Category Archives: aging

Dementia

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Dementia

Dementia is a beast. I have a client that I visit a couple of times a week, she has moderate dementia. I’ve been visiting her and her husband for almost a year and we’ve gotten very close. She’s a bit feisty and I like to tap into that side of her personality, she seems happy there.

Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

She turned 80 this past weekend. My friend celebrated with her extended family and she sounded happy when I called her. I was surprised she picked up the phone. She is very picky about which calls she takes and I didn’t think she would recognize my name on the Caller ID. I suspect her family urged her to answer.

That’s the awful part about dementia. You forget – people, places, names, events….where the bathroom is, what’s a brush, how to read. My friend still recognizes that my face is a friendly one and she enjoys our time together. She just can’t connect all the dots.

Today she asked me if I liked any boys. I told her I still liked my husband, she chuckled. She asked again a few minutes later and I simply said “not really.” I never press a person with dementia or try to explain complicated situations. I’ll distract them to try to calm them but I avoid correction. Any change gets her antsy. It could be a different pill container or a blue cup instead of a red one, change is hard.

Last week I was straightening up the apartment and I noticed a pat of butter in a dose cup. The kind of cup that cradles the lid of cough medicine. There sitting on the bathroom vanity was a pat of butter in a dose cup. That’s what dementia looks like. You try to make sense of it but it in the end rational thought does not prevail. You just find the logic where you can and hope to ease the stress and anxiety with some laughs along the way.

My friend wrote a note to me on Tuesday. She wrote in on a napkin, her way of making me promise I would be back soon. This is what she wrote:

 

“I will come

on Friday.

Hurry Up or Else!

Keep this.

Love, Helen”

 

 

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Sex Bomb

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Sex Bomb

I had a visit with an elderly couple today. I see them twice a week. I make them lunch, do some laundry but my main job is to socialize with the wife. Helen tends to get a bit down sometimes and dementia is causing her to become forgetful. Her husband, Ralph, wasn’t feeling good today and I wanted to lighten the mood a bit.

One of the grandkids got them an Echo Dot for Christmas. I thought some music might make my friend smile a little so I had Alexa play some Paul Anka, Frank Sinatra, The Doobie Brothers (I was hopeful, she didn’t like them) and finally some Tom Jones.

The first Tom Jones song to come on was “It’s Not Unusual” and she loved it so we kept Mr. Jones on. The next song was one I never heard of – “Sex Bomb”. My ears did a double take and I instantly thought….Houston we have a problem. I looked over at my octogenarian friend and she was dancing. Here’s the chorus in case you aren’t familiar –

Sex bomb, sex bomb you’re my sex bomb –  You can give it to me when I need to come along (Give it to me) – Sex bomb sex bomb you’re my sex bomb – And baby you can turn me on (Baby you can turn me on)

Enjoy!

Moms Don’t Get Sick (Yes we f*cking do)

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Moms Don’t Get Sick (Yes we f*cking do)

I’m going to throat punch the next person that says “Mom’s don’t get sick” to me. Right after I cough and sneeze directly into their left eye. I know, I’m cranky it’s the Advil Cold & Sinus talking and no they didn’t pay me to type that. Actually that is the only thing that helps (still waiting for payment, ah-Choo). Here’s that annoying commercial from Dayquil. I know I’m mixing shit up it’s the headache, lack of sleep and difficulty breathing.

Anyway, I know I’m “#blessed” because this is only a shitty cold and not some disease that wants to take me down one deteriorating cell at a time. I just suck at being sick. Forcing myself to rest is difficult. I called out of work today and I felt bad about it. My client is an 80 year old woman and I know she really looks forward to our visits. The risk of getting her or her husband sick outweighed the guilt.

Another fortunate thing for me is my kids are older. Moms and Dads of littles that get sick are really screwed. Scratch that anyone who is the primary caregiver that gets sick is royally screwed when they, themselves get sick. It’s not just parents of littles, it’s spouses of  the chronically ill, caretakers of people with special needs , adult children caring for parents. I see you and I hope you feel better and get the rest you need to take it all on again. As for me, this Momma is taking a sick day.

Red Sweater Likes to Prank

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Red Sweater Likes to Prank

I know we’re all crazy busy with the holidays. A quick, cute story from my day at the office. Bear in mind, my office is an Assisted Living Facility where my job is to bring joy to my clients. I’m a cynic by nature so some days I have to dig deep. Today was easy.

I took Helen to a Christmas Carol sing-along in the activities room. Sometimes it takes a while (a solid hour or more) to get my friend ready. Today she was dressed when I arrived. I think I heard distant trumpets blaring and the sound of angels singing at this good fortune. We were soon on our way downstairs.

We found a spot and got seated. A nice lady was playing the organ and the residents were singing along to carols. We followed along with the program which, thankfully had lyrics printed for all 33 carols. There was a tenor about four seats to my right who had an impressive set of lungs. Across the room someone was dressed as Santa. It was obviously a female Santa based on the boots and the range of her voice. I love it when people go all in to make things special. She was definitely all in.

After the singing there was cake. One thing I really enjoy about seniors is their love of sugar. Any occasion is an excuse for dessert. After cake, Helen and I stood and I hustled to make a clear path for her. A gentleman sitting to our left took a dramatic pause to put his right foot out in Helen’s path in a faux effort to trip her.

Helen gave him some side eye to which he replied “what, I didn’t feel a thing”. Upon closer inspection, I realized our red sweater friend had a prosthetic leg and a good sense of humor.IMG_3373.JPG

My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

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My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

I don’t mean to brag but my job is better than yours. I started a business a few years ago to fill in the gaps for families. I run errands, let the dog out, greet kids at the bus stop, take people to appointments; a variety of services for people that need help. Sometimes it’s a one time deal, other jobs are long term. As the business has grown, it has taken a definite turn toward the more mature client. Most of my steady clients have been in their 80’s and 90’s, their families hire me to check in on them with a social visit.

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I have always been fond of the elderly, even as a child. My cousins would pair off during holiday gatherings and I would visit with Nana and Pop-pop. I loved their stories and their inability to filter themselves. Even as a kid, I found it refreshing to be around people that simply spoke their mind without fear of reprimand. This fondness has followed me my entire life.

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I currently visit a couple twice a week. Ralph and Helen have been married for over 60 years and they still kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you” when one is going out without the other. These are usually outings to a social activity within the assisted living facility where they reside. Ralph is a frequent participant in Wii Bowling and Helen likes to beat me at tabletop shuffleboard.

The featured image for this post is the face of the card that they gave me the other day. Here’s what Helen wrote inside:

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I adore these people.

B-I-N-G-O

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B-I-N-G-O

BINGO is basically Lord of the Flies for octogenarians. I took a client tonight, she lives in an Assisted Living Facility. They had door prizes, gift baskets and a 50/50 raffle. It was a sold out event at $20. a person plus the extra fees – dabbers, raffle tickets and additional boards. Ladies had their hair done, the nice cardigans were worn and I detected a bit of Old Spice in the air. This was a night out, it was festive.

I planned to get there half an hour before it started but afternoon traffic set me 10 minutes behind schedule. My friend was ready to go when I got to her apartment. She uses a walker so it’s never a fast hustle, more like a slow shuffle. We got to the registration table 5 minutes after it opened and we were in the first half of the crowd. It’s really important to get to these events early so my friend can sit within close proximity of her walker. She needs an end seat and 75% of the population at BINGO needed an end seat. I still move quicker than most of them so preferred seating was secured. I may have gotten some side eye from some of the residents, I pretended not to notice.

I got Helen settled and then went to the BINGO buffet to get some snacks. It always surprises me how they offer up all these high fat, sodium and carb filled options to a population which is most likely supposed to be on low-sodium or low fat diets. Whatevs, my blood pressure is fine. I loaded the plate with mini quiches, taco innards, pizza pitas, soft pretzels and mystery juice (it remains undefined with subtle notes of cranberry and institutional seltzer). Helen was happy for the pretzel and juice, I kept the rest (regret is setting in).

Back at the table I noticed the BINGO cards and instructions which included a coupon for a McDonald’s breakfast. This was a score since Helen loves their pancakes and sausage. I typically treat her to it once a week, saved myself $4.02 with that gem. That’s not all though there was also a notepad listing the contact info for the local politician that supplied the freebie. I kept flashing back to BINGO scenes from Better Call Saul.

 

There were 10 games to be played along with an intermission. The event was supposed to run from 4 – 6pm. We weren’t hearing any numbers being called until 4:45, the crowd was getting antsy. I find it interesting that these people that I see slowly, sometimes painfully shuffle through the halls, suddenly develop cat-like reflexes and hawk vision when BINGO starts. In the first 5 games, Edna, a “known gambler”, won twice. People started to talk in hushed whispers that don’t sound hushed when the hushers are hearing impaired. I could hear the chatter on the other side of the room. The host joked that Edna should be careful at intermission. Oddly enough, after intermission, it was announced that Edna donated one of her prizes to be auctioned off as another door prize. True story. I don’t know the full story on Edna and I still can’t figure out how she rigged the game.

Good news is Helen won a round in the second half. Well we both did as I made sure she was staying current. Unfortunately there was another winner for the same game. They resolve that by having each winner pull a card from a deck and the highest card wins. Helen pulled a 5, I knew we were screwed. She got a consolation prize, a certificate to the in-house beauty salon. She won’t go, she’s had the same lady do her hair for at least 30 years. She should trade it for a meal voucher. She just needs to find a neighbor in need of having her hair set and she’ll have some leverage.

The last game was a full card which is like a marathon in the BINGO world. Someone needs to complete an entire card before the game is over. I takes a solid 15 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much, but 15 minutes at the end of BINGO in a retirement home feels a bit like infinity. We powered through with minimal moaning. There was the sound of popping knees, various crackling noises and some whispered curses as people hoisted themselves up when the game ended. Helen and I managed to get a good jump on the elevator traffic and I got her back upstairs to her apartment. I’ll be bringing her some McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage when I visit again on Friday.

 

 

Pain in the Ass….

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Pain in the Ass….

So I have a legit pain in my ass. Somehow I injured my coccyx.  No I haven’t grown a man part, that’s my tail bone you filthy animal. It’s been hurting since May, I blame it on Pilates. That was the only thing new about my exercise regime. There was a lady in the class who was at least 20 years older than me and she had the flexibility of double-jointed ballerina. I was the clumsy one who couldn’t roll my feet over my head in a smooth, controlled motion. My moves were more Frankenstein and less Cirque du Soleil. C’est la vie. I kind of sucked at Pilates so quitting that wasn’t a huge sacrifice. I stopped going, thinking the problem would alleviate, it hasn’t.

I’m not incredibly observant when it comes to my own body’s aches and pains. I prefer the ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away approach. I couldn’t ignore the pain which was my constant companion when we went to see Jim Jeffries in May. That’s how I know when this whole mess started. The show was great but I was in considerable pain, sitting is my current Kryptonite. I found that out about 15 minutes into the two hour show. I kept switching seated positions, like an overactive toddler that has to pee all the time. The roll over to one cheek method helped, but it made it look like I had to pass gas all night.  Not the vibe I wanted to achieve while out with a group of my husband’s friends and their wives.

Still, I’m not one to run to the doctor. I did my research online. Bryce Warden, MD (Medically Deficient) I scoured the internet to find out what was wrong with me. Web MD suggested a bruised or fractured coccyx, it sounded right. In July, I finally hauled my aching ass to the doctor and she ordered an x-ray.

Feeling very adult for going to the doctor, I sat in the parking lot of the doctor’s office reviewing the paperwork. Fun fact, x-rays of the sacrum/coccyx area require an enema prior to the x-ray. Good times. Having never had an enema before I was back to research mode to get some pro tips from those who have “gone” before me. My husband and I had a brief conversation about this.

Me: “I need to have an enema before the x-ray.”

Hubs: “I’m not giving it to you.”

Me: “Damn right, you’re not.”

And we have preserved our sex lives a little longer, perhaps until one of us winds up in Depends. I got the gist of what needed to be done and took matters into my own hands (ass). Got the x-ray and no fracture was detected. That was in July, surely this thing will improve, I hear it “takes time”. Pro tip – if someone tells you that something “takes time”, buckle up you’re in for a bumpy ride and that person likely has no flippin’ idea of how much time it actually takes.

End of October, I’m back at the doctor because this thing isn’t letting up. I’ve tried ice/heat, I sit for maybe 5 minutes at a time unless I’m driving. In the car I have one of those sexy donut pillows. The pain just won’t let up. So I get sent to physical therapy.  The place I went to had a bunch of tables, random gym equipment – treadmills, exercise balls, etc. and the median age was 83. The staff brought the median age down to 83 as most of the therapists looked to be about 12. That’s a sign you’re getting older when people in their twenties look like middle schoolers, sigh. Anyhow, I fill out 50 forms, am reminded of how shitty my insurance is and realize this will be an out-of-pocket expense.

I’m committed to try it at this point and am introduced to my Physical Therapist named Chris.  Chris is a good-looking guy, maybe 23 years old? We go into a room to discuss my “problem”. Let me just explain something….this may sound sexist, I don’t care. Midlife men tend to see younger attractive females as bait or a conquest. I know some midlife women act similarly with younger guys hence, the term cougar. I am not a cougar, an alley cat or any kind of wanna be predator. I saw Chris and thought, I wonder if my son will look like this guy in 10 years. That’s right, so in my mind this guy could be my son in 10 years.

Chris takes my history with copious notes. He then proceeds to examine me which includes extensive handling of my ass. There is really no other way to describe it. It wasn’t sexual he was just doing his job. But dear God it was awkward. I’m doing exercises, hoping to not pass gas while this guy is kneading my backside. Then at the end of the session, I am placed belly side down on a table in a common room. Electrodes are placed directly on my butt cheeks and the current is cranked up to whatever level I could handle. Then, an ice blanket is placed on the offending area. As I’m lying there, freezing my ass off, I thought is this some middle-aged hazing ritual? Did AARP set this whole thing up? Is there a hidden camera somewhere? ……And my ass still hurts.

Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.

The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.

There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet  personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.

As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.

Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.

As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”

My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.

The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.

 

My Boring Life….

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My Boring Life….

I’m bringing boring back. Too much crazy sh*t happening in the world, makes me want to cover my ears and scream “I can’t hear you!” Since people get twitchy when you cover your ears and scream in public, I’ll settle for a blog post. Here is a glimpse into my glamorous life folks, hope you have popcorn.

6am wake up so I can be a human alarm clock for my 12 year old daughter. Why do I do this well she wouldn’t get up otherwise so there’s that. Also, we don’t allow our kids to have their phones, the modern alarm of choice, in their room overnight and I’m too cheap and lazy to buy a stand alone alarm clock. I greet my grumpy tween and go back to bed for another blissful 30 minutes.

I manage to get the kids to the bus stop on time go back home. I don’t have to leave until 10:30ish for a client visit so I spend a few hours preparing for a fund-raising event scheduled for this weekend. I’m tracking down the people who haven’t paid yet to make sure they haven’t decided to ditch at the last minute. We have a wait list so it would be nice to get those people in if we can. I do a few promos on FB, some modifications to the donor sheet and a delivery of an auction item. Now it’s time to go to the job I get paid to do.

My visit today is to a 79 year old woman and her 88 year old husband. The woman, Helen, has mild dementia and her husband, Ralph, stays in bed most of the time. I am the entertainment. I am the social call for a lonely woman who struggles with depression. My goal each visit is to get her to eat and to stimulate her mind through some social activity or puzzles of some sort. I make her laugh through the inconvenient hardships of old age. She has a hate-hate relationship with her Depends which is something we talk about at length. She sometimes uses Vaseline or Desitin to relieve the chaffing the elastic causes at the leg openings. A couple of weeks ago she tried to put toothpaste on her nether regions. She’s in pain from a lifetime accumulation of injuries, aches and pains. The body wears out and it’s tough to witness. It’s worse when the brain goes along for the descent.

Most days it takes a solid hour to get my friend fed and dressed. Once we do that my goal is to propel her out the door and into the lobby. The community they live in has a front lobby that includes table shuffleboard. We like to play while eavesdropping on whatever is happening while we are there.

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Last Friday things got interesting when one of the residents went rogue and wandered off. Lorna is about 93 and walks fairly slowly with the help of a walker. Somehow she managed to slip by the front desk and get an impressive distance from the place. We were witnesses to the “chase” and subsequent capture. Then when I left, Helen and Lorna chatted about it.

After my visit I made a beeline for home, I like to be there when my kids get off the bus. Today it was just my son as my daughter had an activity. At about this time I got a text from the hubs….no words just this –

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That’s his subtle way of asking me to buy something for him. I replied with detailed instructions on how to open the canister and proper gum chewing etiquette. No reply, sigh.

Soon after that request I get a call from my mother. She was supposed to have cataract surgery today but it got cancelled because some family member of the surgeon had the nerve to die. That’s pretty much how she spun it. In 13 minutes she covered a lot of ground mostly how overwhelmed she is and how she wants to move. I bought the house she is currently living in because for 8 years she bitched non-stop about the last place…..and so it goes.

I rush out to get kid number two from her afternoon activity and I have about 50 minutes to make dinner and catch up on email. Badda Bing Badda Boom I make dinner. Freakin’ magic I tell you. I never know what I’m going to make until it dawns on me that it is my job…..someone has to make dinner, oh that’s right, I’m that someone. I usually don’t have a plan and somehow it works out. Tonight was pan sauteed lemon chicken in a white wine reduction (yes I made it sound fancy – I basically threw sh*t in a pan) with green beans. It was pretty good, a solid 6. They can’t all be 10s.

Then I started to load the dishwasher from the sink backlog. As I was doing this task my phone rang so I asked my daughter to answer it. She she went into a complete panic….like the phone was made of Plutonium (Pu, how appropriate)….she did a total half ass job with the conversation. So for half an hour, my husband and I took turns calling her pretending to be looking for ourselves so she could practice. She hates me a little and said “maaaahum” the way that 12 year old girls do.

Time to take the oldest to soccer practice. Drop him off at the field and go home to feed 3/4’s of the family the meal that I dreamed up 20 minutes ago. I set a plate aside for my son so no one eats his portion. In the blink of an eye I’m back in the car to fetch the boy. I go to the practice field where I dropped him off at 5:30 and he isn’t there, neither is his team. I scan the field, recalling the shirt he wore to practice. I just bought it this weekend so it’s fresh in my mind. It’s a heathered blue, with gray tints, it has a pocket left side of the chest and a thin line of white around the sleeves and the waist, gray shorts. I keep scanning, there are 5 boys on the field, none of them familiar.

I call a friend, her son practices at the same park during the same time for a different team. She picks up her phone and warns me that I’m on speaker phone (because I am the friend you must warn) her son didn’t go to practice. I tell her I’ll update her later, I have to go and manage one “sh*t” and an apology as I end the call. I drive to another field at the park, wrong kids, not our coach. I call my husband, he instantly starts screaming about our son not taking his phone. I remained calm said he left his phone behind because he needed to charge it. I decide to circle the park another time and get off the phone with my husband because his panic won’t help me now.

I drive slow, wondering if practice ended early. Would someone offer him a ride? He wouldn’t take it. I know my kid unless it is my close friend whose kid skipped practice, he won’t get in a car. He knows I’m coming to get him at 7pm he will wait. I consider the pavilion and the play ground. Without a phone he could have lost track of time and decided to wait it out there. I glance in that direction, bunch of littles and their parents.

I decide that I will circle the park one more time, slowly and deliberately because I can not bear the thought of my kid gone. I can’t. I can’t imagine how parents of missing children get through 10 minutes let alone hours, days, months and years. It would consume me. I have to place these thoughts on the back burner as I look for my son with heightened concentration.

I see that new H & M shirt that I just bought on Saturday. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him and I park the car and exhale. I call my husband and text my friend and the world begins to spin once again. A few minutes later he comes to the car. He knows I was worried. He apologizes and tells me it wasn’t his idea to switch fields. Because that’s the kind of kid he is and I am so grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.