July 11, 2012

Remember When

Posted in Family tagged , , , , at 10:08 am by msweet42

I will never think of Alan Jackson’s song “Remember When” the same way after this week.

The flight to Iowa has just enough diversion to keep me from fixating on Mom. But there is just enough downtime to let me imagine all the worst scenarios for when we walk in the door and see Mom for the first time.

Wednesday morning. We drive over to the care center. We take the elevator to the fourth floor. We walk down the hall to their apartment. Diane and I look at each other. I breathe deeply to not to be overwhelmed by what is on the other side of the door.

I knock, open the door, and we walk in. Dad rises to great us. We hug, shake hands, and I look at Mom.

Mom is, well, Mom is, um, Mom. She calls hello (she doesn’t rise because she has mobility issues), she calls us by name, she’s happy to see us, she sounds just like she always has only her speech has slowed down a tad. She’s clearly trying to enunciate more clearly and there is the odd time where she pauses to find the right word.

Diane and I find chairs and sit in what becomes our talking circle. Other than when there is other company, the seating never varies. Mom in a recliner by the far wall, then Diane and then me. Dad in his recliner completes the circle.

My fears about Mom are exaggerated. More accurately, she’s better than I feared she would be but not as good as I want her to be. To my surprise, Mom for the most part leads the conversation through the usual small talk about how are the girls, the boys, the grandkids, our jobs – the usual lubricants to ease into long conversation.

I notice two things. Mom does most of the talking. As advised by my brothers, I keep an eye on Dad as he gives cues that Mom is being current and accurate or that she’s slipped out of the here and now.

The other thing is that most of our conversation is in the past tense. Do you remember when so and so did such and such? How this and that happened and someone said or felt what because of it.

When I bring up something in the here and now, invariably that leads to a reference in the past. I mention something I read on a Facebook page about Centerville and we spend the next twenty minutes talking about things that happened 40 years ago. There is a new wall being built around the local utilities to protect it from flooding. So then we talk about when various of us sons sandbagged in some flood or the other ranging on back to the ’60s.

As I had expected, Mom’s memory is pretty much spot on. Actually, I learn a few things I’d not known. She talks about today and current events but it’s tricky to keep her there. Its easier to just let the conversation flow into the past.

She only occasionally stops to look for a word or phrase. I let myself hope that maybe this isn’t going to be so bad.

But the day is early.

We leave to give them a chance to have lunch. The last thing I see before I leave is Mom trying to work a fork full of meatloaf the suddenly long, long path from her plate to her mouth. I close the door and take a lot of deep breaths.

When we get back, we form our circle again and the conversation begins again and the pattern repeats. As the afternoon passes, I see Mom pause more often and then a bit longer trying to get her words.

She’s not lost her sense of humour. She quietly makes fun of herself  for not being able to get it right. She tells us about funny episodes where she’s tried to drink coffee and ended up wearing it.

Mostly, though, we play “Remember when?” Remember when we saw this? Remember when you did that? Remember when …

I remember my Mother. I see my Mother in her present form. I know this is as good as she will be. I see the difference between my Mother last December and my Mother now. I know my Mother is leaving.

In the same way that someone pauses at the door for a last continuation of the conversation before they leave, my Mother is sharing.

July 9, 2012

Now would be a good time to come home

Posted in Family tagged , , , , at 5:50 am by msweet42

I’ve been in Canada some 28 years now. I’ve been back to Iowa to visit the family often over the years. I’ve spoken to Mom and Dad on the phone a lot. The usual calls for the holidays and the odd call now and again just to keep in touch.

During all this time, my mother has never once asked me when I was coming to Iowa. I suppose she just assumed I’d get there when I got there and that was good.

When I called her for Mother’s Day this year she asked me “When are you coming to Iowa?”  Just that. No big deal. Just that. When I hung up, I turned to Diane and said “Something is wrong.” Don’t know what. Don’t know who. I just know something is coming.

We looked at our schedules and our finances – we had just been down there between Christmas and New Year’s. We talked to the girls about their schedules. Do we want to go down just the two of us? Take the girls? Sam was down on the December run. Do hadn’t been down for some 10 – 12 years. If Do goes, do we bring all her troops – Andrew and the three kids? An idea began to emerge of renting a van and driving down. That’s the only way to get all seven of us down. October looks to be the best time considering everyone’s various obligations. Whatever. We’re sort of working on this.

Then “The Email” arrives from Cyndi.

She’s accompanied Mom and Dad to the doctor.

Mom has been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia and Progressive Aphasia.

Right. Look that up. Right. Stare at the wall for a while. Look it up again. Right.

This does not get any better. By that I mean what I am reading does not get any better. Mom is not going to get any better. Oh. Crap. Let’s deconstruct that a bit.  Frontotemporal Dementia is just what it sounds like but it very nicely indicates where in the brain things are headed South first.  Progressive Aphasia simply means she is loosing her words.

A woman who has spent her life writing poetry and short stories is loosing her words. That woman with the wicked wit, the charming turn of a phrase, the woman who taught me how to discuss, debate and describe is on the path to silence.

OK, but aren’t we all headed down that path some time or the other? What kind of time-frame are we talking here? Sooner than later. We get word that it would be best to come down sometime in the next three to six weeks, three being better than six. Crap. There goes October.

We quickly put together a plan for me and Diane to fly down. Check with the girls. Do can go for part of the time. Sam will stay home. I make arrangements for the money to book flights, hotel, and a car.

Discussions with various Iowa siblings paint a pretty bad picture. I talked to Dad the night of The Email. He sounded as beat down as I’ve ever heard him. He sounded better when I talked to him a couple of days later to let him know we are coming but it still doesn’t sound good.

So its off to Iowa we go. I’m afraid of what I’m going to find. Hoping for the best. Fearing the worst.