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November 5, 2015

Elderly Mothers Getting Better

Wine and ice cream is a good mix.

Wine and ice cream is a good mix.

I returned home to find Mom, still in her jammies at 5 in the afternoon, happily drinking a glass of caregiver Pauline’s wine and eating a bowl of ice cream. Checking the refrigerator, it seems she had reheated the bowl of spaghetti successfully for supper. Checking the sink, she had made herself a bowl of oatmeal that morning. Bobbe, my hospice nurse friend, might say that is enough food. If she’s hungry, she’ll eat.

“I’m getting better,” Mom said to me. “I’m going to get well enough to take care of myself.” Inwardly I groaned, but I didn’t contradict her. What does one say in the face of such determination? None of us know what the future holds. It makes me crazy when someone promises, with heartfelt sincerity, that a future event will or won’t actually come to pass. We don’t know the future!

Mom assures me “I can take care of myself!” Can she? Well, she didn’t burn down the trailer while I was gone. And she didn’t starve to death (hard to do in three days), or cut herself (no blood trails

Kitchen in the trailer is still intact

Kitchen in the trailer is still intact

anywhere), or burn more beans (been there, done that and have the beans to prove it). There is a mysterious yellow stain on her face, neck and pajamas that she can’t explain and I haven’t figured out, yet. However, she positively assures me that “I can feed myself!” As she gets more feeble, what are the odds that she will continue to do so?

I am beyond thankful, right now, that she can still dress herself, bathe herself, and go to the bathroom alone. She has, of course, ripped the toilet-paper holders off the wall in both bathrooms trying to pull herself up off the toilet. Now there are sturdy steel handles affixed to the studs. I do learn. However, isn’t the time coming when she won’t be able to do all that?  I’m not delusional. That is a future I can predict with considerable certainty.

My sister insists that positive thought can make us better. Claims it sends “good vibes” out into

Positive vibes from Sister

Positive vibes from Sister

the universe, or something like that. She reprimands me for being so negative. When I’m negative, she says, I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. She maintains that if Mom thinks she is getting better, she will get better. Really? At 96?

After being gone for the last three days, I find that Mom has gotten along fairly well. So should I back off and let her take care of herself? How much should I help? Should I let her fix her own oatmeal breakfast? Her supper? Or do I continue to bring her breakfast and supper on a tray? And when she’s not hungry at lunch, do I insist on making her a ‘fruit smoothie’ that she doesn’t know includes two eggs, yogurt, Breakfast Essentials, fruit and buttermilk? Since it’s sweet, she will drink it eagerly, even when she isn’t hungry. Okay, perhaps she is getting a trifle plumper.

She can, I’m sure, make her own meals. After all she’s done it, as she says, for 96 years. But my heart leaps to my throat when I think of her broiling the buttered Italian bread in the oven. The chances are beyond good that she will (a) burn the bread or (b) leave the broiler on for the rest of the day. Now my sister would say THAT is negative thinking, except that, hmm, yes, actually, she’s done it before–frequently.

And the gallon of milk is often left, forgotten, on the counter. Okay, eventually, she might notice it. And oatmeal boils out of the too-small bowl she uses, spreading, unseen—white on white—all over the rotating tray in the microwave. Okay, that, too, is not such a big deal. I can clean the tray. She can no longer see that the uncovered bowl of (burned) beans have splattered on the inside of the microwave. Dear God, can beans be burned twice? Spaghetti supper, carefully covered in plastic wrap before I left, neither splatters nor spills as it reheats, but how much spaghetti can she eat?


Al won't stay in Huntsville.

Al won’t stay in Huntsville.

Her intent, evidently, is to go back to running the roads with Hubby Al. She told me she awoke from a dream with her head on his “hairy chest.” She misses him. Do I support her delusions? Or just go on saying, “Yes, Mom. I’m sure you’re getting better.” And keep bringing in the trays. And keep her from hitch-hiking to Florida to be with him.

Elderly Mothers, General , , , ,
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!
  1. I think it is wonderful that she is able to do so much for herself. And you are doing an amazing job of creating a place for her to live and to be as independent as she can manage. A couple of thoughts – I’d switch to quarts of milk (easier to pick up, less to spoil if it gets left out), and perhaps get a toaster with toaster oven on the bottom (check Amazon – Hamilton Beach makes a good one for about $40) that will pop up her toast rather than letting it burn in the big oven. We got one for Bill’s mother (a youthful 93) and it has solved her toast burning issues. I think every mother who grew up before toasters were common has a real talent for making charcoal out of toast. My mother certainly did!
    I am proud of my Tia Lou for managing as well as she does! And proud of you for all you are doing for her. Give yourself a pat on the back!

  2. My thoughts exactly Becky! Also Pug, why is she not on Hospice? It might solve many of your dilemmas, and would cut your having to check on her about 40%. Lord knows, I went throughout most of this with Dorothea, Mike’s Mom, here at home, before we finally had to move her to assisted living/round the clock hospice. All in all, she had about 2 years of hospice assistance.

    Once again, you brought me into Tia Lou’s world and I love, love reading your missives every day. Thanks.

    • I don’t even know who to go to about Hospice. I’ll check with my friend Bobbe Nolan who was one before she moved to Eagle Lake. I have to see her on the 19th anyway
      Thanks for the suggestions! It’s been wonderful to be back in touch
      with you and Tita and Carlos. Maybe Becca and I will get to the D.F. in February.

  3. I certainly admire you, Caroline, for all you are doing for your mother. You are doing a great job caring for her. I see (and have experienced) your dilemma. I remember being in the throes of a transition time in caring for my mother where there were no good answers. Life just unfolded as it did and I never was able to figure it out. It wasn’t smooth and predictable, it wasn’t pretty all the time. Characteristics that helped Mom survive seemed to become more intense as she aged. Softening self-talk seemed to have boiled away and left some less attractive characteristics stronger than ever. Dealing with that allowed me to see my own inadequacies, my own less-than-lovely ways to cope. It’s really hard on someone like me who needs answers and measures her life each day by how well she accomplished her agenda. I try not to do that anymore, but it “ain’t natural” for me. It’s been three years since my wonderful mother died. NOW, I wouldn’t take anything for that journey with her. It’s a sacrifice, and we have nothing to say until we have experienced it.

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