The Check’s in the Mail
My mother’s dementia starts out slowly. I first notice it in phone conversations. I hear the same stories I heard the week before. I also hear about the bills she needed to pay and how she was writing out her checks that day. A few days later when I call she is still “working on those bills”. Several times Verizon or the gas or electric company did call her about her bill and she had to pay it over the phone. We worry that someday she won’t pay in time and her utilities will be cut off.
My mother has always been very independent, even when my father was alive. She has definite ideas about the way things should be done and she is extremely organized. In contrast to my sporatic record keeping, she kept a balanced checkbook and a journal where she wrote down everything she spent for that month. She likes to boast that she has journals for every year since she married, fifty-nine in all.
When I go up for a visit I find her latest journal in the den and have a look. Her last entries are in sharp contrast to her earlier ones. My mother’s usual neat, precise handwriting is light and shaky. She had gotten mixed up on some of the months and a few times had even written the wrong year. I knew I needed to do something, but would have to proceed slowly. When I first make the suggestion to help she reacts as I knew she would. “I have been paying my bills all my life, I don’t need any help!” After awhile I do convince her to let me take her utility bills and set them up to be paid automatically.
I take her bills home, but what seemed to me like an easy job turns out to take hours of phone calls, computer time and paperwork. I am put on hold and they won’t talk to me unless I am my mother. Half of her accounts are still in my father’s name. They don’t know that he has been gone for 12 years. On the websites I have to know or create numerous account passwords and give out out personal information and I am required to mail numerous Power of Attorneys. My Mother’s SS#? I have it memorized! What have I learned, though don’t say you heard it from me: It’s much easier to just pretend to be my mother.
I gradually take over all of her banking and have sole use of her ATM card to deposit and withdraw money she needs. She’s mad about it, although she doesn’t complain to me. She does bemoan to my brother and sister that “Kathy tries to control me. I can take care of my own money; I have been paying bills for years!!” She is always griping about needing money, but she can’t keep track of it. She has two small coin purses as well as her wallet and glass case in her purse and money can be found in any one of them. She also sometimes hides money in her nightstand drawer and forgets she put it there. Her checkbook is a mess. Though I hate to do it, I think that’s going to go too.