The Raven Lunatic

Still trying to figure it all out

Bernadine Spitzsnogel

Bernadine Spitzsnogel
December 01
All material on "The Raven Lunatic" blog is copyrighted by the author. Author of "The Luxury of Daydreams"--available on amazon and all major book sites.


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FEBRUARY 27, 2011 10:16PM

Playing Catch With Mom

Rate: 37 Flag


When you visit the Grand Canyon, you learn that several temperate zones are represented.  There can be a sloppy winter storm slowing down the world at the rim; while thousands of feet below the warm winds blow around a pleasant desert climate.  The Grand Canyon is so huge that it represents a microcosm of our changing globe.

My mother has multi infarct dementia.  Once a month or so I make the 200-mile trek north to the Old Folks Home where she lives with my father who is her 24.7 caregiver.  I am a long distance caregiver, while I call my parents every day I'm not there for the gruesome regularity of her care, management of medicine, meals, and adult diapers every day.

Watching my parents deteriorate over time is quite sad,  I am mindful, however, of the gift of having them both past four score and seven.  While things are not always easy, the time is a gift.  I am reminded of my cousin's wife who lost her 61-year-old mother to a stroke ten years ago.   When I complained about dealing with my mother's dementia and my father's caregiving struggles, my cousin gently chastised me and reminded me to be thankful that they are both still here.  She is correct, though it isn't always easy to think on those terms when there's a crisis.

 My mother's personality now -- years after her initial diagnosis -- is like the Grand Canyon, deep, mysterious, sunny, and gloomy.  Like the magnificent canyon, it is sometimes difficult to take my mother in totality.  Sometimes there are storms at the surface; other times it seems as if nothing is going on;  What she will say or do is becoming completely unpredictable.  She is in great physical health -- while my father is wearing the physical stress of all that he does for her.

She is always happy to see me when I arrive, though she calls me "Spooky."  This is a strange little habit that's developed over the past few years.  I think because she can't remember names, she calls everyone "Spooky."  What's odd about this is that I never heard her call anyone by the name of Spooky before her dementia, nor am I aware that she knows anyone by that name.  Where did it come from?

 Friday night at dinner, Mom was trying to cut a sliced dill pickle with her knife and fork.  Somehow she has lost the ability to always know what or how to do something.  Dad cuts up her food at every meal.  Of course he didn't cut up the pickle, so she did. I noticed that she is starting to struggle with using a straw, and that she tipped her milk glass up so high that soon Dad will be helping her drink.  

 She is quite childlike and trusting.  Saturday night my dad went to college reunion with my brother.  My job was to give  Mom her evening pills, and put her to bed.  I've done it before, but each time she needs more help as she regresses.  She stood by the bed waiting for me.  I took off her clothes, hung them up, and put her pajamas on.  We went  into the bathroom and she took out her bridge and handed it to me.  I wasn't thinking about that, and it was unexpected.  I had to laugh, because I was standing with her teeth in my bare hands.  Not something I thought I would ever do.

 She takes a memory class at Purdue University, while my father is in a caregiving class.  The instructor suggested my dad get a child's ball and play catch with her.  Play catch?  Are you kidding me?  That seemed ridiculous until I thought about it, and then it made sense.  I went to Walgreens on Saturday and bought a soft plastic neon orange glow-in-the-dark ball that looks like the hair on Cousin It from The Addams Family.

Mom has to do several things, watch the ball, throw up her arms, bring them together to catch it.  At first, she couldn't do them, she couldn't find the hand-eye coordination.  She would put up her arms too late.  After a few minutes she got it, and it was fun to play with her.  She will not get better, but activities like this slow the inevitable deterioration. 

I left today after church and brunch. Now when I leave, I wonder if it will be the last time I see them in this life.  That can be said for all of us.  I keep working on loving the small moments, like holding her teeth in my hands and appreciating how much she trusts me.


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Dear Bea,
I was just ready to turn my computer off for the night when I saw you had posted. This piece is so sweet and sad and loving. I'm glad it is the last thing I will read tonight. There is so much I want to think about.~r
The Grand Canyon analogy is brilliant.
Bea, I have come to the conclusion that it is all about these "small moments".

- thank you for writing about this.
Love you and love this reflection. It is eloquent and moving and full of so much emotion and love. R xo xo
so moving, so many levels, like you said. who knows tomorrow? i think i might get my mom a fuzzy ball like that.
Beautiful and sad. I think of Shakespeare's the ages of man: from the womb to the tomb.
This was written with so much love I could feel it. My biggest fear is to end up with no memory like your Mum. If Steve were not around who is going to look after me. I can't stand the thought.
Rated with hugs
Bea, this is beautiful. My aunt and Uncle are deteriorating quickly and Daniel's father is 88 and was just admitted to the hospital yesterday with Congestive heart failure among other heart problems; this could end in open heart surgery. You're right when you say you never know about the last time. Good luck to you. -R-
So heartfelt, Bea and its good to see you still keeping a sense of humor
Bittersweet. I love that you found a fun way to interact with your mom... I wonder if you might get more of these kinds of ideas if you spoke with the activity director at the home. Thanks for sharing. *R*
i love the Cousin It ball. if you're pretty sure someone you throw it to might not catch it, that's a perfect ball, isn't it? i was thinking what it must be like to be your mom, and i wondered whether she remembers playing catch when she was younger or whether she does instinctively knows to try. it's such a mystery, isn't it, a/b? i'm glad you have this time with her. that last line about trust is exceptional.
I keep working on loving the small moments, like holding her teeth in my hands and appreciating how much she trusts me.

Simply beautiful, poignant and so very down to earth. Your love and care and thoughtful concern shines through Bea. Thank you for sharing.
Lovely sentiment, great detail, and a bang-up use of the Grand Canyon as a metaphor make this a rich and elegant narrative, Bernadine. I went through the same experience. You've charted its emotional contours exactly.
Yay for the EP, Bamy!

"She will not get better,..." These are the words that I believe make it so sad.

Beautiful, sad and very well written. R
This is beautiful and heartbreaking. Loving the small moments is the best thing to do. I lost my father to a car accident when he was only 54. You are lucky to have your parents but that doesn't mean you can't also mourn the loss of who your mom used to be. I often think that one of the few good things of my father's tragic death was that I will never have to see him suffer from a drawn-out disease. Either way, life is miraculous and sad and you've captured that so well here.
Bea's momma. Such a tender story. Can she sing with you? Mine loved to sing for awhile, and a surprising amount of memory could be accessed through singing. I'd always think that too as I pull away in the car, that that was the last time I'd see her. We just got the two week to two month head's up last week from the doc, so I'm heading back for what probably really will be the last time. Lots of us in that boat with you Bea.
I know parts of this story all too well, Bea. You approach it with intelligence, sensitivity and humor.
Maybe Spooky was a friend from like childhood. A friend of mine's grandmother got to the point she called everyone Francis. This went on for awhile and finally, they did some research and discovered Francis was her best friend in like 2nd grade.

The brain is still a mysterious wonder to us! ~nodding~

Rated with hugs.
What a wonderful post and well deserved EP. It helps me as I go off today to work at an Adult Day Center. I love the special moments and the deepness of each person. Maria Shriver said that in taking care of her mom with dementia she was able to give the love and closeness that they had all been too busy to attend to as functioning adults. Being a little fuzzy when you get old opens the door to kindness. As part of her family you get to hug her now. My mom is very independent and proud. There are no hugs and a fear of becoming senile. But I know about the love part of this kind of dementia and I wonder if my mom will have her dreaded stroke and open herself up to some hugs from us. It would be amazing. Thanks for this.
I am very touched by your post--you have said much in these paragraphs, and I can see you and your mom together so well. Your words are also a sweet and sad reminder of my own mother in her last few months.
I hear you so clearly and relate, as I'm in a parallel universe to yours with my mother, Bea. My sister is her primary care giver who does what your father does. I cherish the times I spend with my mother, always leaving with that question if that is the last time I'll see her, too. The reality is, they will get better, so we have to make the best of their living years. A very poignant piece .
My mother was sick for several years and her mind and ability to speak deteriorated. We kept her in her home with caregivers ( she asked to stay in her house) . I learned to lower my expectations. I expected the visits to be rough and they often were. So when she could speak (even one word) or smile it was a great visit. The small things were indeed a comfort.
CORRECTION: The reality is, they will notget better, so we have to make the best of their living years.
Sweet and moving. I will send it to my friend, whose dad is also the loving caregiver of his wife.
I was my mom's caregiver. I think it is important that we write these stories. Blessings to you and your parents. R.
Your cousin was correct. Your role in all this is a blessing and I hope you see it that way always. Peace to you --
Nicely done. You capture moments in time very well.
Bea, this is so touching, raw and true. You are in the midst of a difficult time with your folks but you get the big picture - that is a gift for all of you. R
This piece glows with love, sensitivity and humor, Bea. And as Joan mentioned, the Grand Canyon - perfect. And playing catch, who woulda thunk.
Wow . . . chica, this is one beautiful tribute to the journey which you are on . . . sad, but true and full of heart. You are so wise to take it moment by moment . . . a lessons for all of us, at all times, but especially when the journey takes turns like this one.
This was a sweet demonstration of how love grows to encompass all things, is accepting and patient, because of the love that was sown early in life. Wonderful piece and I am glad you shared it.
You are an amazing daughter with the best possible attitude. Your sharing here is so touching and heart wrenching in some ways. It brings back the difficulties and pain of watching my own mom deteriorate over the 12 years after my father died. It was the saddest thing I ever watched happen to such a life-filled, active and healthy woman. This is really tough stuff and you are so good about this, even with the substantial distance you bridge so often. I love the idea of tossing the ball and how that reenergizes the brain and psyche, even if only for moments at a time. That is a gift.
Bea, I lost my own mother to dementia in 2005 though she began drifting away many years before. You're right -- the complete trust is amazing even when we know there are moments when we are almost complete strangers to them. My Mum came up with some different names too. I found it a strangely fascinating. As you note maybe there was something deep from the past that made sense for her in the here-and-now. Enjoy as long as you can ...even in the sadness there can be much love.
glad to see this on the cover
life is what is and it never seems fair, and we need more time and we never get it
and all we can do is cherish
What a beautiful, heartbreaking piece. A reminder to live fully in the moment and embrace the moments we have. Thanks for this!
You know, Daddy recently was approved for some home PT and the therapist brought this little 'bicycle' thing. It sits on the floor and he pedals it. He goes on that thing like a hamster on his wheel. We have to make him stop. I don't know why he took a shine to it. He liked to ride bikes with me at the beach, but it wasn't a hobby or anything. Never theless..., never the less. You never know what will catch his eye. Today, the bike - tomorrow, the handle on the oven. Still, the mobility factor is so important, to keep them moving as long as possible, so your ball caught MY eye.

Dad lost the ability to cut food, but he can still manage his fork and spoon and can still pull from a straw, but couldn't blow out his birthday candles this year. We all just keep going as best we can and make the most of what he has left, although it's disappearing with those little infarcts, as you mentioned with your mother. Eh.

"Life is hard, and then you die" was something Dad used to say. I think he'd be disappointed to know the latter doesn't always come when you might want it to.

The BOLDs have returned. I did this with italics on someone else's blog this morning. I think it's Fusun's comment that may have the hyperlink goof. PM me if you need a quick fix.
So heartbreaking yet so heartwarming, Bernadine. I love how you have expressed the depth of your love for both your parents, and how you have understood that, though things will not get any better, you cherish those important little moments you can still share with them. I have no experience with dementia, but I imagine that it is much like the depths and variety of the Grand Canyon.
Can't read this, but glad you wrote it. Go more.
I'm so sorry I missed this - I've been away from OS for a day and a half. What a moving piece, with love radiating from it.
Sometimes the moments that are hardest to share are, in fact, the moments that most need air.
Bernadine, what a poignant post. There is nothing more difficult than to watch someone you love slowly slip away. Cherish every moment you have left and when things seem overwhelming take a moment and picture your mother at her best; the way she would want to be thought of. It's our memories that keep us going through our struggles.