The Uninvited Guest: Three

I responded badly.

This is the challenge of dealing with someone who has Alzheimer’s: having to learn to speak a new language; having to learn new ways of responding; having to learn that the usual, conditioned responses are no longer acceptable.

Mom was watching “Blue Bloods” last night – ION TV has the show on all day every Thursday. My mom does without her Fox News for a day of Blue Bloods. Though she tells herself it’s ok, since she read in a magazine that Tom Sellek is a conservative Republican – so, it’s ok to skip Fox for a day.

The episode that was ending when I went in to start mom’s before bed routine (testing blood sugar, night insulin, blood pressure test, pills, pain cream and patches) had a story line where Tom Sellek’s character was dealing with having to get his father to stop driving. The father was, as many older people are, understandably, resistant to giving up the keys to his car. The surrendering of keys is a gesture with deep symbolic meaning: the surrendering of independence, the reluctant acceptance that one now needs to depend on someone else for transportation. On the show there had, apparently, been a fight between father and son. As the show was ending, the father and his daughter succeed in getting the elder family member to surrender his keys.

Having spent nearly a decade trying to get my mom to give up the keys to her car, having had many fights and arguments about the subject, I was rather interested in how the show was dealing with the subject (a bit more Hollywood Happy Ending than I would have liked, but no one asked my opinion). Over the past decade I slowly wore mom down, getting her to drive less. Offering to take her more places. Having an unspoken agreement that she wouldn’t drive anywhere that she wasn’t already familiar with. The past few years had been the toughest – listening to mom tell people that I was her ‘jailer’, keeping her from coming and going as she pleased. Finally, finally, last year, mom’s doctor told her it was time to stop driving – her memory was too bad. Mom was rather quiet for a week or so after. Then one day, out of the blue, mom said “I guess since I can’t drive any longer, I should sell my car.” It was a bittersweet moment for me – realizing that mom was surrendering her independence, yet feeling an enormous sense of relief.

As the show was ending, mom looked at me and said “At least I gave up driving without a fuss. You didn’t have to go through all that arguing with me.”

This is where my response should have simply been: “Yes. I know. Thank you for that.”

This is the challenge of dealing with someone who has Alzheimer’s: having to learn to speak a new language; having to learn new ways of responding; having to learn that the usual, conditioned responses are no longer acceptable.

Instead, I let all the memories of the arguments flood over me. I heard all the times she angrily told me “I made it to this age without any help from you, and you aren’t going to start telling me now what I can and can’t do.” I heard the argument where I’d tried, reasonably, to remind her of how she had always been afraid of someone slipping and falling on the icy, snowy sidewalks in front of our house, and how she had my brother and I out shoveling at the crack of dawn so none of the kids walking by on their way to school would slip and fall. I reminded her of how her reasoning for this was that if someone slipped and fell they would sue us and take all our money and take our house, and then where would we be? Shouldn’t the same apply to her driving? What would happen, I said, if you hit someone and injured them? What if they died in the accident? Don’t you think someone would sue and take everything away from us? I had been reasonable, not accusatory. Her vicious, angry response took me by surprise. So, she said, all you’re interested in is protecting your inheritance? You’re just ungrateful, always wanting, always taking. I was stung. I asked her how she thought I would care about that? She has fifty-thousand in the bank, no life insurance, and a house worth about $250,000. I don’t care if there’s any of that left, I said. What I care about is if someone sues, and we no longer have money and your home is gone, where will you go? I’ve been trying to keep you at home, out of assisted living, out of a nursing home. If you have no home, how can I keep you in your own home? That’s what I’m concerned about. She simply folded her arms, the signal that the silent treatment was now starting.

Last night, when mom said that she had simply and reasonably given up the keys to her car, all those memories flooded back, all the anger and hurt.

And I responded in a way that I normally would have responded to anyone. I was angry. What do you mean? I had to kick and fight to get you to give up the keys? Don’t you remember all the arguments? Don’t you remember all the times you called me your jailer? Don’t you remember you accused me of just protecting my own interests?

Clearly she didn’t remember.

Her surprise told me as much.

Her hurt at my anger told me as much.

I forgot that at this point, facts and truth are not important. Her facts and truth are her version of events – hazy and shrouded in fog. I forgot that while I never won an argument with my mother when I was younger, I would now never win an argument with her either. In the past, I could walk away angry at being the loser of the argument, even when I was right. In the present, I have to learn to be the gracious loser because it simply doesn’t matter.

If she believes that she happily and willingly gave up the keys to her car, then I need to happily and willingly agree.

I responded badly.

Her memories and facts are no longer reliable. Reminding her, correcting her – none of it really matters, no matter how much it matters to me.

I responded badly.

I’m still struggling to let go of all the past fights – the baggage of our past – and I’m struggling to learn that none of it matters any longer. Those fights are long gone. The bags packed away in storage where they’ll eventually be forgotten.

I responded badly.

I’m still learning, too slowly, how to speak the language of the Uninvited Guest.

 

(This post was previously published on my former blog on January 30, 2016)


 

 

The Uninvited Guest is a series of posts about Alzheimer’s disease: mostly from a caregiver’s perspective, as I can only watch my mother deal with this disease. She refuses (understandably) to discuss it, so I can’t really write about what she is or isn’t feeling. This series of posts is meant to be raw and honest – so they won’t be polished and proofed – probably only spell-checked. I want to write them while the feelings are still fresh – polishing can come at another time.

These posts will be a variety of forms: narrative essay, lists, journal entry, poem, photo with text; some will be long, others just a few words or sentences. 

Previous Posts can be found here.

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