She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. Proverbs 31:25
This is my beautiful mom.
I find getting older to be on my mind a lot. It makes me feel so many things. It’s bittersweet, but it makes me feel strong as well. I love understanding that I don’t have to please everyone all the time. But of course, as I age (and I’m not old yet, but you can’t stem the tide), the people I love are aging as well. My husband is almost 20 years older than me, so he’s more my parent’s generation than mine (I’ve never been able to successfully guess someone’s age – I think somewhere in my mind I feel like we’re all the same age and I also think everyone knows everyone that I know – if that even makes sense!). And I truly think he’s some kind of weird aberration.
At nearly 69, he’s tall and skinny as a rail, has low blood pressure, no cholesterol issues, and literally eats anything he wants and as much as he wants. We always joke that he’s a great person to bring to those all you can eat buffets (which I personally don’t care for – too hard to gauge the salt and fat content of the food). But Jim always gets his money’s worth.
So my sweet little mama came home from Florida a couple of weeks ago. She and my stepdad spend their winters there – they’re “snowbirds”. When they first started wintering in what seems like a land far far away, I was so sad. But as I’ve gotten older, and less enamored of Minnesnowta in the winter, I understand their need to be where it’s warm. And it’s also safer for them. And when I say “little” this is no exaggeration. She’s just over 5 feet and she weighs just over 100 pounds. She’s a tiny little peanut. She used to have a little more meat on her bones, but…
Now, you may wonder (or not!) why they came home more towards the end of summer than in the springtime like most snowbirds. It’s because my dear mother had her 4th and 5th back surgeries last November, and they didn’t leave for Florida until mid-January. Before leaving, she spent half of November, the whole of December, and half of January either in the hospital or the nursing home (I know they call them Rehab Centers, but trust me, they’re nursing homes). It was one of the scariest times I can remember – luckily, she doesn’t remember much of it.
Between the synthetic marijuana, the pain meds and the bladder infections, my dear mom spent the majority of her time either in an advanced state of dementia or hallucinating. And when I say hallucinating, I mean hallucinating. She’d eat and drink but there wouldn’t be anything in her hands. She’d suddenly get really scared because she’d see something fly by that no one else could see. She’d try to eat my hand. It was truly awful. And so sad. And it seemed to go on forever. And even as I write this it makes me want to weep.
What I want to really emphasize here is this: if you have an elderly person in your life who very suddenly starts showing signs of dementia or starts hallucinating, have them checked for a bladder infection immediately. Seriously, it causes dementia! And trust me, it is a frightening thing to see. Especially when it happens suddenly. Apparently, true dememtia does not normally just start full force in a person – instead, it’s a more gradual deterioration. The other problem is that the folks at the first “Rehab Center” she was at were not real tuned in. She fell and hit her head one night, and we had to find out two days later because she had a caring and concerned speech therapist who had seen a rapid decline from one session to the next. Fortunately, she didn’t have a head injury, but it took them FOUR DAYS to do a CT scan and that was only at my insistence.
The other thing that made me very angry was that when she began hallucinating they decided to change her Parkinson’s meds. The ones that had effectively controlled her symptoms for the PAST 20 YEARS! At that time she was on Utram and Marinol (a pain reliever and a synthetic form of marijuana to increase her appetite). Remember, this is a 100 pound woman. And she had started hallucinating after starting these meds. I point blank told the doctor that he wasn’t making any sense – and forbade him to change her Parkinson’s meds until he had stopped the new drugs. I said, “If you installed two new programs on your computer and it started acting funny, would you then de-install a program that had always been on it or would you think maybe the new programs had something to do with the problem?” Once they stopped the pain killer and the appetite inducer, it actually alleviated the problem until she got a UTI. So, second point – if you have elderly relatives and they are in a hospital or a “Rehab Center”, you will neet to actively advocate for their needs. And just because they have a medical degree, doctors aren’t always right – especially when they aren’t really invested in their patients.
But, back to the late arrival. Almost as soon as they got to Florida, mom fell down the stairs at their mobile home (cement stairs), hit her head, and got blood on her brain. She was right back in the hospital and then in the “Rehab Center” for another 4 weeks. She then fell again, but luckily this time did not hit her head. Then my stepdad had back surgery. And he got to see what fun it was to stay in a “Rehab Center” These two have been through it, I’ll tell you what.
My mom has lived with Parkinson’s disease for about 20 years. She has been so blessed to have a pretty mild case and it hasn’t caused a lot of the extreme physical tremors that many Parkinson’s sufferers experience. She does shuffle and has a bit of a problem with her speech, particularly when she’s tired. She also drools a bit which I think is one of the things that bothers her the most. Our running joke is that I always ask her “What’s shaking?”. It always makes her laugh.
It’s very hard to see her getting older, because she is such an incredible woman. I have grown up watching my mom take each curve ball she’s been thrown in stride and never has she lost her positive attitude or her reverent attitude towards God. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and she’s always doing wonderful things for other people. One day I came home after a long day at work to find she had, out of the blue, sent me a card telling me what an awesome daughter I am.
She loves big flashy jewelry and anything with a leopard print. A few years ago one of my cousins told her she probably really would like wearing a thong (yes, I said a thong, and she went right out and bought one!). She likes to go to the casino and drop $20 on the nickel machines – and she almost always wins! I’ve never seen her go out without makeup and matching clothes (she’s never said anything but sometimes I think she wonders why I lack fashion sense). She taught me to cook, and let me cut up her cookbooks to make my own. We did crafts together constantly. She taught me that God loves me. She has always been fiercely on my side. She trusted me even when I didn’t deserve it – which made me want to deserve it. She gave me my intense love of reading and learning. In my lifetime she’s had a business making plaster wall hangings; sold Mary Kay; worked the makeup counter at Target (yes, they used to have a makeup counter); had a mini-donut machine and RV…you get the picture. And all this while working full-time and taking care of her family. She grew up in a family of 14 kids, which I think, made her appreciate everything she has.
She turned 74 this last week and we had a great time celebrating last weekend. We had a lot of laughs remembering all the funny things we’ve done. She never learned to use a computer until she was in her mid 60s and she plugs along at it. She called me one day and said, “Kim, I got a new ink cartridge for my computer. I put it in and it doesn’t work”. I said, “Did you take the blue tape off?” And she asked, “What blue tape?”. We’ve spent hours on the phone with me doing tech support for her and she does great.
I think the funniest computer thing was last summer she was very frustrated because her printer had quit working for some reason. Now when they’re in Minnesota they live up north about an hour away, so I usually only see her on weekends. And last summer, despite my best efforts to convince her to spend some money on a wireless Internet connection, they were still on dial up. Up north. On dial up. Do you get my drift? So, to solve her problem with the printer, I dug through every CD I could find looking for the printer driver for her Lexmark printer. I asked her where the printer driver was and we looked at the printer together. I tried to get it to print, and she was right, it wouldn’t print.
Finally, I went online and began the download process to get her a new printer driver. On dial up. Up north. On dial up. It took 12 hours. This is not a joke. I am not making it up. It actually took 12 hours. We periodically went into the computer room to check how things were coming along. I was worried it would time out, but it didn’t! Finally, when the download was complete, we went into the room and I installed the printer driver and got the Lexmark printer working perfectly. We printed out a page, and it looked great. I felt so great! Then she said to me, “Can you get the HP printer working? That’s the one that wasn’t working”. Apparently, she didn’t ever have any intention of printing on the Lexmark, she just used it as a copy machine. The HP was the one she had been using. And she had the printer driver. Yup, that’s how we roll. The good thing was, this convinced her to finally to get DSL! But that’s another story for another time.
Happy Birthday, Mamacita!