Another one of my mother’s friends died yesterday. Marilyn used to be our neighbor in the days when everyone on the street had kids and the mothers stayed at home. She had a great sense of humor and she and my mother had some good times together. Marilyn has suffered from Altzheimers for several years and has been in a nursing home. When I talked to Mom about it this morning she wasn’t upset. To her Marilyn was still as vital as she used to be. She told me about what they did together and said,”I talk to her a couple of times a week.”
When someone dies you usually try to console them by telling them to cherish the memories. My mother has constructed her own little reality to do this. What a blessing!
The day after I posted the story about my grandparent’s cabin I got a phone call. It was my mother, who rarely calls. After asking how I was she said she had some news. “My father sold the cabin in the mountains. I talked with my mother last night.” I was so taken aback all I could muster was an “Oh.” My mind, though, was reeling. She couldn’t have read my blog! She doesn’t even have a computer, much less know how to use one. But my mother went on, “Yes, I’m so glad they sold it. I didn’t like them driving up and down that mountain all the time.” I just agreed and we had a long discussion about mountain roads. ( Mom has always claimed to have an ESP connection. Could it be . . .)
My mother is having more of these hallucinatory experiences lately. I used to think she would dream something and then think it really happened, but many times this happens in the daytime. Mom used to work as a volunteer in the local hospital a couple of times a week, which she loved doing. She sometimes will get a card from the volunteer auxiliary wishing her well. At times she thinks she still works there and will mention how she has worked there that week. Other times she tells us that someone from the auxiliary called and they want her to come back.
Hallucinations are a natural part of dementia. With some people it can also be accompanied by paranoia when they are very distrustful and sometimes even try to attack others. The only way my mother expresses this is more of a memory problem. Someone is using her toothbrush because it is wet. It is probably one of the aides or someone they let in the room, she thinks. I got so tired of hearing this complaint I went to Costco and bought a pack of twenty. Now she has switched to her hairbrush. “Look at the hairs,” she says, “Someone has used this.” These are the times you need a sense of humor.
Yesterday was Daddy’s birthday. He would have been 96. In December it will be 15 years since he died of cancer. Mom doesn’t always remember how he died, or even that he’s dead. It is sad to have to remind her when she asks, “Is Daddy gone? I sometimes think he’s here.” He fought his colon cancer for two years; at the end he was in a lot of pain. Mom took care of him the whole time by herself and refused hospice until two days before he died. It is hard to understand why she doesn’t remember this period of her life. Her memory was good then, but maybe the overlay of time has made that part of her brain fuzzy too. I was worried that Mom would be emotional about the day so I called her last night. She was fine. We had a short conversation and she didn’t bring up the subject, but I’m glad I called.
It’s interesting what memories my mother wants to talk about. With her ability to remember present day events weak, she has reverted to the past. Her favorite topic is “the cabin”. When Mom was younger, it must have been when she was a teenager, her parents bought a large three story cabin in the San Bernardino mountains. On a clear day she would often look up toward the mountains and say to my sister and I, “You can almost see where the cabin used to be.” Of course as the years went by and the smog drifted into the valley we couldn’t even see the mountains. My grandparents sold it long before we were born. Something tells me it may have burned down.
That cabin is now very clear in my mother’s mind. She can tell you where it was located on the road up to Lake Arrowhead on a cliff overlooking the valley. She can take you through its many rooms and talk about the large stone fireplace in the living room. But what she most likes to talk about is who rented the cabin for periods of time. Madeline Carroll, who was a well known movie star at the time, was the renter. You can imagine being a teen how excited my mother would have been at the time. She talks about how when her family came up to stay in the cabin her best friend Letha would come also. The two girls would look through many of the things Madeline would leave there, trying on her clothes and using her perfume. She remembers one time Madeline was staying there with who they thought was her husband, until my grandfather read in the paper that the husband was on safari in Africa at the time. My mother always wondered who “the other man” was. Though such an event from the Hollywood set would not cause much of a stir nowadays, back then it would have been scandalous. I’m glad my mother has these memories to hold onto; it helps to fill the void of her everyday remembrances. I like to hear her talk about them, but I’m often taken aback when she says, “I wonder if Daddy (her father) ever sold the cabin?” I think so. He’s been gone 47 years. I say to myself.