The Little Black Hat

Posted On October 1, 2009

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“You don’t really go see your mom every day, do you? ”

Yes, just about.

“Well you don’t really have to go.”

No, it’s a choice.

Mom is a lot like a two year old now. She has goods days and bad days. Some days she is very tired and cries for no reason.

On other days, her voice is strong and she has quite a bit to say. I don’t know which days those will be, so if I don’t go, I might miss one.

And like a two year old, she’s sometimes paying more attention to her surroundings that you might think.

She also needs to be fed. Would you want your two year old going to bed hungry? Well I don’t want to trust that the staff is going to take the time to adequately feed my mom like I do.

Sometimes Mom tells me, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Last night Mom was crying after dinner. It was the second night in a row. I’m told stroke victims sometimes can’t control their emotions and cry for no apparent reason.

Later I was ready to leave when the new Good Nurse came in to check if some ointment had been left in mom’s room. This is the first time I’ve seen a night shift nurse going into residents’ rooms and checking up on things. I decided to stay to check up on the aide who was going to put Mom to bed to make sure the ointment was used. Yes, I was tired, but it if was important enough for the Good Nurse to check on it, I could wait another half hour or whatever was needed to make sure it was used.

The aide came into the room a few minutes later. She didn’t have on a name tag but she had a nice smile and pleasant demeanor.

All of a sudden Mom’s face brightens up…..and with great enthusiasm she tells the aide, “I love your hat!”

The young black woman was not wearing a hat.  But she did have a fashionable haircut that was kind of spiked, creating an outline reminescent of a stylish little black hat from the ’30s or ’40s…the kind with a  a little plum of feathers sticking up.

I was glad I waited.


Where Were You When Your Mother Died?

I met your mom a few short weeks ago. She said she had just moved from a hoity-toity place that she really liked but she needed even more care.
Your mom asked me how many children I had. When I told her I was single and did not have any children, she said,”I’m sorry.” I  asked why she said that, and she replied, “Because I think you’ve missed a lot.”

I saw the photo collage on her door with your pictures and your kids’ pictures. Lots of faces on there.

Where were you when your mom was wheeled into the nursing home dining room wearing her purse  awkwardly around her neck?  (Old habits die hard.)

Where were you the last night I saw her when she cried out in pain as the nurse very gently rolled her to the dinner table? Where were you a few minutes later as she begged me to get  her a glass of water?

I  really wanted to  help her.  I could see how much pain she was in. I always said hi to her because she was one of the ladies who knew where she was and still had her mind. But I couldn’t get her  any water because  I didn’t know her medical condition.

Your mother was bleeding onto her terrycloth bib. It was so very sad to hear her helpless pleas fall on deaf ears. The  aides weres busy with other residents.  The nurse was off to another task.  I tried to get someone to respond. I think it was a weekend evening — you never know what to expect on on those shifts.

A couple of days ago I noticed your Mom’s nameplate was taken down. I checked the resident list and her name was gone. Your picture hung on the door for a few more days. I see the door is still closed today…I guess you haven’t had a chance to empty the room yet. Probably busy making  funeral plans.

Your mother must have loved you very much. I’m sure she was proud of you.  I saw your name in her obituary. Apparently she was pretty sick when you moved her there last month.

Where were you when your mother died?

No Sense of Urgency at the Nursing Home or Dogs Are More Fun Than Old People

When I get old, I hope someone leaves me at the kennel instead of a nursing home. I think I’ll get better care.

Nearly every day I turn on the news and someone had rescued a bunch of neglected dogs and lots of people come forward to feed them and nurse them back to good health. If there’s a flood, a power outage, a hurricane, an economic crisis — big pleas go out for help to take care of the misplaced pets.

Friday night,  I go to mom’s nursing home and they are serving peanut butter. Hey –don’t you guys know the big recall of peanut butter included shipments to nursing homes? What reassurance do we have that the kitchen has checked out the source? My mom’s “meal preference” says “no chicken.” Yet she was given a chicken sandwich on Thursday night.

At the kennel, dogs are walked and played with (for an extra fee), fed, oooed and aawed over.

I bet the pet food with peanut butter has been pitched at the kennel.

At the nursing home, patients are talked at:

“How’s your dinner?”


“Good, I’m glad  you liked it.”

Mom can’t pull chicken off the bone when you serve the drummies. It’s not that she doesn’t like chicken. But  you’re not listening anyway — as you serve her chicken soup, chicken sandwiches, etc.

“Your mom keeps crying. We need to do something about her meds.”

Yea…like get ’em down her throat. Thursday nite, they plopped out on the floor. Friday — I wheeled her down to your station and showed you she had a full mouth of meds sitting on her tongue. I got ’em down her throat. ICE CREAM works better than apple sauce. It also takes more than one spoonful. You’re probably not supposed to be crushing all of those meds in the first place. Does anybody read the warnings?

Last night after dinner Mrs. G. is sitting in her room and she tells me she has a new problem.  She just got out of the hospital last week. She  hasn’t had her oxygen all day. Someone’s supposed to come. soon.  I guess her daughter was celebrating Valentine’s Day. She came in the afternoon and the flower arrangement was lovely. She usually comes after dinner. I see the aide and ask about the oxygen. “The nurse is going to take care of that.”

Mrs. G said her eyes are blurry. Eyes need oxygen. It’s even more important as you age. I go home wondering about the connection. I look it up this morning on the Internet. What kind of nurses are these? Who’s training them? Who cares about the elderly?

Give me the life of a dog. It’s gotta be better than this.

Great Website For Caregivers

I found a great website for people dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The boards are a good place to post your questions and receive advice from those with real world experience as a caregiver.  It’s also a place to go if you need to do a little venting and gain some perspective.

It’s run by the Alzhiemer’s Association. Check it out if you find yourself in this position.

There’s No Resting Easy With An Elderly Parent

A lot of people rest easy knowing elderly Mom or Dad is being taken care of in a nursing home or by home health aides. But let me tell you something, if you live across the country, or you are just “too busy” to drop by on a regular basis, you are kidding yourself.

If your relative lived several states away, and you visited once or even twice a year (or not at all)…you did not “go through it” when they were ill or suffering from dementia, etc.

My mother has some very kind care givers helping her get dressed every morning. But they are not going to take care of her like they would their own mother.

My sister recently bought mom three new bras as the old ones were pretty shoddy. I do the laundry every week to 10 days – yet there will only be one bra – or none – in the laundry basket.

Mom can wear them a few days, but a week or longer is too much.

The other day when I did her wash, another seemingly brand new bra appeared. I checked with my sister, and yes, she now has more than she bought. It’s curious because this bra was in her dirty laundry basket…I loaded it into the washer so I know it wasn’t left over from another resident in the washer or dryer.

The apartment community washes her towels and sheets. Maybe they brought it in another time…at least it’s the right size.

Today I’m going to post a note asking the caregivers to put on a clean bra when Mom gets a bath. I’m finding if I want something done a certain way – or done at all – I need to post a note. It’s not enough to make a verbal request. With staff changes and shift changes, I have to be pro-active and oversee the caregivers. You can’t do that across the country or from the comfort of your own home.

“We’ve Had a Murder Here”

Posted On June 21, 2008

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Mom calmly told me a man at her retirement apartment building killed his wife. “I heard some men talking about it.”

She said the couple lived by her friend Jo. He would do the laundry. “She was deaf and we would go by her and wave.”

We should also stay away from the guy with the mustache. “He killed his wife.”

Mom’s not afraid though. Maybe the thought of death is appealing at 82.

I was telling a friend that I tried to explain to Mom that she must have heard wrong because otherwise the husband would be in jail. “You’re wasting your time. Your mother can’t understand what you’re telling her.”

Yea, I guess she’s right. At least Mom has something to talk about.

When Peter Pan Came to Visit

Today was the first day a home health aid has been hired to help my mom get dressed and moving in the morning. She has dementia and gets overwhelmed in the morning. We also want to make sure she’s taking her meds regularly. Sometimes we’re not sure if Mom’s perception of reality is a little off target.This morning there was some miss-communication and the aide came late.Then my sister called me…she was all concerned because Mom said the woman put make-up on her and was dressed like Peter Pan. Sandy though she was hallucinating. I said well maybe the lady put Oil of Olay on her face and Mom’s calling it makeup. What’s Peter Pan look like? I didn’t have a peanut butter jar handy to look at, but I didn’t think there was any cause for alarm.

“Well he dresses in a long blue top and wears tights!!”

Well maybe that’s how the lady was dressed. I don’t know. Maybe Mom couldn’t think of another word, like clown. You’ll have to ask the agency what the gal had on. Calling her Peter Pan doesn’t really sound that bad. She said she was dressed like Peter Pan…she didn’t say she was flying across the room. I can go out there and look at her face and see what she looks like if that will help….I need to drop off some soda anyway.

To me, most of the scrubs the health care aids wear look kind of like pajamas. But what do I know about health care fashions. Peter Pan sounded like a reasonable description to me. Some of the scrubs have cartoon characters on them. I sometimes struggle to find just the right word to convey a thought.

Later my sister called back after talking to someone at the facility. Turns out the aide was wearing all blue. She did put some face cream and a little lipstick on Mom’s face…..she said most of the ladies kind of perk up when they have a little make-up on.

When I got there, Mom told me she liked the way the gal had put together her outfit. She really did look nice with everything matching. Mom described how she was so groggy this morning that she thought maybe she had dreamed the lady had come in and helped her. Mom pointed to her eyebrows and said the woman had put something on them.

Two weeks ago my sister said she and Mom stopped by her house to pick up something Mom needed. “I don’t know why she thought it was there, I couldn’t find it.”

Dear sister, there were about three items in Mom’s empty bedroom closet. You will find what you were looking for on the bed now…..sorry to spoil the surpise.

Worth Their Weight In Gold

Posted On February 14, 2008

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A few weeks ago Mom told me the apartments she’s been living in were sold. “I think it’s about the money,” she said. Another time she told me she thought the place was “Going D-O-W-N.”

It turns out there’s been a change of on-site managers. There are two married couples that staff the place.  One of my Mom’s favorite descriptive phrases was always “chubby little rascal”  and that’s the phrase that came to mind when I met them. 

Today I spent time with Mom and sat with her awhile during her lunch. Two of the managers were serving coffee. I asked Mom how she liked them so far, and her answer cracked me up. “I think they hire them by size.”

Considering all morning she looked lost — like a deer in a car’s headlights — it was comforting to know that she still has a sense of humor.

These manager are on-call 24/7. I know that there job is no picnic. They help serve meals , fix things, and must have the patience to work with seniors who are not healthy enough to live alone any more.

Grandma, Mom,  her sisters and many of her relatives loved a good dessert as much as anyone. So Mom really should feel at home, and in good hands.

Out of the Mouths of Old Babes

My mother recently moved to a senior apartment due to declining health. Although the sign out front says “luxury apartments”….believe me, she’s not living on a golf course.

The facility provides three meals a day, 24/7 on-site staffing, emergency pull cords in the apartments, housekeeping, and planned activities.

Mom is showing the early signs of dementia. For the most part she knows what’s going on, but she gets confused easily and she often comes up with observations that don’t quite hit the mark. She’s not crazy about living there….feels like she’s locked up, but she does enjoy the meals and twice-daily desserts.

She frequently complains about the super small kitchen sink, “I feel like a squirrel in a cage. Can’t do anything with that sink.”  (There’s really no need for a bigger sink.)

One thing I’ve noticed is she can be very funny. At least she makes me laugh. For example, there’s a woman who lives there with long grey hair parted down the middle. I know it’s not nice to say this, but Mom described her as “spooky looking”…and you know, she would look at home on The Munsters or The Addams Family.

At Christmas time, I was visiting and there was an announcement that a concert would be starting in a few minutes. “Let’s walk down the hall and see who it is.” The building has a big atrium that opens up where you can look down at the other floors and see what’s going on. It was a Salvation Army volunteer that day and she said she had heard him before and didn’t want to listen. “I’m getting tired of all their amateur entertainers,” she whispers.

One day Mom was worried because her table mate Mabel said she had seem Mom and another woman “shooting up.” I tried to explain that nobody would believe it…or she could just go along with it and tell the lady she was shooting up insulin. Mom just couldn’t see the humor in it and is worried someone is going to believe she’s a junkie.

Another day Mabel had me in stitches describing how she’d seen Mom “and four other women” on TV…and that someday she’d be laughing when everyone realized she knew what she was talking about. We’re all sitting in the lobby and I’m laughing so hard by side hurts as Mom and Mabel quibble about this silly story and two other ladies are mumbling that I’m laughing too loud.

One of the other ladies looks like my Aunt Irene…and I realize, old folks are a lot like babies…they all kind of look alike.

Mom’s complaining she can’t wear one sweater “it’s too wrinkled”…I don’t point out that only one of the socks she is wearing has stripes as I don’t want her to loose her confidence in her ability to get dressed each day.

Another day Mom told me a story about another resident. She thought they were “trying to hide the old man.” When I asked her who he’d be hiding from, “From the insurance company. I think they’re looking for him. I think he was in an accident or something.”

The number of friends I have who have a parent living in this place is rising. On Christmas day, one friend was dropping her mother off and she told Mom her mother loved it there and said it reminded her of a luxury resort. She asked Mom how she liked it, and her assessment was, “It feels like a prison.”

 Today when I called Mom, she said in a somewhat delighted voice, “We had some excitement at breakfast this morning.” A gentleman she introduced to me last week didn’t make it past his bacon ‘n eggs today to see his 103rd birthday this year.

“It’s too bad he didn’t go quickly like he wanted to.” She said he coughed for several minutes. I told her I thought that was about as quick as one could expect as I assumed what he meant was he didn’t want to be sick for days, weeks, or even months.

I guess when you reach the last chapters of your life…there’s comfort….and hope….in seeing someone else getting released from the place.