Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #51
Mama and granddaughter Melissa
I began Conversations with Mama in 2008 because I realized that through our nightly phone chats, she was telling me more stories than I had written. Mama was now also relating to me her daily activities – that I found sometimes amusing, and always led me to always having paper and pen ready when I called. As she chatted, and she can be long-winded, I scribbled and often asked more questions. Sometimes I even initiated the conversation to draw more information out of her …and once in awhile she’d ask, “what are you doing, writing down everything I say!” Yes I am mama!
July 23, 2020: The past couple of days have not been good as mama often has “mean” days now… I think that comes after she’s had days of not sleeping well, but today she sounds more like her “nice” self. Her thoughts today were “It’s no fun getting older and being by yourself. I wish I had enough money to buy back the farm. We could could all go there and live… then asking me… why did you have to go and move so far away? If I ever have to go to a nursing home, I think I’d like to go to the one in Greene County, maybe I’d even know someone there… I could have an ambulance bring me up there. But what I really want, is to stay in my home here with Boo. If something happens to him, I don’t know what I’d do. I wish I had friends who would come visit, but hardly anyone comes.” Mama tells me that she is afraid of being lost, often asking me, “you won’t forget me, will you?” I constantly tell her that I will never forget her and will always know where she is, whether I can be there or not. These conversations are so hard… as our life and times are changing now, and not for the good.
It then changed to… I’m lazy today, how are you? “I’m also tired… drinking a chocolate Boost drink right now. I need this world to change or the people change. We don’t go to the center anymore… so I just wake up and then go back to sleep. I just don’t feel normal anymore. I’m going back to sleep.”
July 25, 2020: There were almost 50 calls overnight from mama. The phone timeline shows there wasn’t much sleep last night, but I’m not surprised as she slept most of the day away… except for the many times that she insisted Boo was gone… she she would be walking the house over! Boo has such good hiding places there… and being an all black cat, he’s hard to find. After multiple times of her walking room to room and opening and closing the front door, he finally materialized to see what was going on. Then she picked him up to take back to bed, where he lay there thumping his tail… only to soon jump off when she went to sleep.
Mama was reminiscing and wishing for times gone by this morning… “I wish I could go back to those Sunday family dinners we used to have when I was young. If it wasn’t our house, we went to grandpa’s in White Plains. All the women would gather in the kitchen to cook dinner. If we were eating at our house on the farm, there’d be a big table in the dining room with lots of chairs all around.” I find it funny how she wishes for another dinner when in years past, she talked about those very dinners, and how granddaddy grumbled about everyone coming to put their feet under the table, then quickly to leave.. Leaving all the cleanup to grandmamma.
Mama has always talked about how the kids had to sit out on the back stoop and wait for the adults to eat… and wishing that a chicken breast would be left for her. On one Sunday, mama ensured herself to have a chicken breast… sneaking into the kitchen to hide one in the cupboard for herself. She enjoyed it, but remembered the switching she got… but still felt it was worth it. It’s hard to wish for things that can never be… but I guess it never stops us. I do worry about mama living there alone with her memory issues, but for the most part, she is doing well enough. She is quick to tell you… “as long as I have some semblance of still how my mind is, I’m staying here. When the mind completely goes, then you can put me somewhere.”
By August mama was really changing… way too much of her calling 911 when not feeling right, going to the hospital… only to have them bring her back home after a few hours with a UTI… but taking meds on a daily basis is a problem; she’s changing daily with worse symptoms of non-functioning dementia. Now she’s begun leaving the house on days when something happens that she needs help with… like the phone not working one morning. I could see her on the Ring camera, but had no communication with her… although I tried talking to her through the camera, but that seemed to agitate the situation… as she heard me and thought I was in the house… and suddenly she was out the door… looking for me. I called the police to go make a wellness check. They came and even tried to fix her phone, but no luck… an officer called to tell me they had no idea why the phone wasn’t working. I called the utility company to ask them about her phone, and after explaining that this is the only communication for a 90 year old woman, who’s already called the police over it, they told me they’d send someone out. I kept watch over her on the Ring camera, and within about twenty minutes, I see her answer the door… a man came in and went right over to the telephone and within 5 seconds, her phone was working. Somehow it was plugged into the wrong port on the modem… maybe she moved it? Who Knows? He was her guardian angel that day coming so quickly… and I was so very thankful!
It was becoming the norm that anytime she needed help, she began going outside… to the street. She lived on a very busy street, and would walk to the edge of the street and wave her arms trying to get someone to stop and help her. There was no reasoning with her in why she should “Not” do that… I knew her time of living home alone was coming to an end if this continued.
I called her Dr. and she suggested I take her to an ER with a geriatric department that could evaluate and get her on meds, but until we could drive down, I lucked out in finding someone to stay with her during the day. She had always been against having someone stay with her, saying she didn’t want anyone underfoot… how she liked being alone. Deep down, in what reasoning mind she had left, she knew she needed help, but the pride in her didn’t really want to give in.
I began making calls to local assisted living facilities… and an administrator at a local facility took the time to talk to me, offering many suggestions… and suddenly she said, “I probably shouldn’t offer a name, but my family recently had to admit my grandmother here, and the woman who sat with her for years is now out of work.” She gave me her name and number and before I could call her, she called me. She started the following week… still against mama’s wishes, but she relented to let her come. The woman was very nice and good with my mother, making her breakfast and lunch, and talking to her… although mama would say to me afterward, “that woman talks way too much, too chatty… I’d rather just go lay in my bed and watch TV.” I could see mama quickly changing in different ways, as she had been refusing food for the most part, surviving on Boost, but she was now eating what was served to her… even if she didn’t finish it all, she was eating.
Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple of weeks before mama wandered out one night at 2:30 in the morning half dressed. She must have had it in her mind, her closest friend was coming over, and she went out looking for her. A woman, on her way home from work, found mama standing in the middle of the road and brought her back into the house; actually the woman used to live on the street and recognized her… another guardian angel watching over my mother.
I began making plans to travel home, but before I arrived my best friend took mama to the ER the Dr. suggested. She knew it was easier for her to do this than me… I don’t know if I could have left her there… even knowing it was for the best.. but I still have mixed feelings on that today as I felt she went downhill from that first stay. We arrived the next day and while she could have no visits, I called her daily. Those calls never went well, as she really wasn’t understanding what was going on… and why she was there. I still have thoughts about whether the Dr. pushed me in the right direction, but it was suggested because she kept telling the visiting nurse that she didn’t want to live anymore; I never felt she’d take her life, but they looked at it differently. Being in constant communication with mama, I could tell her mind was changing day by day… at times she was in the present, and then other times she’d talk about how she had to go home and take care of her father… or how she’d been picking up bottles in the hall until the nurse took them all away from her. The mind is so complex… and often it seemed she was happiest when living in the past… that is where she now wanted to be as living in the present didn’t seem to be working for her anymore.
Mama often said to me… “I just want to be Helen again!”
During the past five years or so, I began seeing changes in my mother and it began when she didn’t want to go to the senior center… it was a slow change as she was still going, but not as often… or staying long… or even being happy there. The biggest change came about when the running of their clothes closet was taken away from her… although I’d only heard her view… but had wondered why. I did think that maybe I should call and see what was going on, but again thought maybe I was meddling when it was really nothing… so I let it go.
I did call the director in this past year to talk to her in regards to my mother coming there… as often she came home so unhappy. Mama had always been a talker and knew how to come back with anything said to her, but now talking to her was difficult at the center. Her friends couldn’t pick at her anymore as she couldn’t handle it… she now felt like they were mean to her, when they were only trying to make her laugh. In talking to the director I asked her to relate to them that she couldn’t handle the “picking at” any longer. I was told that most of them now were afraid to even talk to her as she flew off the handle very quickly… often storming out if anything was said to her… and the driving was another issue.
In remembering what an EMS medic once told me… “you can’t reason with an unreasonable person.” That was the best piece of advice ever given me!
Mama stayed consumed with being unhappy in not running their clothes closet… she had volunteered there for over thirty-plus years… that was her life… and even when she forgot other things, she never forgot that. She had amassed quite a clothes closet of her own that spawned in taking over the back room. At one time, the back room had been a bedroom that my daughter used when visiting… but slowly the bed disappeared… and the clothes took over.
Last year my husband installed rods under the bookshelves, and I hung up all the many pairs of pants and shirts… and what a job that was! At that point, she wasn’t really wearing anything out of there, but wasn’t willing to let me pack them up to donate. So, the only thing I could do was hang them up to eliminate the piles of clothes scattered all over the room. The clothes in her room were hung on clothes racks, piled on her bed, a stool, a chair… anywhere there was space; she wasn’t willing to let me hang them up either. For some reason, she liked looking at them and I couldn’t reason to her, that they’d still be accessible from a drawer or a hanger.
I’ve never seen one person have so many clothes… she always reasoned them as, “I never had clothes as a young girl, so I’m going to have them now.” Maybe I’m at fault, as I should have pushed harder on just the clothes part, but if you knew my mother, you’d know that it’s always been her way… she could never see your way, or even try to see how it might affect her future. But we all want our independence and I’m sure I just might tell my daughter one day to “stop“… especially when she tells me to throw out all my crafts and Nancy Drew books… I see her roll her eyes in looking at my things… and I know what she’s thinking…
We all want our things… not having other adults telling us how to live! So I always stepped back to let my mother have her way, and live her life as she wanted in order to make her happy. For the most part, she was happy for almost 90 years, which is a blessing. My father died at a young 54 years of age and I wasn’t able to say goodbye to him, but I’ve always felt that he called me that last Friday night to say goodbye. It was a very unusual phone call on that evening when he called to tell me he loved me… it was totally out of character for him to make that “out of the blue” phone call… then on Monday evening, I get the other call. Daddy died way too young, never seeing his grandchildren grow past 6 years old or even know he would have five beautiful great-granddaughters.
Mama still drove up until she turned 90… we then finally dismantled the car and gave her every excuse in the world as to why it was no longer working. The director at the senior center had mentioned to me that she wasn’t driving well… pulling out in front of cars… she wasn’t focusing. Whenever I mentioned driving to mama… “I can still drive, and when I’m behind the wheel I focus and pay attention.” She saw it one way, but everyone else concerned… saw it another. Even though she couldn’t drive, she wanted those car keys… she kept them laying on the bed along with her treasures.
Taking the car keys away from a parent is not an easy thing… we had to do that several years ago with my husband’s mother after receiving a call from the the police that she had side-swiped parked cars. It’s funny to think about now… but we arrived to find her sitting in the back seat of the officers car. He was very nice in releasing her directly to us and filing no charges. She fussed all the way home that she was going to drive, and buy another car… but she was much easier to deal with then my mother. My father in law knew he wasn’t comfortable driving at one point, and easily let me drive him wherever he needed to go… he was the easiest. Mama kept insisting that she wanted to buy another car… and if she had had a chance… she would have! The check book quietly disappeared before I had another nightmare to deal with!
Mama has always been a crafty person… as a young woman she sewed her own clothes, even making all mine as a young girl. She thought nothing of cutting up old clothes for the fabric. I learned that, when I asked if Daddy had kept his Navy uniform, and she promptly said, “Oh I cut those white pants up and made myself a pair.” She sewed all the long curtains throughout her house, and never thought twice about painting anything inside or out… but we always laughed that she painted everything either black or grey. Until her heart surgery, in her middle 70’s, she even cut her own grass… and that backyard took quite a bit of work. Besides the grass cutting, she had several large gardens surrounding the front and back. Spending time in her flower gardens was her love… often neighbors told me how she’d be out there when they left for work, and still there when they came home. She had more strength and stamina than I’ve ever had! She slowed a bit after the surgery, but after several months, it gradually came back. The grass cutting soon stopped though, but she continued working in her flower gardens.
Whenever my children traveled home with me, she put them to work on projects she wanted completed… from lugging rocks to railroad ties… as she always had a new plan for the yard every summer. They enjoyed those vacations, and we traveled all over visiting old cemeteries and all the places I loved to revisit every summer. Mama often said, “you’ve been there hundreds of times, why do you want to go,” but we’d all pile in the car while she mumbled from the back seat as I drove. There’s something about going home… and recreating the paths you walked in your early years. Being the family researcher… and always wanting to take more photos of where I had already photographed, I often told the kids, “you ask to go there, so I don’t have to hear her mumble.”
September 14th of this horrible 2020, I had to admit mama to a nursing facility as her dementia was becoming unreasonable and she refused to come home with me… although it never would have worked. I tried talking her into coming to live with us many years ago, but she always had a reason not to! She had every excuse… “I don’t know anyone there“… “maybe later on”… “it’s too cold”… “I won’t be able to drive there,” and like always… I’d give up! She was determined to live in her own home, with her cat Boo! Who could blame her!
Mama’s cat Boo… his favorite spot to keep watch!
Pretty much the last conversation I had with mama was when we picked her up from the hospital in Thompson on the morning of September 14th… while it wasn’t our usual conversations of years past, it was actual conversation. She talked of how she wanted to go home… but she could hardly even walk at this point. I explained to her that she was going there for physical therapy, but she wasn’t paying me much attention. I handed her a box of glasses I’d found in her bedroom, and she was busy, almost childlike, trying on each pair and handing me the ones she didn’t want. I have memories of her sitting in bed calling me… and always with a pair of glasses on.
I never saw mama again after that day, as there were no visits due to Covaid restrictions. She was quarantined for the first 14 days before going into her own room… but from day 1… she hated it! She couldn’t understand the “quarantine” part and often fussed about where those people were keeping her. She let them think she couldn’t walk well, but they quickly learned that she could walk as she’d walk down the hall… unzip the large plastic they had at the end and go visit them in their offices. She even managed to escape outside once when someone left a door not fully shut… when they found her, she told them she was trying to find the bus to go home to Siloam.
Everyone tried their best to make her comfortable and happy, but she digressed every day in memory and weight loss. Mama weighed 124 on admittance and lost about twenty pounds in the two short months she was there. Our phone calls became mumbles… she wasn’t walking well, and falling whenever she tried to get up alone. Eventually they moved her to a ‘gerri’ chair that was supposed to keep her from getting up, but mama was strong, and determined… and managed to escape out of it at times.
Mama was sent to the local hospital on Nov. 25th due to breathing issues… after talking to the ER doctor, it was more than just breathing problems… her heart was in serious arrhythmias… we packed to drive to Georgia. Mama wasn’t really talking, only mumbling, but mostly sleeping; we arrived two days later. Mama was sleeping and looked peaceful, not in pain like she sounded whenever I had talked to her on the phone. She had said for months how she wanted to go home… home to her mother, father, and brother… home to the farm she loved… and home to Boo. They were planning to move her to hospice, but the night before mama left this world to go home, where she could again be happy and with those she loved, and had so missed.. especially her father… she had been daddy’s girl. The night before, I held her very warm hand in mine and told her, “it’s ok to go home to your mother and father and the farm where you were happy… I will miss you, but I will be ok… I love you mama.” Those were my last words to her, and I strongly believe that she heard me and knowing that I would be ok… she let go and went home.”
Many believe that cardinals visit for a reason… and on many visits before at mama’s house a male red bird would fly and perch on the window box outside the kitchen window whenever I walked into the kitchen; I even managed to grab a photo of him once. I felt it was a sign that her father was watching over her… but on this last trip, he never showed on the weeks we spent there… he didn’t need to come anymore… she was now with him.
Mama’s angel cardinal that kept watch over her!
While staying at mama’s house this year I began going through her “clothes closet” of the many, and I mean many clothes she had… and what a job that was, and I’m still not finished. Mama always talked about how she usually carried money in her pants pocket… telling me I’d need to check all her pockets whenever the time came for me to clean them out. And that’s exactly what I did… while mumbling at the many pairs I had to go through… and wishing I wore the same size. I found several dollar bills folded neatly in the pocket of a few, and then I almost didn’t put my hands in the pocket of one pair as I thought they were the ugliest pants ever… but I stuck my hand in and out came ten dollars! Ha… I guess she wore them on one of her less frugal days when she enjoyed making the rounds at the thrifts shops before coming home.
She stuck money in odd places… making me laugh as I searched through drawers in gathering up all her jewelry. I did find money I had left her buried under a felt drawer bottom… guess she thought she was hiding it. She owned no jewelry of great value, but she loved her costume jewelry. Anytime we stopped in an antique store, I could always find her in front of a basket of costume jewelry. I packed up all her costume jewelry… every single piece. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it just yet, but I wasn’t throwing it away. She has lots of pins she’s gathered through the years, so I’d like to fashion them into something one day… maybe a framed art piece. If you have any suggestions… send them my way.
I’ve had conversations with many over the past months, especially with mama’s best friends daughters. Mama was always close to her bestie, Willie Mae’s girls, and spent a lot of time with them after moving back home to her father’s farm. I remember her telling me this story about Pat and Karen coming to sunbathe there… mama laughed as she remembered how the man working on the roof couldn’t keep his eyes off them in their bikinis… and almost fell off the ladder in watching every time they stood up.
Karen wrote me this remembrance of us as young girls… “I remember a fun time we had once… we were in your mama’s station wagon… my mama was in the front with your mama driving. We went through the Dairy Queen drive-thru… all getting a drink, nothing more. You, me, and Pat were in the back open area… toys & books were there to entertain us. I think mama ordered me, Pat and herself a small coke… your mama said you would get a small coke too. You were hollering & insisting you wanted a “big gulp” size coke. Your mama said no, but you kept saying you wanted a big gulp. Well, you got the big gulp! It was so big you had to use both hands to hold it. When we started back down the road on our way, you let down the back window and was busy pouring out most of your drink. I laughed so hard! I don’t think our mama’s caught on to what was happening… no one ever told on you. I’m laughing now in thinking of you pouring out that Big Gulp!” Unfortunately I have no memory of this… but it was a nice shared memory with me.
Thank You to all who have followed me along in my “Conversations with Mom”… I’m thankful that I felt the need to write all mama’s stories… she truly was a storyteller and the best mom ever, always there for me… and I’m truly going to miss her!
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