the Danish language had evolved in the 40 years since he had left, and he didn’t know a lot of the new words – his siblings found his old fashioned way of speaking charming – and amusing.  Dad would get so excited to tell me something one of my Uncles had said – they being of a generation that didn’t learn English in school (if they made it through school in the first place). He would repeat what they said in Danish back to me.  “Engelsk Dad, Engelsk” (English Dad, English) I would have to remind him.  Even funnier was when he would repeat what I said to my relatives in English instead of Danish – the looks they gave him because they didn’t understand what he said was priceless.

My command of the Danish language was less impressive than his.  I remember asking one of my Uncles if he wanted, what I thought was another beer – I held up a beer bottle and said to my Uncle “mere Ost?” (more cheese?) – No wonder he was confused.

In the Stocks again, Me at some place in Denmark that's hundreds of years old

In the Stocks again, Me at some place in Denmark that’s hundreds of years old

So tonight I think I will raise a glass of Tuborg in his honour and drink a toast to his memory.  Skål Dad, I miss you.

The Sandwich Generation – Hold the Mayo

June 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Depression, Family Ties, Toeses and Noses | Leave a comment
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Somehow the years slipped by when I wasn’t looking and here I am nearly 50 with two beautiful, growing Daughters of my own. Not quite the future I imagined. I used to be this Gen-X party girl, a part of the MTV-Generation who loved 80s music, going to concerts, had big hair, and loved parties. Now I’m one of the many in the so-called “Sandwich Generation”. I have my own family to take care of, and I am helping look after my aging parents.

I don’t mind. They looked after me for the nearly 20 years I lived with them. They continued to look after me when I moved out because I was never good with money and always ran short.

When I was a little kid, I remember running across fields, holding my Dad’s hand and it always felt like we were flying. He would have been in his early 50s then and he was invincible – to me anyway. My parents had me later in life. Whenever someone asks how old my other siblings are, I tell them that I have a sister who is 21 years older than me, and a brother who is five years older than me.

Then the stare starts…

Then you see the wheels inside their heads spinning as they try to figure this out…

I let them off the hook. “I was an ‘oops’…” I’d tell them.

“Ohhhhh….” They’d always answer.

To further confuse things, I’d often mention that my Mom and my Sister were pregnant at the same time and I have a niece who is eight days older than me. Back in the 60s that must have been embarrassing. That’s how I always felt any time I was in my Sister’s presence. I shouldn’t have been born. What was Mom thinking?? How could she do that, she was supposed to be a Grandmother, not a Mother again

My parents were in the height of their ‘careers’ when I was little. My Parents were blue collar workers all their lives.  We didn’t really have much growing up, but it never seemed like we did without. My Mom worked as a sales clerk at K-Mart for too many years. She worked hard to make a living and bring home money so that we (my brother and I) could have what we needed. My Sister was long out of the house with her own family at this point.

My Mom used to take in sewing on the side to help make ends meet. I remember she worked as a dressmaker for some time and she would have clients come round to our old house in Riverdale for fittings. I remember she would have them stand in front of a floor length mirror that my Dad made for her. I would watch from the doorway because I wasn’t allowed to come in while she was working.

My eldest Daughter now has that mirror. I can picture Lexy in my mind, older, getting ready for a date and admiring herself in my Mom’s mirror.

After I moved out in my late teens, my Mom sent home countless meals she lovingly prepared, so that my apartment fridge would be well stocked. My Mom was the best home cook I ever knew. She taught me so many of her wonderful recipes and instilled a love of food and cooking in me from an early age.

Now My Mom has dementia and can’t remember how to use a stove. She has Diabetic Nerve Damage and can’t open a jar or a tin. Some days she doesn’t know who my daughter is. Once she forgot who I am… there is a disconnect that is hard to deal with sometimes – yet other days, she’s so lucid and can remember most things that I’ve long forgotten. It amazes me how the brain works.

My Dad was a Carpenter for most of his life. He started out in Grenå, Denmark as a Rope Maker by trade. There wasn’t that much call for that profession during ‘The Great Depression’, so he pretty much did whatever odd job he could do to survive. My Dad was one of 15 kids – Winters in Denmark were pretty cold back at the turn of the last Century. He had two sets of twin brothers, three of the four dying before they were a year old. His Mother was his Father’s second wife and when my Grandfather died (of a back ‘ailment’) in the 1930s, he left my Grandmother to raise nearly a dozen children on her own. A poor, fisherman’s daughter. There were no TLC shows to help out back then.

My Dad is now the last one of his siblings left.

When Dad moved to Canada in the 1950s he switched to Carpentry. He found that trade much easier to find odd jobs then it was to work with Hemp. He was quite skilled. I have several pieces he made with his hands that I will always cherish. He could take apart anything made from wood and refinish it so that its natural beauty shone through. He could name any tree by looking at the bark, or the leaves. He knew the type of tree by the wooden planks in the store – he’d tell me, “Look, this one’s Oak” or he’d say “that’s Mahogany, it’s a beautiful piece”, while running his hand deftly over the lumber. He’d often tell me what his plans were for the next project when he needed to make something for the house during one of our many trips to the lumber yard.  When we cleared out the house they lived in since the late-80s, we came across the odds and ends of amazingly beautiful pieces of wood that were still sitting there … waiting for the next project.

In 1985 when my Great-Nephew was born, my Dad built a cradle for him out of old skids that he would bring home from work. He dressed the boards and uncovered beautiful pine planks. He used a couple of pieces of solid Oak for the runners. There was not a single nail in it – dowels and glue and dove-tail joints. He crafted it after an 18th Century French Canadian design. My Mother bought a beautiful layette for it. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.  My Dad was so proud of the piece.

My Niece wanted to use it as a planter.

My Mom was always the tough one in our family. I think her Mother raised her that way.  She had it hard as a child, growing up in East Prussia, having to escape to Germany during the Second World War.  My Grandmother would sternly tell her, “Don’t cry”. “Stand straight”. “Eat your dinner”. “Keep neat”. “Don’t make a mess”.

My Dad was always the soft one, with me anyway. He’s the one I would snuggle up to when I was sick with a fever and just needed some comfort. He’s the one who would fix my toys when I was too careless with them and broke them (usually by throwing them at my Brother). He was the one who started up his table saw at 8:00 on a Saturday morning and to this day, the smell of sawdust makes me smile, and a little sad. He helped me with my homework – my favourite memories of when he tried to help me do my English homework, listening to him pronounce the words with his Danish accent. He was my Superman.

Now he needs help getting out of bed and he can hardly talk.

When he speaks, he does so with great difficulty, as though he is drunk. His legs no longer work the way they should. He needs a walker to get around but he is still very unstable. When he tries to hold a fork or a cup of coffee, his arm wavers greatly from side to side – spilling everything, he’s unable to control his fine motor skills.

It’s as though his warranty has expired.

Even as late as last year they were saying that the only way they would leave their beautiful house in the country was in a pine box. Now we are looking at long-term care facilities to become their new homes.

My Sister was looking after them for the past year and a bit, because my parents moved to be closer to her. She was their primary caregiver – she would drive them to doctor’s appointments, do their laundry, bring them meals – anything they needed. About a month ago, my Sister had a Stroke. They said it was a mild one but we don’t think she will ever be like she was. She is doing better now, but she has a long, long road ahead.

So it’s up to my Brother and I to step up. It’s not like we haven’t helped out before, it’s just the amount of care needed by us has greatly increased. My Brother used to go up on weekends and a week during the Summer to take care of their property for years when they were still in their house. Now he and I go up every weekend to take my Mom grocery shopping and bring her homemade meals that my Brother or I have made for them to replenish their stock.

They have home care people who come to the house on a daily basis to make sure their day-to-day needs are looked after. It’s not enough. They are on a waiting list to get my Dad into a long-term facility, we’re hoping Mom with go with him. They’ve been married for nearly 56 years; it would be detrimental to their health to be separated now.

We are hoping that their new facility will be closer to where we live so we don’t need to spend nearly three hours each time travelling back and forth. It made sense when my Sister was well to have them live near her, but that situation has changed.  My Sister is 69, she’s allowed to slow down.

I hope we’ll find something soon. My Dad needs daily care and my Mom needs company of other people her own age. My Brother and I need to be able to not worry about them – at least not in the same way. We need to be comfortable that we all made the right decision and they are well looked after. We will still see them weekly as much as we are able. If they are closer it will make it that much better.

Mom, Dad and my Girls

Mom, Dad and my Girls

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