Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nebraska: The Movie

I have no pictures with this post and it's very late at night, but I just finished watching 'Nebraska' on Netflix tonight.  For the second time.  I don't often watch movies twice, but I think I could watch this one a third and fourth time because I relate to it.  Boy, do I.

Filmed in black and white and set in rural parts of Montana, South Dakota and, of course, Nebraska, the movie is the tale of an elderly man, Woody, with a penchant for alcohol and advancing dementia.  Woody firmly believes the Publisher's Clearinghouse-like letter he receives in the mail declaring him a $1,000,000,000 Prize Winner (is that a million?  You can tell I'm not familiar with the big bucks)  in their sweepstakes.  If no one else will help him get to Nebraska to claim his prize, he will walk there if he has to.  Finally, his youngest son, David, agrees to take a road trip with his father.

Ok, Dad, we'll go to Nebraska.

I won't go into detail about the movie, there won't be any spoiler alerts, but for anyone who has ever dealt with aging parents, this movie is dead-on.  When I started the film, I almost decided against it; do I really need to see a depressing tale of senile dementia and the effects on the family members?  I'm in the midst of that battle myself.  But ok, misery loves company, so I settled into my Lazy Boy to watch.

I figured the movie would either be very sad or there would be slapstick comedy, a couple of car chases and bad 'Depends'-type jokes/mishaps, the usual indignities disguised as knee-slapping hilarity served up in movies about old people.  I was pleasantly surprised, there were no cheap shots, just stark reality.

The reality of watching a parent struggle and his son feeling a duty to do what he can to fix the situation.  I have been there, done that with my late father.

I am there, doing that, now with Mom.

My father was a big, powerful man with a short temper who seemed larger than life, and I admit I feared him.  And I also admit, I did not know him personally.  Not really.  Like Woody, so much of Dad's life abuse and demons were carefully hidden from view only to come out in the drinking and anger.  And as he aged and became more frail, I wanted to reach out and protect him from tripping and falling, just as I would with a toddler learning to walk.  But of course, this was an affront to his dignity, and much like a toddler saying, "NO, I can do it MYSELF!" my frustration, fear and worry were a bother.  Don't coddle, don't hover, but don't abandon them, either.  They are still adults, they have dignity and willpower.  And they know what they're doing.  Until they don't.  And then you have to step in and take charge.  And it sucks.  And like that toddler, they won't be happy with your interference.

Watching the movie unfold, I remembered many drives I took with my father after he had slipped into dementia.  We'd be just a mile from home and he'd peer out the window and say, "I've never been here before," as he gazed out at the farm he'd been born on eighty-six years before.  The same farm he cleared of trees as a child, walked behind a plow with a team of horses, and eventually covered thousands of times on a tractor.   It was all new territory to him.  And I would bite my lip and blink back tears, trying hard not to say, "Now, Dad, you know this is our farm.  Come on, now, be reasonable."

I didn't say it.

"Yes, Dad, it's a nice-looking hayfield, isn't it?" as I slowed the car to look at the acres of alfalfa rippling gently in the breeze.

And he'd continue staring out the window and say nothing more, soaking in the sight of the field almost hungrily.  A few times I  parked the car and we sat in silence watching the swallows dipping in flight over the alfalfa in bloom.  Finally he'd rouse himself and then I would know it was time to move on to our destination. 

He didn't know who I was half the time.  I was the enforcer of rules that made him angry.  Like the time he filled the lawnmower's oil reservoir to the top and was soon enveloped in a cloud of blue smoke so thick I thought the house was on fire when I arrived.  He was not happy with me when I ordered him off the mower and had him shut it off to cool down so I could drain the excess oil.  He reluctantly got off the mower and went to the garage, but before I knew it, he was right back on it again, defiantly continuing to mow, smoke billowing.   And hot in pursuit, there I was, at forty- something years old, chasing an elderly man on a smoking riding lawn mower around the yard.  What a sight we were, to be sure.

Much like being a first-time parent with a new infant, caring for an elderly parent put me into situations I never could have anticipated if I'd tried.  If someone would have told me that by the time I was forty I would be holding my father's hand as if he were my child on our halting walk across a parking lot to a shoe store, no, I wouldn't have believed that could ever happen.  But it did.  So many things happened, good and bad.  Some so comical I'd be weak with laughter, some so frustrating I wanted to run screaming for my sanity, some so sad, I cried on the spot.

When my father went through this stage in his life, I was still parenting our young sons, so I was truly in the 'sandwich generation' trying to be caretaker, wife, mother, and sane all at once and failing more than I succeeded, sad to say.  My mother isn't as much of a handful as my father was, so far, anyway.   This time around I don't have children or a job to tend to in addition, so it is more relaxed, but now I'm older, too.  And I won't sugarcoat it, it's still not easy. 

It seems if we live long enough, we will all go full-circle, from helpless infants to wayward toddlers with a mind of our own to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle-age, and finally to our elderly years. We may once again become wayward and willful, chafing at the restraints placed upon us by supposedly caring adults who think they know what is best for us despite our protests of "NO!  I want to do it MYSELF!"

Old age is not for sissies.  And the caretakers of the aged can't be sissies, either. 

'Nebraska' was a funny movie as well as poignant, there were a few moments I startled the dogs when I laughed out loud.  Oh, yes, I have Definitely been there, done that.  Oh, how did the writers know?  

It is obvious someone has walked in my shoes.

Woody wouldn't give up.   And his son didn't either.

And neither will I.

L-R: my late brother, Bob, Dad, me, and Mom 1964

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shared Worry Lessens the Burden

I have to tell you  my worry has eased some over the last few days.  I know for certain the biggest reasons for my relief was getting it all down in writing and being blessed with wise, warm and loving concern from the blogging community, my dear friends.  Thank you. 
Random fall garden pictures, Milton the Rock with hostas and Golden Shadows dogwood.

Things are looking tentatively better.  We took both dogs to the veterinarian on Tuesday and with a few tweaks of medication and a bag of dental treat chews apiece, we left with lighter hearts.  (The dental chew treats were for the dogs, just thought I'd clear that up.)  Our veterinarian, Dr. B, is a wonderful man; I've often asked him if he takes on human patients, but drat, seems his license only clears him to work on four-legged creatures.  I did point out that chickens are bipeds, just like me, but that didn't change his mind.  No, he can't be my doctor, too. 

Teddy, looking surprised to see me.
Dr. B is always optimistic and impressed by these two old troopers of ours; he said with meds and luck from heaven above, we could all be together for quite some time.  Or not. And I know what he means, so we'll cherish what time we have.  I was able to halve the dose of furosemide Pudding is taking and she seems much more comfortable; even barking to be fed last night which was music to our ears. 

Mom is working on painting another garden ornament for me but I've got to get her something else to do as she's nearing completion on the project.   Busy hands make for a happy heart and she is never happier than when she has several things waiting to be painted.  I have a collection of cast iron garden lanterns and she has painted all of them several times. 
One of her latest works of art.

 So now that we're hopefully on a plateau around here with aging moms and dogs, I can talk about what else has been going on. 

Ok, not much. 

We didn't work on Castle Aaargh at all this year; with being in the magazine and all the visitors who came to see the garden there was no time to get all the rock pallets hauled back up and the mortar mixer out.  One of the visitors said we could look at the project as something to do in our retirement and in the meantime, it's a ruin.  Wise words, don't you think?
A ruin with a stained glass window.  Yep, that's what it is.
Our last magazine tour visitors came about two weeks ago.  I think that is the latest anyone has officially toured the garden.  I was headed up to Mom's with my walking poles and duh, forgot her pills, so I turned around and marched back to the house to get them. 

When I came back out of the house, I was startled by a car sitting on the road at the end of our driveway.  A big, black car with tinted windows.  Tinted windows make me nervous, it's like mirrored sunglasses.  I have a hard time making eye contact with people wearing mirrored shades.  Who's behind those Foster Grants?

But you all know me, the lady who drags Jehovah's Witnesses around the garden for tours even when all they want to do is save my soul.   (Ok, that was an accident and it only happened once.  I thought they were a group who had called earlier.)

  So I smiled at the blank window and waved them on in.

The car rolled into the driveway and the window rolled down to reveal two nice people who wanted to let me know my landscaping from the road was very nice.  And of course, we all know that I said, "Thank you.  Do you want to see the back yard?"

And of course, we were off and running.  We'd already had a frost and the day was dark and drizzly and the hostas were hanging like rags, but they both said they'd come back next summer when the garden didn't look like a bedraggled bedspread.  The pictures in this post are from that day, in fact.  The last hurrah for 2014.

Golden Shadows dogwood fall color

We're still working on clearing out the garden for the winter which has been a much more relaxed task since we don't have mortar mixers and rocks to deal with at the same time.  I guess it was a good idea to take a break from Aaargh construction this year.  We'll get back at it next year.

Since these pictures were taken, the hosta foliage has degraded significantly and all I have to do is grab hold of the leaves and they fall right off.  I don't like to leave the foliage stand through the winter since it harbors slugs and possible disease and also because in the spring, I have way more than enough work to do.  This way we can start out with a clean slate when the spring crazies arrive.  And this year, there is an abundance of mice all over the place, so giving them less places to hide will hopefully help.  I've never seen so many.  It's creepy.

The Quarry takes on a different look in the fall.  I've got to get those waterlilies cut back, too.

When it rains, Carl's pyramid shows the light and dark side more vividly.

Going through the Egress Gate, this is where Carl and I cleared out hostas last night.

I still have this bed to clear yet.
 And now for something completely different below:  Carl made some more garden sculpture this summer.  I know the pictures don't do them justice, but these stainless steel 'things' were made from scrap at his work. 
Hard to see in this picture, but they resemble pussy willow branches.  Ok, if you have an imagination.

 Trust me, they look better in person.  As you walk around them, the different facets light up, they're really cool.

I stuck bunches of the welded stainless works in the roller stands that usually hold the petunia pots for winter decoration along the driveway.   

And in the rain one day, I got the garage urns ready for the winter, too.

I have to tell you about an amazing gift we received from a garden visitor this summer.  Stay tuned for that tale, coming up soon.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Worry Part Deux

 My whole-hearted thanks to everyone for their concern, prayers and hugs.  I can't tell you what it means to have such wonderful friends, even though we've never met.  I am blessed.

And now I'm going to prevail upon you one more time with the other part of my Worry-Fest.

As if worrying about my mother isn't enough, there's the dogs.  We have two dogs as I write this, but my heart is heavy.

Teddy 2002
Teddy is our Original Dog.  The one we acquired as a puppy in November of 2001, a month after my father died.  He was the comic relief we all needed after Dad's passing.  My mother took to him instantly, but also informed me in no uncertain terms that I was not to get her a dog just because she was now a widow.  She had had her heart broken by our late, great German Shepherd, Sparky, twelve years earlier when he died suddenly at the age of ten.

Sparky had been my dog originally, but truth be told, he was Mom's dog through and through.  They had a mutual love connection.  It was amazing seeing my mother play with the powerful German Shepherd.  She was in her 70's then, and would toss a stick (more like a log) for Sparky and when he dashed off to retrieve it, she would run and hide.  Yes, run and hide behind a spruce tree.

Sparky knew the routine and would dutifully tear off after the stick only to stop in his tracks halfway there and immediately reverse directions and chase after my mother, diving around the tree with lightning speed.  To a casual observer this could look like an attack; a tiny elderly woman being mauled by a ninety-five pound killing machine.  But of course it wasn't anything of the sort.  It was two good friends having the time of their lives.

Sparky and me back in the '70s
After he 'found' her, Sparky would jump up in the air and frisk about in front of my mother, wagging his tail and smiling.  I swear that dog smiled more than any other dog I've ever known.  He never hurt her or jumped on her, but he celebrated finding her every time with a joyous doggy dance and Mom would hug him and tell him what a good boy he was.

Sparky followed her everywhere.  He was not a house dog, he had a bed in the garage, but he was never far away.  Where Mom went, Sparky went.  When Mom came down to see me on her bicycle, Sparky was at her side.  When she weeded in my garden, Sparky was lying in the shade on the lawn, ever faithful, ever watchful.   When she was on a tractor, he was trotting by the wheel.  He would stay home when she went to town as he understood following the car was a no-no, but upon her return he would throw a ticker tape parade and scatter the chickens and any cows grazing in the pasture in an effort to show his unbridled joy at her return.

And then one day on her way down to see me, Sparky had to stop running alongside her bicycle.  He simply stopped and abruptly laid down, looking miserable, and he was unable to get up.  I managed to get him into my dad's pickup truck and took him home.  We hoped it was something that would pass, but it was not to be.  I'm not certain what it was that ended his life, but the end was swift.  And my mother was inconsolable.

I have only seen my mother cry twice in my life.  Once when my late brother was having a hard time with his financial situation, I heard her crying in the basement and I was angry.  Nobody should make mom cry.  I knew she didn't realize I'd heard her and I said nothing to her about it, but it was a revelation to me.  My mother did indeed cry; she had emotions I knew nothing about. 

And the second time was after Sparky died.  She cried for days, openly, not even making an attempt to hide her anguish.  I started to really worry for her, but understood completely.  It hurts so much to lose your best friend.  Tears are healing, and eventually she did recover, but she said Sparky was her Last Dog.  She could not go through this again. 

So when I brought Teddy the Shih Tzu puppy up to her house to meet her, she was happy to see him, but that was as far as it went.  Her heart belonged to Sparky.

Teddy is a white dog with a feisty temperament.  He's always been a scrapper, if you think of small dogs as barking cats that are afraid of their own shadow, you haven't met Teddy.  Teddy thinks he's a Big Dog and you would do best to Not Mess With Him.  I've had him pull on his leash with all ten of his pounds in a frantic attempt to go after a dog six times his size to show the other guy who's the boss. Down, boy.

And then, five years ago, I acquired another dog named Pudding.  Pudding is Teddy's sister, given to me by my friend Ann when she had to move to an apartment that wouldn't allow pets.  Pudding is the exact opposite of Teddy, sweet-tempered and very cuddly.  I hate to admit this, but I really didn't want another dog at the time.  Pudding was eight and with the disruption in her life, had potty training issues, so we had to start all over from square one.  She caught on fast, though and soon settled in to life here.  As Sparky was to my mother, Pudding is to me. She is my shadow and totally devoted to me.  She loves to go for walks, but only if I'm on the other end of the leash.  If I'm not coming, she's not going and will simply stand and stare back at the house.
Pudding and Teddy in better days

 Carl tells me that Pudding sits by the door when I'm gone, waiting patiently for me to come back.  He said she watches the ceiling for the telltale shadow that someone is walking outside and seems to know it's me before he does.  Any attempt he makes to have her lie down in her dog bed is useless, she won't rest until she knows where I am.   And when I do walk in, no matter how short of a time I've been gone, she goes into a tap-dancing routine with her front paws and a joyous, tail-wagging, barking, licking extravaganza of a greeting that makes me feel like the Most Important Person in the World.  I guess I am, to Pudding.

I've been very blessed by these two dogs; they've been wonderful companions.  But the years have not been kind to either of them.  Almost two years ago, Pudding suddenly let out a wail one night that cut right through us.  It sounded as if she was in the worst pain of her life.  Joel and I rushed to her side to find her convulsing.  After a minute or so,  her head hit the floor and she stopped moving.  Joel listened to her chest and could not hear her heart.  We both thought it was over.    I was too stunned to cry and kept caressing her gently.  Suddenly she took a huge inhalation and struggled to right herself; again, we were both shocked, it was like a resurrection.  After a few minutes of cuddling, she got out of her bed, took a little drink of water and asked to go outside as if nothing had happened.

Well, the vet visit the next day confirmed that something had happened.  Pudding was in the early stages of congestive heart failure.  She was put on two different heart medications.

Teddy has always had problems with allergies, he is a very itchy dog and very prone to ear and eye infections.  And sadly, one day last fall after I gave him a bath, he fainted.  The vet visit again confirmed the same diagnosis:  Congestive heart failure.  Teddy's heart failure escalated faster than Pudding's at first; he is on three different heart meds.  He has horrible coughing attacks every day, but still eats and drinks as usual.  The coughing attacks are hard to hear, but there isn't much that can be done.  We know we're on borrowed time. 

Both dogs loved to walk, but we've had to cut them down to much shorter excursions as the months go by.  I usually don't put a leash on Pudding because she follows me so closely and most of her walks are around the Back Eight.  Sometimes we go a short way down the road and back, but gone are the days of going along at a clip.  Sometimes Pudding stops to investigate a tantalizing smell and before I realize it, I'm a good twenty feet ahead of her.  When she realizes she's being left behind, she comes running full bore and my heart is always in my throat, no, don't run, it could kill you.

In fact I told the veterinarian about her wanting to run to meet me and he said, "It's very likely she'll be running one day and simply drop.  Dogs just don't realize that they shouldn't stress their hearts."  So I try to watch both dogs carefully to make sure I don't get too far ahead of them by accident.  Until this past Saturday, that is.

Joel, Dave and I had been cutting down some dead elm trees on the line fence in the back forty.  Carl had stayed home to work on taking a nap, he'd been working too hard and needed the rest.  When he woke up, he brought both dogs out to the field for their evening walk.  It was getting dark and we were finishing up, so I opted to walk the dogs back home while the men took the tractors and trailers.  Pudding was as happy as ever to see me and frisking about, but Teddy was having none of it and was clearly tired.  I handed Teddy up to Joel on the tractor and Pudding and I headed for home walking.

I don't know why I didn't notice that Pudding was tiring; I was wrapped up in my own thoughts about Mom and supper and a dozen other things.  Worrying, of course.  Finally I realized she was panting heavily, so I picked her up and carried her the rest of the way home.  She licked my face, Pudding loves to lick, and we went on like this for awhile when she started to squirm a little, so I put her down and she trotted on happily by my side.  By the time we got to the house, she had a hard time making it up the steps so I helped her with the second one.  She went in and laid down immediately, and I could tell her breathing was still fast, but she seemed ok.  I should not have had her walk so far, what was I thinking?

I set about making the evening meal and doing what had to be done afterward while keeping an eye on Pudding.  She didn't want to eat her dinner and I had to help her get outside to go potty that night.  Her eyes were clear and bright, but her breathing was difficult.  She finally snuggled down in her bed, gave me a goodnight lick and seemed more comfortable, so I went to bed.  A few hours later, Teddy woke me up, barking.  Pudding was struggling to breathe and harsh, dry coughs were wracking her body.  Carl and I quickly dressed and took her to the emergency veterinarian, arriving at 3AM.

Her initial evaluation was critical, she was struggling to breathe, her gums and tongue were purple, but when I handed her off to the technician, Pudding leaned into me with all of her might.  She did not want to leave me.  I told her it would be fine, and with one last lick, she was whisked off to an oxygen kennel and some furosemide injections to try to reduce the fluid build up.  We were sent to a waiting room where I numbly realized the error of my ways in making Pudding walk too far.  Why had I done it?

Carl assured me I hadn't intentionally overworked her; he also pointed out this is the progression of congestive heart failure and we knew it was coming.  The very nice veterinarian came in to talk to us and said Pudding's condition was grave, but they would leave her in the oxygen and see if the furosemide would help.  We were to go home and wait. 

As we were leaving, the technician had us leave a deposit and then said, "Would you like to see Pudding before you go and say good night?"

I started to say yes, but Carl cut me off.

"No, it will just upset Pudding more if you go in there and don't take her with you.  Let's just let her rest."

He was right, so, blinking back tears, we left the Vet ER just as the sun was starting to come up.

I called to check on Pudding at 9AM and they were happy to tell us she'd come out of oxygen, had trotted out with them to use the potty and seemed to be breathing much easier.  At my 2PM call, the news was much the same.  And the veterinarian called us for the last time at 6PM to tell us we could come and get her, "I've never seen a dog bounce back so well, she's looking very good."

So, there will be no more long walks for Pudding, I will never make that mistake again.  The furosemide seems to be working for her breathing, but she does not have much of an appetite at all and sleeps a lot.  And this morning, she looked at me so sadly, because she had wet the floor.  I know she couldn't help it, the water pill is relentless and she had no choice.

Teddy isn't doing much better or worse, he coughs when he gets up and struggles for breath, but can still walk around the house fairly well.  He's blind in one eye and his hearing is very bad.  But when Joel comes home, he's always glad to see his person.  As Mom was for Sparky, and I am for Pudding,  Joel is Teddy's favorite person, always has been, always will be.  Teddy is definitely Joel's dog. 

I have another veterinarian appointment for the two of them this afternoon.  I know the news
probably won't be good.  I know it's just a matter of time.  So, in the meantime, I worry over every little cough, monitor their breathing rates and dread going to bed as much as I dread waking up and wondering what happened overnight for both my dear mother and my dogs.

Stress, thy name is Karen.

 Everyone I know who has had a dog die tells me the same thing, I will know when it's time to say goodbye.

And it will be one of the hardest goodbyes of my life.

But for now I will try to keep my worrying to a minimum, for where there is life, there is hope.

Mom and Pudding

“Cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey.”
Jack Layton

Monday, November 3, 2014


"Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere." ~Erma Bombeck

"Worry Wart."

  My father used to call me that all the time.  "You're just like my mother; such a worry wort." 

This was always said with a snort of derision and a look of contempt which led little me to believe I was doing something very wrong. Which then, predictably, led to more worrying about the fact I was worrying.  And what was this about warts?  Oh, great.  Something else to worry about.  Circular thinking which has always been a problem of mine, by the way.

I never knew either of my grandmothers.  Both of them had died long before I was born; my mother's mother died from tuberculosis at the tender age of 43 and my father's mother had died of unknown causes after a surgery in her late sixties.

There is only one existing black and white photo of my Worrying Grandmother.  I often peered at the fuzzy old picture taken in the 1940's, trying to see if I bore any resemblance to her.  She looked very short and stout standing next to her husband on the front lawn of my parent's house, barely coming up to my grandfather's shoulder.  But then I had to remember, my grandfather was very tall standing 6' 6", so she was definitely not a short woman.  She probably was around my height, 5' 9" or so. 

My mother always told me that Grandma would have liked me, and I cherished that thought.  It would have been nice to have a grandmother, especially one that would understand a fellow worrywart.  Mom said that Grandma loved candy, especially chocolate, and had the pounds to prove it. Oh, we did have a lot in common.

Stands to reason that worrying is an inherited trait.  Grandma passed it on to me and I carry on the tradition in her memory.

 I have been having some worrisome times.  Warts will be abounding if I keep this up.  The change of seasons is always a time of melancholy for me, and I should know better.  When summer ends, I feel sad because the gardening season is over, but when winter ends, I feel sad because the stained glass season is over.  And this past weekend Daylight Savings Time ended again, so the days are shorter than ever. 

I don't have the garden completely ready for winter yet, but it's getting there.  Every day I tackle another bed and when Carl comes home, he helps me finish up.  I've wheeled countless loads of hosta leaves and annuals to the mulch pile in the Back Eight. 

Things are changing around here and I'm powerless.  Worry won't change a thing, but I still indulge in it.  As a child, I used to think if I worried about something long enough it would somehow ward it off.  I'm 56.  Definitely not a child anymore, now am I?

So what is on my Top Ten list of things to worry about? 

Number One. 

My mother.

She is 94 now and still in pretty good health, but I can definitely see she's in need of more help with day to day things.  She wouldn't be happy with me writing about this, but I'm sure there are others out there who have the same challenges.  I see Mom every day, and I also noticed the slight changes in her memory and her physical stamina.  At first, my worry meter jumped to Alarm Mode but then I tried to talk myself out of it, after all, she's 94, what do I expect?  I forget things too, no big deal. 

In July, Mom had a demon of her own on her mind.  Her license was up for renewal in August and she was worried she would have to drive around with a driving examiner in order to get her driver's license renewed. 

"If I have to drive around with a cop in the big city, I won't make it," she said.  "I'll be without a license."

Well, the truth of the matter was I was seeing signs that she shouldn't wait until August to give up her car keys.  Her reflexes and balance are not what they once were and her decision making wasn't either.  I hadn't ridden with her anywhere for some time, but I knew she was driving more and more slowly.  Our nearest town is three miles away with a population of 3,000 and one traffic light, but there is a busy state highway to navigate and a nasty intersection that I myself dread.  The county had not cut the grass and weeds on that corner all summer long and I had to crane my neck up to the ceiling of the car to see over them.  I had no idea how my under 5' tall mother was capable of seeing if the coast was clear.  Sigh.

And then there came the day she wanted me to go with her to a bank in town.  She said she'd pick me up at 1PM for her appointment and I could drive.  It was 9AM when she called me, so I said that would be fine.  Only five minutes later, she was in my driveway. 

I went outside and jokingly asked her if she needed something, and she said, "It's time to go to the bank."

I said, "It's 9AM; isn't the appointment for 1PM?"

"No, it's right now."

"Ok," I said, as I went in to change my clothes.

I got behind the wheel and we headed for town.  I asked her which bank she wanted to go to.

"I don't know.  Are we going to the bank?"

"Didn't you make an appointment?" 

"For what?"  

And when I gently asked her why she wanted to go in the first place, she couldn't remember.  I said she'd mentioned something was in a safe deposit box and she looked confused, but agreed to go.  So we signed in at the bank and were ushered into a little room for privacy.  We sorted through the contents of the box but there was no memory of what she was looking for.

 She was scared then.  And, inwardly, so was I. 

"Do you think I'm losing it?" she asked me. 

"No, I think you've just got too much on your mind," I said.  "I bet you'll think of what it was in a day or two."

 But she never did.

And there were other things, too.  She was forgetting what day it was.  One Saturday morning she admitted to me that she had driven to church and was completely surprised that the door wasn't open.  She waited for over an hour and finally drove home.  When I checked on her later that day, she told me about it and asked me repeatedly what day it was.  Something was up.

I made an appointment for her to see her doctor.  She didn't want to go, but gave in and I was to drive her.  I was coming out of the dentist's office the next day at 10AM when I saw her leaving the doctor's office in the adjoining parking lot.  I sprinted across the grassy median and accosted her before she got in her Buick. 

"Did you just come from the doctor?"


"I thought it was at 2PM," I said.  "I was going to go with you, remember?"  To this day, I'm still stumped as to how she got an earlier appointment.


"Well, anyway, what did the doctor say?"

"Hmph.  Nothing's wrong with me.  He said come back in a year."

"Did he do a blood draw?  Take your blood pressure?"

"I guess.  Like I said, nothing's wrong.  This was such a waste of time.  I'm going to get some groceries.  See you later."

And with that, I was left standing in the parking lot as she slowly drove away.   I know I should have commandeered the car.  I should have gone into the doctor's office and demanded to know what went on.  I should have followed her to see how her driving truly was. 

But I didn't. 

And yes, she made it home in one piece.  Thank you Watchful Other Defensive Drivers. 

 I knew I it was time to start worrying about this for real. 

I didn't have to go through this with my late father.  He had given up his car keys at the age of 84.  He'd gotten lost on the one quarter mile drive home from my house to his house one day and driven right on by.  When he got to the corner he was so frightened he turned around and came back to my house and made the announcement; "I'm done driving.  I can't find my house.  You will take me places from now on."

This coming from my father was a completely foreign statement.  My father was stern and larger than life, a man who could drink the best of them under the table and holler loud enough to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  And here he was, admitting he was done driving.  Wow.  I was very, very thankful.  I'd dreaded the thought of taking his driving privileges away for a long time, and to have him adamantly decree I was to be his chauffeur from now on was absolutely unbelievable.  And a huge relief.  I wouldn't have to fight with him after all.

As the saying goes, much of what we worry about never comes to pass.  How very true.  And in a case of 'real life is stranger than fiction' it turns out it was my mother I should have been worrying about.    

A few years ago she told me she was ready to let me drive her where she needed to go, too.  I thought, fine, she knows her limitations and that's great.  No problem, she'll be just like dad.  But as she grew older, she became bolder, even driving in a snow storm which threw me for a loop.  Fear of icy pavement always paralyzed her.  And after the bank/doctor incident, I knew the time to confront this was now.

So, I set about a gradual campaign of preparing Mom for giving up her car keys.  I told her that I was worried about how fast the traffic is now days and her ability to drive. 

"Why?  I only go to town once or twice a week for church and groceries.  And the bank once a month," she said.

"I know, but I think it's time you let me do the driving."

"Why?  I don't get you.  Why do I have to quit?  How will I get groceries?  And how would I get to church?"

"We can go together.  I go to the same stores and church that you do.  Hey, it will be fun!"

"You don't always go to church," she said. 

Hanging my head in shame, true, very true.

"I"ll start going regularly when I drive you," I said.  "See, you'll be saving my soul."

She was not amused.

I told her about age discrimination and how if she had a fender bender or heaven forbid, someone was injured, even if it weren't her fault the book would more than likely be thrown at her since she was 94 years old.  I told her she should be proud of the fact she drove to such a ripe old age, but the fact is, it's time to let me take over. 

"Remember, Dad quit driving when he was 84?  Look, you've already driven ten years longer than he did and that's a true accomplishment.  But you're having some trouble remembering things and I don't want you to get lost.  That would be awful."

"I'm not going to get lost.  What are you talking about?  You think I can't remember where town is?  You worry too much."

Yes, yes, I do.  We all know that.

So I went off on another tangent, telling her that even though her driving skills were fine, her reaction time was not and silly people on the road do silly things like stopping for no apparent reason and kids like to dart out from between parked cars and gosh, golly gee, she didn't want to kill someone by accident and have to live with the guilt, right?

She was unmoved.  This was simply not going to happen to her.  But then she relented, "Ok, ok, if it will make you feel better, I'll let you drive.  I guess it's been long enough."

I was so relieved to hear her say that.  Thank goodness. I got through.

But I made one big mistake.  I didn't take her car keys.

And sure enough, the Buick was in my driveway the next morning.  She was on her way to town, apparently, but came to see me first.

I said, "I thought you weren't going to drive anymore, Mom."

"Why wouldn't I drive?"

Oh, boy.

So, I took her to town that day.  And when Carl got home from work, we snuck up to her garage and tried to disable the battery on her car.  If the car won't start, she can't leave, right?

Except the battery was not under the hood.  We looked Everywhere, and there was no battery to be found.  We both felt like idiots; what the heck?  There we were in her garage, whispering as we searched high and low for the thing and it was nowhere to be found.  Does this car run on magical Pixie Power?  There HAS to be a battery! 

Carl stayed to talk to Mom and I ran home.  An internet search explained the mystery.  The battery to her car is under the back seat cushion.  Yeah, that's where I'd think to look for it.  As in never.

In the end, Carl saved me.  He simply told Mom he was going to take the car keys home so I would have them handy to take her to town.  For some unknown reason, she cheerfully handed him both sets of keys and it's a good thing she did, for the spare keys were hidden in a place even more unlikely than the battery on the Buick.

I'd read that spouses often have an easier time dealing with each other's parents since there isn't the old 'Respect My Authority' dynamic in place with a spouse.  Carl and my mom have a completely different relationship and she doesn't resent him taking control. 

But she did resent me taking control.  For the first time in my life, my mother disliked me with a passion.  And I felt like the Biggest Jerk on the Planet.

I can only imagine the feeling of helplessness that engulfed her when she lost her right to drive.  I know the day will come for me, too.  It will come to all of us if we live long enough.  And I'd like to think I'll be all sweet and understanding too, but with age comes unpredictability. 

"I have nothing to say about my life now.  I won't even go in the garage, because I don't have a car.  You're taking over everything," she told me. 

And my youngest son, David. 

"Your mother has taken my car away.  You can't imagine what that's like.  I don't know how I will eat or get to church.  I'm completely on my own now.  My life is over."

I want to say right now, this is not my mother talking. This is either dementia or the dreaded 'A' word, but this is not the woman I have loved and looked up to all my life.  This is the disease talking.  And I have to remind myself of it. Over and over. 

Because it doesn't end.

I did call her doctor and requested a review of her medication list.  There was one med that hadn't been reordered when her prescriptions were renewed and I wondered why.  It was for nifedipine, a blood pressure pill.

"Oh, yes, somehow that was overlooked, she should be on it," and I hustled down to get her a refill.

After about a week of taking the nifedipine, I noticed a definite change in Mom's memory and attitude for the better.   But then the following week, she was worse.  And had a headache, which was a red flag for me.  I took her blood pressure.  It was 208/125. 

"Are you taking your pills?"  I asked.

"I'm not taking that one you bought for me," she said. "Ever since I took that pill, I itch at night.  It's awful."

"You have to take it, Mom, your blood pressure is too high."

I was on the phone with the doctor, she needs to be seen.

I could tell they weren't really believing my blood pressure machine because they were nonchalant when we came in, but when they saw the numbers first hand in the office, the atmosphere changed. 

"Lucille, have you been taking your blood pressure pill?" the doctor asked.  He knew she wasn't because I'd talked to his nurse earlier, but I liked his approach.

"Your blood pressure is way too high, and you have a headache because of it.  And you might not want to hear this, but your daughter says you're not thinking as clearly lately.  Your brain doesn't work well when your pressure is so high.  We need to bring it down.  You could have a stroke and you don't want that," the doctor said.

She told him it made her itch.  He asked her to try taking it again and the minute a rash appeared, she was to come right back in and he'd take a look at it and maybe change her medication to something else.  But since she'd been on the same med for over 15 years, he doubted it was the culprit, but he was willing to negotiate.  And Mom said she would try taking it again.   The rash never reappeared and her blood pressure is now normal, thank goodness.  I asked the doctor after Mom had left the office if it could be Alzheimer's and he didn't really seem to think so.  The decline could be mini strokes or just plain old age/senile dementia but he felt she was doing very well considering her age. I'm supposed to call if the situation changes. 

 It's just the kid in me that doesn't want my mom to change. 

She should be the Mom and I should be the Kid.

 I don't want to be In Charge.  Heck no!  That's not the way it's supposed to be!  She's the Mom. 

But I stepped in and took over another part of her life.  It was high time I took over the medication dispensing, too.  So every morning I go up to Mom's, fill her a glass of water and watch her take her meds.  She was a bit angry about this, and I can't blame her; I do resemble a warden forcing her to do as I say.  Her mental state has improved quite a bit since her blood pressure is better controlled, at least for now, but our relationship has shifted.  I can tell she doesn't trust me any more, at least not like she did.  I've suddenly taken away her independence and that's a bitter pill to swallow.  I'm her only surviving child, so there is no one else to shoulder this responsibility with, except for Carl, who is doing wonders with Mom.  She likes him.

 Me, not so much. 

She doesn't remember seeing Joel or David even though they stop in quite often.  And she often worries, ironically, that I'm in the hospital whenever she doesn't see a light on in our house after dark.  Worry is becoming a habit with her which is truly sad.  She never was a worrier, she always said my father worried enough for the both of them, so why bother?  I long for those days.

I try not to worry about the future, I truly do.  I try to take each day as it comes and rejoice in the little things.  Yes, she's still alone in her house, though I do check on her several times a day, I know anything can happen.  She's not forgotten to turn off the stove.  Yet. 

I've had people tell me I should put her in assisted living, but that would truly be the last straw in our relationship for now.  She asked me several weeks ago if people (me) could force her to leave her home.  I told her no, I couldn't force her, don't worry about it. 

Years ago she told me if it got to the point where I had to change her diapers and she didn't make any sense, I wasn't to feel badly about putting her in a home.  I know she doesn't feel that way now.  Who would? 

I love her more than words can say.  She was my saving grace in an emotionally abusive childhood.  I will do for her as long as it is in her best interests and I'm capable of handling whatever health crisis we come to, but I also hope we don't cross that bridge.  But I know anything is possible at this stage of life. 

The other morning I went to give her medication and the door was still locked.  I used my key and called out her name as I walked in.

 No answer.  The dread set in.  I didn't want to go one step further.  But I did.

She was still in bed.  She was as still as a stone and my heart was in my throat, until she jumped from the fright of seeing me standing there.  She'd simply overslept and was fine, but both of our hearts were pounding. 

Am I doing the right thing, I worry?  Probably not.  We're making this up as we go along.

Things have calmed down a little since July.  For the most part, Mom's been ok with me carting her around and yes, I do go to church regularly now.   She is still painting garden ornaments and anything I can talk her into decorating for me; she truly loves to paint yet and does fantastic work.  I'm always on the lookout for another project for her to create.  Painting is our salvation.

I am not a great daughter, I will freely admit it.  There are times when I get impatient even though I try my best to hide it.  It isn't Mom that I resent, it's the fact she's being taken away from me, slowly but surely. I throw pity parties for myself on my walks back home from her house, how juvenile.  I pray.  And I walk.  A lot.  Exercise keeps me sane.  I average ten to twelve miles a day, sometimes fifteen. 

 It was easier when my father slipped into dementia; he had been a drinker and was often intoxicated, so I was used to dealing with his altered mental states even as a child.  His mood swings were constant, so it was normal for me even when he didn't know who I was for the last few years of his life.  He was always looking around for Karen, a little four year old Karen that he could never find and it worried him no end. 

"Have you seen Karen?  I don't know where she got to now.  She should be home!"

"I'll go look for her.  She'll be fine," I'd say, patting his arm.

"Don't worry."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Annual Love Affair and More

 One of the most asked questions of Carl and I when we have garden guests is:

"Why do you plant so many annuals?"

My semi-sassy comeback most of the time is:

"Why not?"

We all know I have a bit of a fetish for the Bubblegum petunias in the Riverbed and on the Quarry hills in the full sun, but as we move into the shade after passing through the Egress Gate, another of my favorites come into view.

No annuals at the entrance.  (But hey, we got the Egress Gate welded and repainted this spring after I ran into it with the lawn mower two years ago.)

Looking back through the gate to the north. No annuals here.

 Here we are entering hosta territory and along with the hostas are my favorite shade annuals.

Holey Rock Collection bordered in wax begonias and below:
Tuberous 'Nonstop' begonias in a planter
The begonias have been in bloom since June and these pictures were taken last week in late September.

The plant stand above was an art project Carl made in high school in 1972, it is actually a replica of a huge nail.  It sat in our garage for years until I asked Carl if I could use it as a stand for flowers. When he said yes, it was whisked off to Mom's for a fanciful paint job of butterflies and flowers before coming back home to hold flowerpots for me.

At the base of the Nail Stand are more wax begonias and some red New Guinea impatiens from my friend, Brenda.  Back in July, Brenda closed her greenhouse for the season and brought over several minivan loads of annuals.  I was like a kid at Christmas!  All those beauties to plant, oh, it was wonderful.  

I do grow 90% of my own annuals from seed, but begonias take a long growing season under good strong grow lights to get started from seed, so I usually do end up buying them.  They are powerhouses of bloom that can take shade, some direct sun, and can even withstand very cold nights, though a killing frost will do them in.  And thanks to Brenda, this year I have them in drifts.

When I walk through the hosta beds at night, the white borders illuminate the trail.

I admit to not appreciating begonias very much early on in my gardening career.  I used to think they weren't much to look at, but that's changed over the years when I realized how silly I'd been.  

Brenda also brought me some Angelwing begonias:
It takes a big plant to fill a big urn, and this urn is big.  This is our 2014 Junk Recycling addition to the garden.  We took an old tool stand from the shop (the base/rectangular part) and put a decorative cast iron riser in place on the tool stand and added the top off of a stainless tank which measures some forty inches across and then a can of Rustoleum Bronze paint and there we had it, a big ol' urn for the hosta bed.  And with the addition of the Dragonwing Begonia, it was fantastic from a distance and.......

up close and personal.  

The hosta bed is nice and green, but the splash of color steals the show.  

Annuals make me happy.

As I stroll through the hosta bed, appreciating the delicate tracery of the white pine needles in the sunset, the white begonias catch my eye once again.

I'm already thinking about next summer's annuals for a very different reason.....are you ready?

There's going to be a wedding in the family.

Our eldest son Joel and his beautiful fiancee, Abby, are getting married in June!

I've been poring over my seed catalogs from years past and when the new catalogs come in, you better bet I'll be ordering early.  

We have to get this ol' Quarry Garden looking fantastic for this Most Special Event.  (Can you tell I'm excited?)  I keep thinking of all the stuff I'd like to change before next summer, but time is growing short.  (Castle Aaargh....aaargh........) 

But we'll do what we can as fast as we can.

June will be here before we know it.