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July 20, 2017

Elderly Mothers and the Mind

Like that old song said, it’s slip-sliding away.

The mind is certainly a strange and wondrous thing. But for Mom, her mind is slowly becoming a sieve that leaks facts and knowledge and the ability to function. For me, dealing with her daily has become a puzzling conundrum.

What is confusing to me is that I never know who she’ll be at any particular moment. We went to Goodwill yesterday clothes shopping. I flipped through the dresses, as she sat in her flower-bedecked walker and asked her to choose. My blessed sister-in-law had tried to buy dresses for her but Mom was obstinate in not wanting them. I was worried the same would happen here.

Let me pause a moment to mention that at the Facility, all the dozens of walkers are individually identified in some way – flowers, bows, a flag, a stringer of small paper fish. Hers has white silk roses on one handle and purple flowers on the other. Come to think of it, considering her time in Mexico, I should deck it with garlands of bougainvillea.

Anyway, back to Goodwill. After Sister got through cleaning up and throwing out some of Mom’s rather bedraggled clothes and her beloved nightgown, Mom has been sleeping in her clothes. She sometimes remembers to change outfits in the morning, but two days running she had worn the same rather ratty sleeveless shift, not bothering to change out of it. She desperately needed some new clothes.

Here I must stop again (forgive the digressions) and say that most of the ladies at the facility all dress elegantly. We’re not talking Nordstrom, I don’t think, but certainly they are almost all properly attired, color-coordinated, wearing matching jewelry, beautifully coiffed, fingernails painted and make-up carefully applied.

Not Mom. She has been living “on the lam” so to speak for so long that she doesn’t do make-up, or style her hair, or do more than file her nails occasionally. It is also because she used to swim a half mile every morning. Al would drop her off at the pool. She would swim her half mile then get out of the pool, shower, dress, run a comb through her hair and off they would go. Her clothes were often those she had made herself. Literally. By hand. From old bedsheets.

She certainly used to dress nicely, before Al. Her mother always dressed her properly in Miami. She attended Miss Harris’s Private School for Young Ladies and her friends were the daughters of Miami’s elite. When she moved to Mexico, she was part of the American community and a member of the Junior League, the Art Club, the Bridge Club, etc, etc, etc. She knows how to dress. Or she used to. Before Al.

Now she worries about the cost of things. Over the last forty years, Al has all too often “invested” her Social Security money along with his in dubious and totally unprofitable schemes and scams. For years she has hoarded every penny, accepting his dumpster-diving as a necessity for living. She would have pitched a fit at paying $20 or $30 for clothes at any of the major outlets. Hence, Goodwill.

Now, sitting facing the racks of clothes at Goodwill, she actually made choices. Yes, that one. No, not that one. She liked the long-sleeved ones. Not the sleeveless ones. The brighter red colored one, the green with gold buttons, the blue patterned. The soft feeling of rayon or silky fabric. A flannel night gown. She knew what she was doing. Blessings on Goodwill. Seven outfits for under $15. She was pleased. So was I.

By the time we got back, however, she was gone again. Unsure where we were. Unsure where her room was. Unable to make it to lunch. She collapsed on the bed and was asleep in seconds. I brought her lunch but she was too worn out to eat.

And yet, by evening, she had somehow turned on the TV and watched Ellen. She had gotten up and found the dining room. She noticed the clock outside the dining room wasn’t right and had taken it all the way to the front office for a new battery. By the time I got there, she had finished eating and had called for her walker.

I’ve heard of Sundowner’s and I understand that often the elderly have difficulty understanding or remembering in the afternoons. With Mom, however, I never know. Her mind, perhaps like the tide, is just drifting in and out, sliding away and returning.

And all I can do is wait and hope and watch the sand slipping away.

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About Caroline Castillo Crimm

Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!

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