Reboot

“You will never be handed anything in life you cannot handle.” I believe these words of wisdom to be true. With the caveat, “Even though you may not think so at the time.”

And as my responsibilities for the care of my elderly mother continue to evolve, I have discovered I need to remind myself of this philosophy from time to time, caveat included. Most recently when I took my mother for her quarterly visit with her family physician.

The good news is that the results of my mother’s blood work showed all positive numbers. And physically she is doing as well as could be expected at 94-years-young. The hiccup came when the doctor pinged the status of her mental health, most specifically the decline in her short term memory.

When the doctor asked if she was experiencing any frustration or anxiety when she could not remember things, she replied she was noticing a lack of patience on her part recently. When the doctor asked her to give him an example, she was not able to reply immediately and instead, remained frozen in confusion.

I watched as both of my mother’s eyes looked to the left, then blinked, then looked to the right. She repeated this pattern a half a dozen times. She was trying to find the information in order to respond to the doctor’s question, but had no idea where to look for the answer. She was like a computer whose hard drive was ready to crash; it’s spinning wheel icon locked; frozen, not knowing where to find its system to reboot.

It was frightening to see the totally blank look on her face, with no recognition or ability to respond.

When prompted again by the doctor, she did manage to say she believed she had recently had lost patience with some situation, but could not recall what it was. She was waiting, she thought. For something rather than someone, she thought. And got annoyed when whatever she was waiting for was not happening right away.

This was the first time my mother had exhibited this type of behavior at this higher level during a visit with the doctor. I had seen snippets of this pattern before, but never this severe. It shook me to my core.

For a woman as intelligent and as independent as my mother, I know how frightening it has been for her to lose her mental abilities. But as time passes, I realize that the more she forgets, to a certain degree, the less frightened she is. She no longer remembers what she is forgetting, if that makes any sense.

It is these situations which prompt me to embrace the words of wisdom that I will never be handed any in life I cannot handle. And by doing so, I initiate a mental reboot of my own internal hard drive. I restart, reset my preferences and clear my cache. And with a fresh perspective, I keep putting one mental foot in front of the other. Because I know if I am going to be able to continue on this journey, I need to embrace the challenges as they come. And move ahead, one small step at a time.

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The Walrus Strategy

The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings

_ _ _ _ _

This little ditty from “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There”, written by Lewis Carroll in 1872, bounced back onto my radar this past week. It entices the reader with the promise of an intriguing chatty-cathy session with the Walrus.

Yet if you read the poem “The Walrus and The Carpenter” through to the end, you discover the Walrus and his pal eat all the oysters they have persuaded to leave a cozy sea bed to share a pleasant walk and a pleasant talk along a pleasant beach. With the oysters occupied with the Walrus’s discussion of topics ranging from cabbages to kings, they were clueless that they were to become nothing more than a sumptuous snack.

Great strategy for the Walrus. Not so good conclusion for the oysters.

Upon reading this poem again…after many years of neglect for a lesson learned as a child sitting at my father’s knee…I realized my husband and I routinely employ the Walrus Strategy when dealing with our puppies. No, we do not eat our puppies. But rather, we have enticed them with the promise of a favorite treat if they will quickly come into the house…so they will not see the bunny sitting along the outside of the fence surrounding our back yard…preventing a rousing romp along the fence line peppered with frantic barks echoing throughout our neighborhood.

Great strategy to keep the puppies calm and quiet. And good for the bunny’s peace and contentment.

When driving home from a visit with my elderly mother yesterday morning, I realized that I have also been employing the Walrus Strategy during my recent visits with her, in an attempt to keep the dementia at bay. I focus our conversation on happy topics, to keep my mother’s mind occupied and distracted from the nasty repetitive thoughts that can sometimes envelope her.

I routinely chat about the antics of our puppies. Or share a little anecdote about one of my husband’s and my recent adventures. My mother typically responds with a memory from 30-plus years ago, and our conversation remains pleasant and keeps a smile on her face.

Great strategy for my peace of mind. Not so good for our nemesis, Missy Dementia.

However, this strategy is not full-proof. Because no matter how hard I try to keep the conversation positive, Missy Dementia will typically rear her ugly head at some point, sending my mother into a mental tailspin as she regurgitates the same nasty thought over and over and over again.

Unfortunately, the Walrus Strategy is hard to re-employ. So, I simply chalk it up to the rules of the game at this stage in my mother’s life. And take comfort in knowing that at least a portion of our visit was pleasant.

And I will let you in on another little secret. In the end, I would much rather be a Walrus than an Oyster.

The Treasure Hunt

When visiting my elderly mother yesterday, our usual game of Hide and Seek quickly turned into a Treasure Hunt. And while there are similarities between the two games, Treasure Hunt has far more appeal for me. Hide and Seek has a singular goal, to locate a particular item. When playing Treasure Hunt, it is the thrill of discovering the unknown which peaks my curiosity.

Our visit started out in a predictable fashion. A hug and a kiss, followed by her query about my husband’s welfare. As I put away this week’s batch of clean laundry, I discovered a nightgown in the drawer where her clean bed linens reside. My mother explained the gown had a torn seam down the one side and she could no longer wear it. And that she intended to hand-sew the seam.

Now I knew she would never sew that gown. But I did make a mental note to find the sewing kit I had given her almost two years ago, which had squirreled its way into some secret hiding spot in her room. If only to prevent her from asking me to bring her another one.

And so our game of Hide and Seek began. First, I checked the inventory of her nightgowns in the closet and in her dresser drawers, to make sure she had clean and wearable gowns. Which led to collecting her dirty underwear and the discovery of a pile of panties that had fallen behind the cabinet in her closet. But it was her request for me to bring her more writing paper on my next visit that turned our game of Hide and Seek into a Treasure Hunt.

I had brought her eight pads of writing paper and a dozen pens only two short weeks ago. And even though she is a obsessive note taker, I had to believe she could not have gone through all that paper in such a short a time. Knowing she had most likely stashed all those pads in the bottom of her nightstand, I sat down on the floor and opened the nightstand doors. The cabinet was crammed full. I checked the clock and knew I had enough time to clean out that cabinet before she was scheduled to go down to the dining room for lunch. So, I girded my loins, and made the announcement.

“Hey, Mom. How about if we see if we can find your note pads in your nightstand here. And who knows what else we may find. We’ll have a Treasure Hunt.” My mother grinned and we were off on our quest.

I pulled out four boxes of bandaids; three were full and one was empty. One box half-full of knee highs. A dozen paperback books. Two plastic containers filled with shoes she never wears. One empty box of Kleenex. One full box of Kleenex. And piles and piles of old junk mail and activity calendars from her assisted living facility and loose pieces of papers scribbled with illegible notes in her handwriting.

And drum roll please…six new pads of writing paper and one packet of six new pens.

As we sifted through the pile of old mail and calendars and loose pieces of paper, we were able to throw the majority of it out. At her insistence, we kept the few Christmas cards she received last year. And of course, the latest issue of her favorite magazine. And her monthly calendar with the facility’s activities calendar paper-clipped to September. I organized the cabinet so she could reach everything easily. With plenty of room for her to toss in new items and hopefully still find what she needs.

And, oh yeah…I did find that illusive sewing kit. It was laying on top of some handkerchiefs in one of her dresser drawers. Since I had been in that dresser drawer only a week ago, I am curious to know how it had magically appeared there this week. I wonder where its secret hiding place was. And what may be hiding there now.

I suppose that discovery will have to wait for next week’s game of Hide and Seek and our latest game…the Treasure Hunt.