Today I have a break from taking my 85-year-old mother Eleanor to doctors’ appointments. We saw the new Neurologist yesterday and see someone about her blood balance tomorrow. Her caretaker Ella and I go with her to provide context – what we see her doing and saying – since she does not remember. 15 months ago, we moved my mother from Independent Living to Assisted Living at the senior residence near our house in San Jose, California. This has been a difficult year of slow health and memory failures. There have been some successes (we finally sorted out my mother’s gastrointestinal problem so Eleanor smells better and has more control of her bowels), and some amusing incidents:
Eleanor took her cat Loki out of her apartment today to join a group activity in the common area. He was frightened and ran into the apartment of another resident who is scared of cats. Ella crawled under the bed to get him. Loki ran out through Eleanor’s legs. Eleanor fell hard on her butt and broke the other resident’s closet door. Eleanor and Loki are back in Eleanor’s apartment now. It sounds funny, I know. Ella had the Medtech give Eleanor some Tylenol since she is going to be sore. (from a 17 August 2016 email to my brothers)
She has good days and bad days. She loves driving around, seeing the trees and clouds and reading every road sign aloud. She loves family visits, especially from her grandchildren – of whom she is very proud. Eleanor enjoyed watching kids play at the St. Andrew’s Snow Day last weekend.
We who love her do our best to keep Eleanor connected with the remarkable and creative person she was, before the dementia. She has been politically active all of her life and is a passionate advocate for Hillary Clinton. She was so excited to vote that for weeks she carried her Vote by Mail ballot with her everywhere. She lost it. I asked for a replacement ballot but it did not arrive by Election Day. So, I took Eleanor to my polling place and helped her fill out a Provisional Ballot. I hope her vote was counted.
In addition to Ella, my mother’s residence has a group of loving and dedicated caretakers available at all times. The hardest problem is that after decades as the Professor of Life Drawing at California College for the Arts, my mother loves to argue and has the habit of command. She orders people around and they often obey, even when what she wants to do makes no sense or is a very bad idea (like taking her jumpy cats out of the apartment).
When Ella is not there, we sometimes get urgent calls for backup from the staff. A year ago, Eleanor decided she wanted to move back into her old apartment and conducted a one-woman-one-walker sit in at 10 pm outside in the cold in front of the door to her former building. My husband and I came when the staff called. We wheeled her back to her apartment and had a serious talk. She did not remember any of this the next day. Every day is a new day.
Images Copyright 2015-2016 by Katy Dickinson