Many years ago, I was on a business trip for The Experiment in International Living. I was visiting a woman in Temecula, which is in Southern California. I was flying into the John Wayne airport in Orange County, the first and last time I have done so.
I remember the flight was smooth and pleasant. The sky was a brilliant blue without a cloud in the sky all the way, but as we began to approach the airport, if I looked down below, there was this brown gunky smog that covered the air above the ground, so you could not see the airport.
As we began to make our descent, I watched the plane leave the beautiful blue of the sky and sink slowly into the brown gunk, knowing that when I got off the plane, I would be breathing that stuff. It was a sobering moment.
I felt like that today, when I got to Atria. I had so completely put my mother to the back of my mind all weekend that it was like flying in that clear, trouble-free, smog-free world above the John Wayne airport.
Visiting my mother this morning was like sinking back into the smog.
It was not a good day. I could tell when I called her that she was not feeling well, and when I got to her apartment, I could see that she was not. She looked old and worn. She said she hadn't felt well for a couple of days. She still has not made a hair appointment and her hair is long (for her), stringy and she looks like the stereotypical picture you have of an old lady in a convalescent home. She has to be reminded to brush her hair. When I mentioned it to her, she ran her hands through her hair and said "Yes, but I just don't feel like it."
The woman who has had her hair done every week or two ever since I've known her, knows that her hair is too long, that she looks terrible, that she is going out in public with this horrible hair, and she doesn't care. That is very sad. Her nails are also very long, with chipped nail polish and she picks at them constantly, trying to remove whatever is under the nails. But she didn't want to have a manicure when my cousin Niecie offered to go with her to get one.
She couldn't remember if she had gotten dressed this morning and decided she probaby had because she was wearing a bra, though her pants look like they might be pajama pants (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course ... my sweat pants are often my pajamas ... it's just quite different for her.)
She is coughing and her nose is running, but she doesn't have a cold. She knows she doesn't have a cold because colds are caused by a bug and she doesn't have a bug. But she coughed throughout entire visit, with some mild congestion I could hear in her lungs from across the room. I suggested she might like to see a doctor. She says that when she has her nap after lunch, the cough will be gone. (If it's not gone, or at least better tomorrow, I will take her to the doctor, whether she wants to go or not.)
No matter what subject I tried to talk to her about, she changed the subect to one of two things: 1) how old she is and living to "hunnert" and 2) what is going to happen to all her crap when she dies. I could NOT get her off of those two subjects. She wants to live to hunnert, but if she dies tomorrow that will be OK, but she wants to get rid of all her crap so I don't have to deal with it.
This is a recording. An old recording, by now.
And if I die before she does, who will take care of her crap? (that was at least a new, if not entirely pleasant topic to deal with)
I know that one of the biggest adjustments for caregivers is the personality change, the loss of the person you've known and loved and this new person who inhabits the body of your loved one. I know this is happening. I've been dealing with it for some time now.