Sunday, July 09, 2006

What To Do When Mom Behaves Like A Nutcase

Nurse Jane keeps telling me how “sweet” my mother is, the implication being that some of her patients aren't. Well, Bea isn’t her usual sweet self today. In fact, she is downright nasty. On such days I ask myself why I am doing this and remember elderly cousins visited as a teenager in Nice. Their daughter had assumed their care. At 17, I considered she was throwing her life away.

Now that I have made the same choice, I understand better. It is not filial devotion. No. It has more to do with providing an alternative to society's choice for the elderly, nursing home care.

Caring for a bedridden parent who behaves like a well-mannered child is one thing. What do you do when mom becomes a nutcase? These are the options:

1.) Hold your breath, count to three, and try whatever you did/said again.

2.) Caress her brow to express affection and empathy.

3.) Keep your distance.

I tried (1) and (2) and they didn’t work. Bea shooed me away, so Keep Your Distance, the cowardly choice, is mine today.

Once I wrote in this blog that the worst days were when Bea was depressed and wouldn’t talk. I guess I was wrong. Far worse is her being depressed and talking.

This morning, at 3 am, Bea declares she is hungry. I provide a banana. Apparently our diva is fed up with bananas, because she announces in a haughty voice, “I don’t want your banana. You can keep your banana. Do you want me to shove it in your face? I want something else. I’m hungry.”

Hmmm. The day is starting well.

Bea calls out again at 4:30, and then at 6, when I finally decide to fix a real breakfast.

Later in the morning, Bea sees me in her room and demands, “Who are you?”

O-o-o-o-o-o-o, I don’t like the tone. This is going to be a bad-mood day, without a doubt.

“Are you my mother?”

I explain who I am for the zillionth time.

Bea ponders this information a few moments, than asks, “How old am I?”

“96 ½,” I reply.

“How did I get so old?”

No answer to that. I just stare at her emaciated face.

“I guess I’m going to die soon. I better get a plot in the cemetery.”

I could explain that she made other arrangements years ago, but am feeling sleep-deprived – with reason – and say nothing.

“Where’s my husband?”

“He’s dead. Died a long time ago. Seven years.”

“He was a sweet man. Why did he die?”

“He was old. 97.”

“I shouldn’t have married such an old man!”

On this, I take my leave. Bea chats softly to herself for several hours. When I stick my head in the door, she sticks out her tongue.

“I want the flavor of your arm.”

“My arm has no flavor,” I respond icily.

“Who are you?”

Before I can respond, she says, “Oh, you’re my daughter. What a job to have me for a mother!”

Once again, Bea has pretty much summed it up …


Blogger joared said...

Your descriptive language provides a vivid picture of the challenges and the rewards of caring for a loved one.

Visual familiarity can be so important, whether it's the physical environment or the people, in helping someone find some sense of reality periodically.

I wish our system provided more direct funding to loved ones with limited means who want to and are willing and able to care for a loved at home. They clearly must have assistance under the best of circumstances even if the one receiving care is of relatively sound mind.

So many of us of earlier generations have had this same experience which you have now, as we simultaneously raised young families, completed educations and/or worked outside the home, to which society sometimes seems oblivious and uncaring.

8:46 PM  

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