At first, I wasn’t sure I had learned anything special from my mother.
That is, until I had children. After all, how many times have we heard that little voice in our head say, “Oh my, that sounds just like my mother!”? Well, I used to hear that little voice daily.
As kids went off to college, I mistakenly figured my true parenting days were heading off to a different stage, also. What I didn’t know was that I was about to become a parent once again. This time…as a parent to my mother.
My mother developed Alzheimer’s disease.
Progression of the disease was slow. Or, maybe it was hard for me to see. Mom was struggling to take care of a large house after Dad died. She would forget to clean, or buy groceries or cook. Decisions and caring for a large home were frustrating for her.
The journey or parenting my mother had begun. In hindsight, it was much like having a teenager again.
When it became apparent that Mom needed to move to a smaller place, we cleaned out duplicates of everything…gifts wrapped for birthdays past, dozens of boxes of aluminum foil, purses with money hidden in them, new blankets and food.
Her forgetfulness continued to increase. During one daily conversation she casually mentioned the police brought her home the night before. When I asked why, she said she had gone walking and lost her way. Since she couldn’t remember how to get home, the nice policeman gave her a ride.
Upon telling me it was 3:00 A.M., I became more than concerned. This was November! She told me she had no idea why she was walking at 3:00 in the morning in the cold. It was time to mother again.
This time I gave careful detailed instructions about leaving the house. Even though she said she understood me, I wasn’t convinced. Teenagers can be sneaky…and so could my mother.
Over the course of the next month she continued her late night walks, always with a police escort bringing her home. Sometimes she would tell me and other times she would lie and say she had not been out at night. My lectures and instructions became more forceful. What was I going to do?
When I received a call from the hospital that she had fallen and hit her head during a “walk”, the decision moved out of my hands. Her head wound required several stitches and she was confused about where she was and why.
We visited a physician specializing in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. What we learned was what we had been expecting to hear. Mom had Alzheimer’s. She could no longer live alone.
Moving her to a nursing home specializing in the disease was the next decision. At first, she accepted the move because she thought it was temporary. When I told her this was a permanent move, she became verbally abusive to me. She told me she hadn’t raised me to be such a bad daughter. Surely there is someone who loves her, because it isn’t her daughter. It became worse before it got better. A teen-ager with a bad attitude couldn’t compete with Mom, even on her good days. I know. Been there, done that, etc.
The task of cleaning was once again before us. How on earth does one woman reduplicate so much stuff in so little time?
The kitchen had become full of unused food, canisters of coffee, paper plates, cake mixes, dozens of boxes of jell-o, coffee filters, bags of flour, packages of meat in both the freezer and refrigerator, and dozens of boxes of aluminum foil! What the fascination was with aluminum foil I will never know.
It’s sad cleaning out your mother’s things, knowing she will never use them again. However, a small book found in a pile of magazines gave us such joy. It was a book about being a “pack rat”.
Of course she didn’t have just one copy or even two copies. We found THREE copies of the same book. And she had notes in all of them about specific chapters she knew pertained to her! We laughed so hard, we cried.
To this day, when I save something “for later”, I think of Mom and her pack rat book. Or, when I buy a pair of black pants…only to find out I have 3 pair in my closet! I know she is watching me from up above and smiling or laughing.
Mom finally adapted to nursing home living. On one visit an aide asked if I would mind cleaning out her dresser and closet. She told me everything was full of “stuff”. When they tried to clean it out Mom would get mad and not let them near anything of hers. Mistakenly, I figured she had a few things cluttering up her dresser. After all, nursing home rooms are not that large.
It will never cease to amaze me the amount of things she had accumulated! Talk about your Pack Rat!! We’re now talking about the Queen of Pack Rats. One wouldn’t think she could find that much stuff in a nursing home to store away. Was I ever wrong!
Sugar packets from the dining room, dozens of packages of crushed crackers, and every newspaper she had ever received were stuffed somewhere in her room. All her cards, letters AND their envelopes were neatly folded. She had all the party favors from special meals, bingo prizes and candy tucked away. There were empty make up compacts and lipstick holders, broken pens, old batteries, magazines and church bulletins. We found articles on Alzheimer’s disease. Did she know she had a problem?
And…ONE MORE copy of the book about being a Pack Rat. Where on earth did that come from?
Over the course of five years I cleaned out her dresser and her closet more times than I can remember. Every time I found more of everything.
One morning Mom died in her sleep. We took comfort in knowing she was no longer suffering, neither physically nor mentally. She was finally at peace.
My role as mother to Mom had come to an end.
One final time we cleaned out her things. More sugar packets, old newspapers, lipstick and makeup compacts, envelopes, crushed crackers in packets, church bulletins, more stacks of magazines and that dog-eared book about Pack Rats.
In this time of reflection on her life, it gave us all one more moment of humor.
You showed me common sense and taught me to be a mother to my children. You gave me the gumption to make tough decisions and taught me to be a mother to you. I only hope I can pass on some of what I learned to my kids. Thanks Mom.
Do you suppose they have Pack Rats in Heaven?
Wendy VanHatten, is a freelance editor and writer author of several books, and websites, including www.virtual-author-assistant.com