In the Trenches
It did not take me long to realize how fearful my mom was about someone:
- Stealing her house
- Taking her stuff
- Losing control of what she wanted to do daily
One thing she was constantly doing was losing her glasses, although I must say she could do without them most of the time. She could even read some print that I could not see without my reading glasses.
Now, mom had become agitated because she could not find her glasses.
“Tell you what mom”, I said. “If I see your glasses lying somewhere, I will be sure to let you know.”
That answer seemed to satisfy her, as she just turned away from me, thank God, and sat down on the couch to watch the soaps.
Now we are into the summer of 2014. We had a wonderful caregiver, named Louise. I must give Louise her props for her unwavering strength of attempting to feed my mom. Every day at lunchtime, Louise would attempt to feed mom.
“Come on Mattie,” says Louise. “Let’s eat”. “I don’t need you to fix anything for me,” mom says. “I ain’t crazy yet.”
“Nobody said you was,” replied Louise. “I want to eat lunch with you, and I hope you want to sit down and eat with me. Aren’t you hungry?”, asked Louise.
“You’re just wasting my food. This is my damn house, and you need to leave”, replied mom.
“You can’t make me leave,” said Louise. I get paid to be here. I am your caregiver.”
“Caregiver?” said mom. “What the hell are you talking about. I don’ need no caregiver. Get out of my house or I will call the police. They will make you leave.”
Sitting at the kitchen table, I turned around and said, “Jessie (i.e., POA sister) pays her to be here, mom. You should talk to Jessie”.
Mom swung around to talk to me and said, “Naw, Jessie would not do that to me. I have to call the rest of the children and tell them I want all of you out of my house.”
In the meantime, Louise was fixing mom a hot meal from the food prepared by Jessie and her husband, Calvin. Every Saturday, Jessie would stop by to grocery shop for mom and to throw out the food from the previous week, whether it was spoiled or not.
Finally, after microwaving the dish of rotisserie chicken, mixed vegetables, and sweet potatoes, Louise placed them on the dining room table for mom to enjoy.
“What is this?” Mom asked.
“This is your lunch,” said Louise. “I am now going to get my lunch bag from the family room and sit at the table, so we can eat together.”
With my mom, you never knew what you were going to get. We would all hold our breath to see what would happen next. It was like watching a soap opera unfolding daily.
On this day, mom must have been feeling alright, since she followed Louise’s lead and went to sit down at the dining room table to wait for Louise to get her lunch to break bread together.
Both me and my daughter, Trisha, breathed a sigh of relief. We dodged a bullet that day.
All was well, until it was time for Louise to vacuum the carpet. In my poor mom’s mind, it was her who:
- Cooked her own meals
- Did her own grocery shopping
- Paid all her bills
- Vacuumed the floors everyday
- Washed the clothes every week
- Went to the mailbox to get the mail daily
- Tended to the flower garden and mowed the lawn
It was Jessie who, for the most part brought her prepared food from her home or hot food from the grocery store and brought it for mom to eat weekly. It was also Jessie who did the grocery shopping on Saturdays. In some ways, she was mom’s personal assistant.
My sister, Dolly and her husband, Paul, would stop by one or two times during the week to see that mom ate dinner and sometimes, lunch on the weekend, except when Dolly was out of town.
The caregiver was the one who tried to see that mom ate breakfast and lunch on Mondays through Fridays. She vacuumed the floors when mom would allow it. And she would clean up mom’s messes, i.e., finding spoiled food in the bedroom or a mess made in the toilet and the shower by mom. What mom really needed at times was a home care assistant.
As live-in caregivers, me and my daughter, Trisha, had to endure the name calling, i.e., you’re fat, you’re lazy, you’re stupid, ad nauseum. Every night, after mom went to bed, Trisha would mop the kitchen/bathroom floors as needed, vacuum the dining room area and the living room, as needed, check for rotten fruit or spoiled food that mom had hidden, wash any dirty dishes that mom had hidden away, clean up mom’s messes at the times she peed on the floor or left poop on the floor.
Every month or so, Dolly and Jessie would come over and check if mom’s bedding needed to be washed, or if there were clothes that needed to go to the dry cleaners. Despite the mountain of clothes mom possessed, she would only wear the same three outfits every day. It was difficult to get her to change what she was wearing. Even on Sunday, we could not get her to wear the beautiful clothes she had previously worn. I think it was her way of having control over something in her life.
On reflection, I felt so bad for her because after 40 years of hard work, this should have been her time to travel to visit her sisters in Chicago or to visit her grand-children, or to just sit and do nothing if that’s what she wanted to do. This vicious disease, Dementia, took all of that, and more, away from her.
So, getting back to Louise, she would drag the vacuum cleaner from garage (it was a 25-year-old hoover) and proceed to vacuum the family room and the living room. Then she would drag the vacuum upstairs to vacuum mom’s bedroom. She would offer to do our rooms as well, but I knew she had her hands full with mother nipping at her heels.
In every room Louise vacuumed, mom would be following close behind her, yelling:
“What do you think you are doing? I don’t need you to do anything for me. Go vacuum your own damn house. You are stupid because I don’t have any money to give you. Why don’t you go home and clean your own house?”
Louise chose to ignore her and would go about the business of vacuuming the house.
Here is the kicker: It did not matter how argumentative, how frustrated, how vicious my mom had been with us during the day, when Louise was ready to leave, she would look at Louise, give her a wonderful smile, and say, “Come give me a hug. Thank you for all you are doing for me.”
Louise would smile in return and give her a big hug and tell her she would see her the next day.
Considering that, it offered us Hope that mom would be okay. That she was not entirely consumed by her illness.