The Bag of Tricks


Years ago, when I was a nursing assistant at North Ridge, I would walk a long hallway and go past a large structure filled with birds in it. There watching quietly, would be many residents watching the birds. On any given day they would be sitting there, ignoring people walking by to where they needed to go, and enjoy the peace of the birds. I used to think that it was sad, in a way that their big enjoyment of the day was watching the birds fly around.

Fast forward twenty years and I am now sitting here watching the birds with Mom. Today, it is a quiet day filled with busy people and residents walking around. There is an alcove where Mom and I sit in large wooden chairs, music quietly playing and the birds flying around. She is ignoring my questions and we sit here drinking coffee and I’m watching her as she watches the birds.

In all honesty, I find my mind wander a million miles away. I should be folding clothes, organizing our family calendar, paying bills and maybe getting a few chapters in with my new book. The girls are back in school after a long break and I haven’t been to see mom as often as I would like. Today, its cold out and I feel the need to go. A girlfriend asked me the other day, “Your Mom won’t know that you haven’t been there in a while, she forgets”. I know she is just being honest with me and I understand, but truthfully, I know if I haven’t been there. My heart knows.

As I sit here watching her, I think of how far we have come. Moving her closer to me, making all of her life choices and the hardness of it all. I was at hockey the other day and I was watching all the grandparents come and watch their young players; clapping and cheering them on. It’s so different for me. I wish she and my dad were here and able to watch the girls in their activities. Cheering them on and being proud of them. My dad would have loved to see Sophia skate.

As we watch the birds, I think of a few days ago when I got the call from her memory care unit that she was refusing to get up. She was dressed but simply wanted to stay in bed. I got to leave work a little early and I stopped by Lunds and got her some peach pie and some bananas. I arrived in her room and showed her what I purchased. She was less than interested and was irritable with me. Something was different about today and I thought of my nursing bag of tricks to get her up. Coffee. Pie. Matilda. Nothing worked and I was ok with her staying in bed. She’s soon to be 88, she’s earned her right to stay in bed. But what worked was those crazy birds. “Lets go and see the birds!”. She gave me a look, and said, “Alright, let’s go!”.

All of her busy life, her baking, gardening, walking every day, her church, her kids, her friends…this is what it comes down to is the bright, colorful, noisy, crazy birds. They leave her content. I’m actually content, the need to do everything today has passed for a moment and I’m spending time with her. I know the days with her are numbered and its like a large clock ticking away. If every day I spend with her is watching the birds, that is alright. Maybe in a way, this is a way for me to slow down too and relax. I’m adding that to my bag of tricks.

Here is to a wonderful start to 2014…Cheers!


The Lie

Grandma's birdhouse

Over the past week, my Mom has been glued to the bird house outside her roommate’s window. She can sit in her chair, look to her right and watch all the excitement that goes on all day long. Today, there has been a lot of action.

Today, we spent an hour watching the crazy behavior of the bunnies, the birds and a very smart squirrel trying to chase one another and get at the bird feeder. This literally over took my Mom and her enjoyment was contagious. She then asked me the same question she has been asking me for one solid week. “You know I made that bird house”. Every time I’m here, as of late, she tells me about the bird house and how proud she is of it.

At first, I went along with her statement. She was matter of fact, bold and very direct. You are taught as a nurse, to go alone with a person with memory loss, unless is it an issue that their statement will hurt them. You try and reduce their anxiety and I have heard so many stories over the years. An eighty year old woman stating her mother was here with her or lately a man told me that we had just been on a cruise together. You know that their comment is untrue but if I said to the woman, “Your Mom died fifty years ago” or “You and I have never been on a cruise together”, you will add to their confusion, make them feel unworthy and add to their anxiety. Sometimes it depends on the situation, but I normally just go with the flow and listen to them.

At first, I asked the nursing staff if maybe she really did make the bird house. I didn’t want to assume that she hadn’t. She did not. Mom even told Steve on Father’s Day, that she had made this wonderful bird house. When she asked me again and I said that I had heard about it, she said, “You don’t think I made it”. It was the look she gave me. Sad, quiet and disappointed. My tone with her must have alerted her that I didn’t believe her. She looked away and was very quiet. I told her, “Mom, if you tell me that you made it, I believe you.” The lie comes out of my mouth. I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t come across better towards her and I know she must have felt that.

A few months ago, she asked me how much was her rent. In the last few years, she has not asked me one question about bills, her checkbook, rent, hair, medication expense or even how I pay for her things. She has forgotten that piece of her life. Again, I was not as truthful and I should have been. I know that if she knew what the cost was, it would upset her greatly. I kept it in the ballpark, but a few thousands less. Does she really need to know the cost? Yes, if I was being honest. Would it add to her anxiety and worry? Yes, for sure. Would I lie again so she would not worry? Sorry to say, yes.

I’m looking at the bird house and thinking to myself, I have spent the last hour watching this with Mom. My own bills to pay, girls activities to think about, work always on my mind and things I have put off. This time with her is important. Yes…she did make that bird house, just so we are clear. 😉