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."


FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Dear, dear Karen ~ Bless your heart! It is not easy seeing our loved ones go through changes in their personalities and health.

May you feel God's love, peace and strength flowing through and surrounding you at this time.

Love, hugs and prayers ~ FlowerLady

Peonies & Magnolias said...

My heart goes out to you and your Mom! Sending you hugs!!!


Karen said...

Rainey, thank you dear friend for the comforting prayer. Thank you so much.

Sandy, thank you for your concern and hugs,I so appreciate it. :-)

Alison said...

Hugs, Karen! This is such a difficult time. I'm so sorry that recent events have caused your relationship with your mom to deteriorate. My sister lived with my mom for the last 10 years of her life, and I didn't envy her for it. I'm a worrier too. Also, I'm pretty sure you didn't get your worrywart tendencies from your grandmother, you got them from your dad. He was just better at hiding them from you (but apparently he didn't hide them from your mom).

Karen said...

Alison, thank you for your kind comment. Oh my father was a horrible worrywart, he was far worse than me. But look what I have to look forward to, oh, boy. Mom held up much better than Dad did, but since it appears I take after him, this isn't going to be a walk in the park. My deepest respect goes out to the caretakers of the world, it is a job that is underappreciated mostly unpaid and unbelievably difficult. I don't know what can be done to make elder care more humane for both parents and children; it's truly a tangled mess right now. I'm just taking it one day at a time right now; Mom's still able to handle cooking, dishes, and keeps a cleaner house than I do. But I'm vigilant.

Thank you for taking the time to read this drivel, I am a horrible blogger lately, just no time in the day. Last night was a fluke, I was unable to sleep and the last post was the result.

Missy said...

Karen, You worry because you care. We went through a similar time with John's mother some time ago and he found it hard to adjust to the change from obedient dutiful son to caring but realistic son. You have great insight. You have a wonderful husband to support you and a great relationship with your Mum.
Big hugs for both of you from the other side of the world.

Karen said...

Ros, thank you for the hugs and concern. I really need it and I'll be sure to read Carl your comment. It is good to hear from other people who are going/have gone through the same experience. I know I'm not alone. :-)

PlantPostings said...

It's difficult when the roles reverse--even a little bit. It's obvious that you love your mom and you're thinking about her best interests ... but I know that doesn't make it any easier. I hope you'll experience a plateau now, where you'll be able to enjoy each other's company and share pleasant times. The transitions are tough. Prayers for you, your mom, and your entire family, Karen.

Karen said...

A plateau would be very welcome about now, and I think we may be headed in that direction. Transitions are tough, you are so right. Thank you for your kind comment. :-)

Donna said...

I worried myself right into Shingles because of my mother's health issues that still have not ended....quite a roller coaster...I am doing better letting go of worry but with family it is hard...take care of yourself Karen!

Karen said...

Donna, oh no, not shingles. I hope you've recovered, I've heard they are absolutely awful. And you are so right about it being a roller coaster. The ups and downs can be exhausting. Thank you, Donna.

outlawgardener said...

The transition from child to caregiver is a difficult one and I'm so sorry that you're going through this. Bless you for being such a caring daughter. Sending warm thoughts your way!

Karen said...

outlawgardener, I so appreciate your concern. My mother deserves better than she gets from me sometimes; she's had a hard life. It is wonderful to know there are people cheering me on.

Betsy said...

It is so darned hard what you are going through with your mom.
You are a wonderful daughter and you will do what it takes to take care of her. You have to be mindful of your needs to and enjoy yourself as much as possible to stay healthy and strong.
So wonderful you have a husband who is so helpful and there with you through this.
My husband is wonderful for me at this time and sometimes I feel he is being neglected.
My sister and I and a brother ( the rest seem to be to busy or don't want to be bothered)
have been on a roller coaster with mom for about 4 years now. I feel like I will lose it sometimes. She had to stay in her home and we worked so hard in our homes and hers. Visiting angels are NOT cheap but it's what we did to keep her there.
Our cousin, and friend also came in for a Fee to stay with mom as she has to be helped with the bathroom and bathing. She is in a private home now and is doing very well. We just worry and feel guilty for not having her at our home but it's not set up for her needs. Plus I have a hard time with some of her needs
(I am ashamed to admit that, but true) we make sure she's being treated good and see her once to twice a week for each one of us.

God Bless you and your family always

Karen said...

Betsy, bless your heart. I know you understand the worry and the guilt and all the other emotions that come with this plus the work. I'm glad for you that your mom is in a safe place now. She is lucky she has caring children to visit her, so many elderly do not. Hugs to you, dear lady.