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Blogs of Writer, Artist, Photographer, & Caregiver Joanne D. Kiggins

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Joanne has published more than 2,500 articles and was award recipient of the 1990 Woman of the Year for Beaver County, Pennsylvania, for her accomplishments and excellence in journalism and to the community. Her co-authored book, “Unforgettable Journey,” won fifth place in the Grand Beginnings romance contest. An excerpt from her WIP, “Unearthed,” placed her fifth in the Absolute Write Idol contest. Most recently, her essay, “Perseverance,” is published in the Stories of Strength anthology in which 100% of the profits are donated to disaster relief charities. Her most recent articles were published in ByLine Magazine, Writer's Digest, AbsoluteWrite.com, and Moondance.org. She has a monthly freelance writing column at Absolutewrite.com. Currently, she is the sole caregiver for her 85-year-old mother.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Whatevers, Whatchamacallits, Dohickies, and What Day Is It?

From the moment Mom woke up this morning I knew she wasn’t going to have a good day. It always throws her off a bit on Saturday morning when she doesn’t go to day care, but this morning she was a bit more off than usual. She couldn’t figure out what clothes were what or how to put them on. This is normal lately, but today she couldn’t pull up the words for pants, shirt, socks, or shoes. They were all “whatevers,” “whatchamacallits, and “dohickies.”

After I got her dressed, I walked with her to her dresser and told her to comb her hair. I went into the kitchen to get her pills, juice, and breakfast together. When I went back into her bedroom, she still hadn’t combed her hair. She was standing in front of the dresser just staring at the things on top of it. I finally got her to comb her hair, and then she had to go to the bathroom. She was wandering around the house as if she was lost—couldn’t find the bathroom, and couldn’t remember how to get from the bathroom back to the kitchen. After breakfast, (she ate very little) I got her settled in her chair in the living room and put her coloring book and crayons on her table in front of her. She just stared at them for a moment, not interested in them, and leaned back in her chair.

Since she was having a particularly bad morning, I gathered all the bills, stamps, envelopes, and checkbooks and took them downstairs to the living room and set them on the table in front of my chair so I could write out checks for bills and keep her company at the same time. Big mistake. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the bills and repeat answers to questions at the same time. If I’m not looking directly at her while I’m talking, she gets angry and thinks I’m not paying attention. This is why I normally do all the paperwork upstairs in my room, but because she was having an off day, I thought I should be close to her. I ended up taking all the paperwork back upstairs to do later after she was in bed and I brought down the book for which I was reading to write a book review. She wasn’t in the mood to color or talk much, so I figured I’d read the book to her. She didn’t look like she had an inkling as to what I was reading, but she smiled as I read to her and asked if it was a book I wrote and wondered if she had a copy. I said, “I wish, Mom, my books haven’t even been submitted yet. But someday I’d do that.”

This is where she blew my mind. She asked me to stop reading the book I was reading and asked me to get one of my books and read it to her. She was never a horror fan, so those weren’t appropriate. Three of my six novels are horror, so they were out. Two of the six weren’t appropriate because of subject matter and that left me with only two other choices: read the romance novel that I co-authored with my friend, or read the humorous short stories I wrote about living on the farm with her and dad. I chose the short stories.

It’s been years since I wrote those stories and quite frankly I’d forgotten what I’d written. She didn’t associate that the stories were written about Dad, her, and me. She didn’t realize that those stories were true. They didn’t bring back one single memory for her. They were just stories about some little girl who helped her father and mother on the farm. As I read, she did laugh at all the right places, though. That made up for her not really knowing they were true stories about us. I’d written them as children’s stories for a series of children’s books. The way I see it, Alzheimer’s takes our loved ones back to being childlike. Since she found humor where the humor was meant, then I’d say I might have a pretty darn good chance of getting these little stories published as children’s books one day. There’s a bit of food for thought. I think, when the mood strikes, I’ll start sketching the illustrations for them as well. Maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to do for 2008. While I’m at it, I may as well work on my final edit of my novels, and try to put together a book proposal for each one.

But first…I’ll finish my book reviews. A few will be posted shortly.

By the way, Betsy, I haven’t missed an evening writing in my journal. (I do have a running journal of the three years I’ve been here with Mom.) This one, though, is just for me. ;)

The rest of the day and early evening wasn’t much better than the morning. Mom was confused all day. She ate very little lunch and dinner and couldn’t wait to go to bed to get up in the morning to go to club. I felt so bad for her that she couldn’t remember that today is Saturday. She probably asked me more than 40 times today “is tomorrow Monday?” or “what day is it?” and each time she was disappointed when I showed her the calendar and told her tomorrow is Sunday. Even marking the days off on the calendar doesn’t help anymore.

It was a strange day all the way around. She kept telling me she felt warm. Mom never “feels” warm! She always says she’s cold and when I touch her she feels warm to me. She used to always ask everyone if they were cold, too. When my dad would hear her say she was cold, he’d always say to me, “Joanne, go get your sweater on, your mother’s cold.” It was a standing joke in the house.

Tonight, when I kissed her before I turned her light out, her cheeks and forehead felt cool, yet she was still telling me how toasty warm she felt. Odd. Just odd.

Well, tomorrow is Sunday and I’m prepared to answer the same questions over and over. Good thing is…tomorrow I can tell her tomorrow is Monday. :D

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Blogger LaskiGal said...

Thanks for sharing this. What a challenge this must be. I can only imagine what this might be like day in and day out. My sis-in-law went through the same thing and her days were so much like your days.

There is lightness in your writing, which tells me where you find your strength . . .

1/06/2008 1:47 AM  
Blogger cornbread hell said...

yes. lightness and truth.
i hope you do pursue publishing.

i'm saddened to hear about your mom's condition. i wish you both the best, joanne.

1/06/2008 2:01 AM  
Blogger Lori1955 said...

what a wonderful, positive additude you have. I know how hard these bad days can be but I love the way you adapt to them.

1/06/2008 3:10 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

Sorry your Mom had a bad day. I hope tomorrow (er, today) is a better one!

1/06/2008 3:21 AM  
Blogger ~Betsy said...

These hard days can be so difficult, but you are making lemonade out of lemons. I'm thrilled to hear your mom enjoyed the short stories and I suspect it was fun for you to go back and read over your work from the past.

I am also thrilled to hear you are still penciling in that journal. Sometimes it's the little things that bring us the most satisfaction.

Stay strong, Joanne. You're a wonderful daughter.

1/06/2008 11:16 AM  
Blogger nancy said...

i am so glad that your mom enjoyed your short stories, and very impressed that as confused as she was, she remember that you are a writer.

if sunday is not much better, maybe consider getting an urine sample for a possible uti? if she says she feels warm and seems more confused than usual, just a thought. then again, it might just be a bad AD day. keeping you in my thoughts.

1/06/2008 12:20 PM  
Anonymous rick said...

Got here in a circuitous route from Linda G., to Cornbread to here.

I used to work in a nursing home and one of the things we used to do was called "reality therapy".

Someone was there when the patient woke, or a time when you could spend some time with them early in the day, and went over the day of the week, the time, the year and the schedule for the day and with some patients, their name. These were also posted individually (large print on poster paper) in places where they would normally be.

This is based on the assumption that your mother can still understand what she reads. If so, labeling the rooms (bathroom e.g.) in large print also helps.

I hope this helps in your case.

I admire what you're doing, it was hard for me and I was not related to anybody at the nursing home, but I did form attachments with a number of people residing there.

Keep fighting the good fight.

1/06/2008 8:11 PM  
Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Hi laskigal. Thanks for visiting. I'm glad you enjoyed my writing.

Thanks Rick. Good to see you back. I'll get those darn books published one of these days. ;)

Lori, thanks for your encouragement. I only hope Mom thinks I have a positive attitude with her on those bad days. So far, I think she does. One thing I know for sure...she knows I love her.

LOL Annie (er, today) You know, sometimes I need to mark the days off on the calendar because this disease is so confusing. Today, was a bit better. ;)

Betsy, no wonder some people call me a sour puss. All that lemonade. Helps when you add lots of sugar. LOL It was fun to read some of my older pieces and it actually got me thinking about doing something with them instead of letting them collect dust.

Nancy, I was impressed that she remembered that I am a writer. Besides being her daughter, that may be the only thing she does remember about me. But that's a good thing. ;)

Hi Rick, thanks for making that roundabout route. It's good to meet you. Mom and I mark the calendar day every morning when she gets up. She always knows for at least a few seconds what month, day, and year it is, but it's lost by the time the next thought comes. Thanks for the suggestions. They're all great memory therapies. I think I'll have to make note cards with arrows to point her in the right direction, though. She knows the bathroom and kitchen when she sees it; she just has a difficult time remembering which way to go from room to room to get there. I tested her reading skills a few weeks ago and though she still knows many words, I'm sure she'd ask me why I'm labeling everything. I could always tell her that I need the signs so I know where everything is. LOL

1/06/2008 9:33 PM