Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where's the Beans?

Einstein said the definition of insanity was repeating the same thing again and again... and expecting different results.  Maybe that explains why we have told my grandmother more than once that everything is gone from her house - sold/shared/donated -  and the house itself is under contract to be sold... yet she continues to ask where certain things are.  This is the same person who said as we packed the things to take to the Assisted Living Facility... "Just stick a match to the rest of it!"

So one afternoon last week, Mam-ma left a message on our answering machine... "It's Mam-ma... I was a wonderin' what y'all did with the stuff in the drawer of that cabinet out on the back porch."  Click.  That was it.  I called her back, but she was out of her apartment, so I left my own message.  "I am not sure what you are wanting from the drawer, but everything is gone.  There is nothing left in your house, and it should be sold in the next couple of weeks."

That evening, Mam-ma called again.  "Well," she said, "I was a lookin' for them bean seeds that were out in that drawer.  What did y'all do with 'em?"  I told her I had no clue... they did not come home with me. Now, I vaguely remembered my mom's husband, Lee, coming into the kitchen with an envelope or jar of beans and asking me about them... and I'm pretty sure I told him that there was no telling how old they were - and to toss them!  Mam-ma continued.  "Well, who got the things in the freezer?"  "We divvied them up amongst us," I told her. 

"Well, there was another jar of bean seed in the freezer.  I've called my friends Leon and Wanda - they give me that seed, but they don't have any more.  Their daughter Lesa drove to Clinton last week and got some for them... but I'm not a goin' to Clinton."  Her voice trailed off pitifully.  I told her I was not going to Clinton, either.  Clinton is a 45 minute drive across the lake from our community.  I told Mam-ma I was sorry, but the bean seed was gone... like everything else.  "Remember," I told her, "you picked out everything you wanted to take and keep, and we dispersed the rest.  I didn't know you would want bean seed." 

It turns out that the maintenance man at the ALF is helping Mam-ma and some of the residents make a garden... and Mam-ma apparently at least thinks she is "large and in charge."  She told "that girl" (I think she means the administrator), that they needed to plant pole beans, and this person said if she had some seed, James (the maintenance man) would plant them.  So Mam-ma was on a mission to find some bean seeds.  And apparently the ones she got from Leon were akin to gold.

When I related this story to my mom, she said, "I know what she is talking about.  Leon brought her an envelope of bean seed one Sunday, and he handed them to her at Sunday-school, and she quickly locked them inside her purse like they were gold coins!"  Of course, we found several jars and envelopes of seeds - some marked, some not - and we had no clue what some of them were - or how old they were - or even if they would grow anything.  So I am sure many packets were tossed in the garbage - not out of malice, but because we had no idea what else to do with them.

So the following day, my mother e-mailed me and said she had related this story to her husband, Lee, over lunch.  Lee stopped eating and said, "I have some seeds... if I can remember where I put them.  I'm not sure whether they came from Polly's or my brother's."  Lee's brother died a month ago in California, and he and my mom spent the previous month parked in his driveway in their RV... helping with the care of Lee's brother and the subsequent cleaning of his house when he passed.

Mom said she went to walk her dog, and when she returned, Lee had found the seed and was on his way to Southridge to give them to Mam-ma Polly.  Mom said, "I saw the envelopes on the kitchen table - and they were labeled in what was clearly Mam-ma's handwriting.  And I recognized one envelope as the one that Leon had given her at church that Sunday - it said "rattlesnake beans."  I remembered then... Lee had come into the kitchen and asked me about "rattlesnake beans!"  I told him I'd never heard of them... no telling how old they were or where Mam-ma got them... and to just toss them.  He told Mom... "I don't always listen well!"

So now Lee is the "Golden Boy" who saved the bean seed.  However, he will also be the one Mam-ma asks, "Whatever happened to such-and-such?"  Surely if he saved the bean seed, he must have saved other things!

As a footnote to this saga... yesterday, I went to an estate auction. As I was leaving, I saw Leon and Wanda approaching... and as I neared my car, I saw their daughter, Lesa.  I said, "Oh, I have a funny story to tell you!"  I began relating about the bean seed, and she said, "Yes, I know... I've got to dig through the freezer this afternoon and see if I can find another packet of seed for Polly."  I stopped her... ", no, no!  You don't need to do that... Lee had saved the seed, and he's already delivered it!"  Lesa was thrilled.  And I was so happy at the Divine Intervention that caused us to meet, because I rarely see my childhood friend.  It had to be a "God thing!"

So we laughed about our parents/grandparents and caring for them, wiped our brows with relief that all is well with the prized bean seeds, and went our separate ways.  I told Lesa, I pity the people at Southridge who are planting that garden, because they will never "garden" to suit my grandmother.  If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know how she is about plants, flowers, and gardening.  James handles Mam-ma pretty well... he's already somewhat "gotten her number".  But when it comes to gardening, things are on a whole other level.  I hope he doesn't "rurn" it... but more than that, I hope Mam-ma doesn't cuss at him!  It may be a long, hot summer!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chocolate, Heaters, and Two-year-olds

Everything is going well with my grandmother.  She made a trip to Wal-Mart with the Southridge activities director and bought herself some sunglasses and a hat for her walks outside around the facility.  The staff told me she had spent time yesterday morning in the garden... although she didn't mention it to me at all!  I'm learning to function more in her "world" when I am there and leave it at that... so far, so good!

Yesterday, I visited Mam-ma, filled her bird feeder, and took back some clothing I had laundered and ironed for her.  When I arrived, she was not in her room, but residents nearby told me she was in the "library" area near the front entrance.  As I made my way there, I heard the unmistakable talk and laugh of Timothy.  My sister had brought him over for a visit. I found the three of them there... my sister and Mam-ma sitting in chairs, with Timothy perched atop Mam-ma's walker (it has a little seat).  He was looking at a little book made out of fabric with Mam-ma.  We visited for a minute or two, and then Mam-ma insisted we return to her room.

I had noticed when I was outside filling the bird feeder that Mam-ma's heater was running.  The temperature had risen to the upper 70s, and it felt quite nice outside.  Inside Mam-ma's room was another matter altogether.  It was very hot, of course... and she didn't seem to notice, sitting comfortably in her chair wearing a blouse and a jacket made of sweatshirt material!

Timothy noticed a bowl of peppermints on the coffee table.  Mam-ma told him he couldn't have one, but she would find something for him.  She got a fun-sized Three Musketeers bar out of her drawer and unwrapped it for him.  He started eating... the chocolate started melting.  As he navigated the small room fingering Mam-ma's knick-knacks, she admonished, "Don't let him get that candy on the quilt!"  Yeah, right!  I maneuvered him away from the bed, and I opened drawers until I found a roll of paper towels - quickly darting to the bathroom to moisten one.  I returned in time to wipe Timmy's hand and the two drawers he had just smeared with chocolate!

Back to the bathroom with Towel #2... and when I returned, Timmy had switched hands, and now the OTHER hand was covered in chocolate.  My sister finally retrieved the rest of the candy bar and helped Timmy finish it, so we could clean up and be done with that.  I learned later that Timmy gets candy every time he visits.  I said to my sister, "Well, DUH... he knows to ask for those peppermints so he will get chocolate!"  She said she supposed so.  I'm quite sure of it... he's smart enough to figure out that one!

Chocolate and heat and all things considered, it was a good visit.  We sang and "performed" for Mam-ma... and she laughed and clapped at Timmy's antics.  He grew restless, and Mam-ma told me to "Put him on that walker and push him up and down the halls."  I did, while she and my sister visited.  And I told my husband later... the residents LOVED it.  They were gathering in the hallways in anticipation of dinner in the dining hall, and each time we passed them, they oohed and ahhed over Timothy - "Bring him here!  He's so precious!  Come here and let me have a look at him!" 

We forget that older people seldom see a baby or a small child... and they miss them!  And Timmy was fine with all of the attention.  He gave a man named Charley a "high five" - he smiled and jibbered for a couple of ladies I know, and he waved at everyone.

These visits are good for all concerned - they thrill my grandmother... AND her fellow residents. They give us a buffer - something to focus on other than my grandmother's complaints.  And they teach Timmy to love and respect the elderly.  In all, I would say that while the visits had elements of a rodeo, it was still time well spent.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Creating Balance in Your Sandwich... How to Avoid Doing the Wrong Things

The sale is over... and the final clean-up has begun.  I have to box up what did not sell and get it ready for the local thrift store... and then meet a driver who will come to collect the items.  That should finish my portion of the business with regard to Mam-ma's house and belongings.  Lest anyone think that this frees me of any responsibilities, there are still monthly bills to be paid... so that involves a checking account... and almost daily phone calls from my grandmother with something she needs... forgot... doesn't like... or has just remembered.

There are still "wrinkles" to smooth - like a mix-up with the pharmacy used by the ALF and over billing... and a few other little things... but nothing major.  This morning our power went out during a thunderstorm and was off for two hours.  I was so thankful that my grandmother was in a place where someone could attend to her and handle such matters... and I wasn't worried about her... or the contents of her freezer melting, and other problems.

Last week, I attended my first "Family Council" meeting at the ALF one afternoon.  The meeting ended up lasting two hours... but it was time well spent.  The speaker was an R.N. who is affiliated with Hospice, and the focus of her presentation was on Hospice care for Alzheimer's patients.  However, the information was appropriate for anyone caring for an elderly person... particularly those with dementia or the onset of dementia.

I learned several things about Alzheimer's patients that I did not know... how they often become obsessed with sorting, and many of them spend hours every day sorting their clothing, packing, and making little piles of their belongings.  The nurse and the ALF administrator said the biggest hurdle with some of these obsessive behaviors is getting the caregivers and family members of these residents to "let it go" and be okay with the disarray in the room and the annoying behaviors.  Another common thing is dressing in multiples... wearing more than one shirt and/or pair of pants.  It doesn't hurt the patients, but it makes some caregivers and family members nuts!  And learning to let this be okay is vital to the mental health of all parties!

I also learned that, even with my grandmother, when we are at the ALF, we must operate in their world.  If my grandmother is focused on something she views as a problem... like what happened to all of her stuff... it's my job to gently change the subject and redirect the focus.  The administrator said that one day she entered the room of an Alzheimer's patient who was packing, and the patient said, "I'm going home today."  She replied, "Great!  Come have dinner with us first - before you leave."  By the time the resident ate, he/she had forgotten about the move.  If I can learn to avoid conflict and argument with my grandmother and gently redirect the conversations when they become argumentative or controversial... then leave it at the door... we will both be happier!

I relayed some of what I learned to my mother, and she said, "Yes, I did it all wrong with my mother."  And while I'm not sure that is totally true, she did argue with my grandmother a lot.  When Grandmother saw my grandfather (who had been dead for years) in the dining hall "with another woman," and Grandmother insisted she had read about their liaisons in the local newspaper, she shouted, "I will not have this!"  And my mother insisted that she was NOT seeing Grand-dad... and that this was totally ridiculous. They argued about this for months. My grandmother had Parkinson's disease... which produces a dementia similar to Alzheimer's.  She thought her baby doll was real... and she called my niece Samantha to almost her dying day.  My niece's name is Jasmine.  There were dozens of these little quirks... and admittedly my grandmother was always quirky... but they escalated as she declined... and we did not handle them well much of the time.

Had we learned to redirect the conversations more and steer Grandmother to more pleasant and less confrontational topics, we might have had happier visits quite often.  There's more to this story, but every little "tool" helps to create a happier environment, so I was glad to gain a few strategies from my meeting... and I hope they will help others. 

Toward this end, here are a few other suggestions that were presented in a hand-out we were given from the National Caregiving Foundation.  I have selected a few that I feel apply to any elderly person - not just those with Alzheimer's.
  • Your care-recipient will be upset about what the future holds. He needs to be reassured that the family will see that he is cared for. He needs to continue to feel that he is a valued family member.
  • Be very vigilant about keeping him as involved as possible in the family's activities and decision-making; this will help him to cope with his own anxiety. 
  • Don't talk about his memory loss in front of him and certainly not as though he is not there; such behavior on your part, can be very upsetting and demeaning for him. 
  • Don't allow him to become withdrawn because he can't remember short term events and conversation very well.
  • Don't be demanding about normal daily activities. An example is letting him dress himself even though it takes time. Be patient; not critical. You can assist him by setting his clothes out in the order of putting on.
  • He will almost certainly still be able to manage simple chores which do not tax his memory, so involve him; it will help him to maintain his dignity.
  • If he tends to get lost when he goes on errands put his name and address in his wallet to make him feel more secure.
  • In the event that he forgets the names of people he knows well, prompt him discreetly, to help him save face.
  • Don't confront him with complex, challenging decisions or questions; if you do, you will almost certainly add to his confusion.
The website for the National Caregiving Foundation offers lots of good information and support.  I encourage you to check them out for yourself by visiting the website.  And remember... it's all about balance.  Last week, in the middle of all of the chaos of the sale and getting things in order, I took an afternoon off to hike six miles with my husband and share a picnic lunch on a sunny spring day.  A few days later, I set aside everything to spend the entire day playing with our little Timothy... hiding Easter eggs, reading books, working puzzles, singing and dancing, and appreciating the wonders and excitement of a 2-year-old's world.  

Thinking about that time made the hectic days that followed so much more manageable.  I hope you are finding ways to create balance in your "sandwich!"