I arrive at 9:15 am to take Mom to church--our weekly outing, the only place she goes every week besides my house.
But first I had read my Al-Anon day-by-day books for my daily guidance, along with five psalms and a chapter of the Bible.
Melody Beattie's advice for Jan. 26, in The Language of Letting Go, is as follows (in part):
We can learn not to get hooked into unhealthy, self-defeating behaviors in relationships--behaviors such as caretaking, controlling, discounting ourselves, and believing lies.
We can learn to watch for and identify hooks, and choose not to allow ourselves to be hooked.
Often people do things consciously or without thinking that pull us into a series of our self-defeating behaviors we call codependency....
Someone may stand before us and hint or sigh about a problem, knowing or hoping that hint or sigh will hook us into taking care of him or her. That is manipulation.
What are the words, the signs, the looks, the hints, the cues that hook us into a predictable and often self-defeating behavior?
What makes you feel sympathy? Guilt? Responsible for another?
Our strong point is that we care so much. Our weak point is that we often underestimate the people with whom we are dealing. They know what they're doing....
Today I will be aware of the hooks that snag me into the caretaking acts that leave me feeling victimized....
As a result of this reading, I set out hoping to notice any hooks that Mom set out for me and to avoid being hooked.
When I arrive, Elisa, Mom's morning caregiver five days per week, reports that although she got Mom up and dressed in time, the kitchen had not served her breakfast promptly; she had eaten only oatmeal and fruit, without the scrambled eggs and sausage she usually has as well. I speak to the lead caregiver and to Ilona in the kitchen about that, reminding them that Mom has fallen from 118 to 102 lbs. in the past year and that her best meal of the day is breakfast. She often refuses to eat lunch or dinner but always enjoys a full breakfast.
Then I scoot Mom off in the wheelchair, past the medicine giver on the second floor, who protests that we shouldn't leave without her meds. Ilse had arrived on time, 8:30 am, instead of early, and as a result had not yet gotten to Mom and her meds. Usually I stop (if caught) and wait while we go through the med rituals: a squirt of something in each nostril, drops in the eyes, and 5-6 pills taken slowly, reluctantly, with juice or applesauce. But this time I say, "No, we will be late for church if we stop."
It's sunny as we drive to church, and I hand Mom her sunglasses, but she's putting them on upside down; I manage to steer them correctly onto her nose while driving.
"Look at that cute cloud!" she comments. And sure enough, the Los Angeles sky holds dramatic puffs of cumulus for a change.
There's still a handicapped parking spot near the church, so we save time there and sail into our customary spot on the aisle in the left rear of the congregation. Other than some humming and whispering at inappropriate times, things go well.
Her favorite times are when she drops her envelope in the offering plate and when we recite the Lord's Prayer. For some reason she always recites one line wrong:
"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who debt against us"--and being out of sync with the congregation on that throws her off for a few lines, until she catches up with "the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen." (A few years ago when I took her to the Episcopal Church, they always said, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us" and I think she's trying to follow this pattern with debts.)
After church, we head for the handicapped restroom as usual, and after placing her on the toilet, I don't hear any liquid trickling, so I replace the Depend and start to pull it up quickly. There's a smell but I ignore it, hoping for the best.
Suddenly, however, I notice a fat length of BM on the toilet seat. Whoa! I check things out, clean up more just emerging, decide not to throw out the newly soiled new Depend, wish I had brought plastic gloves and wipes, hope there's not any on her skirt or my clothing.
Then we head to the church hall with a blood donation station set up, where I am scheduled to give blood this morning. First I give Mom tea with milk and sugar, as well as cookies, while I fill out the form. But they reject me: the iron level in my blood is only 12.2, instead of 12.5 or better, so I can't give blood today.
We leave church, but by now the cute cloud has multiplied and it's raining heavily. We get soaked while getting her into the car. She has been talking all morning about going to my house, but I realize that project is going to be difficult in this rain. Better cancel it, just do errands and take her back to her residence.
"Mom, this isn't a good day for you to go to my house," I begin. "We would get all wet again getting out of the car and going up the ramp to the front door."
"I don't care! I just want to go to your house," she argues. "It's been such a long time since I was at your house." Hook #1
"Mom, you were there Friday. Two days ago. Remember? You met Roz's new chihuahua."
"Yes, I remember, but I don't go there very often," she maintains. "And I just want to see Reynold."
"Reynold is not at my house," I say carefully. I do not say, "He died four years ago."
"Oh, he isn't? Oh."
"If you want to get soaked in this rain, we can try to get out of the car and go up into my house," I concede. "But it would not be a good idea."
"Sunny California!" she says.
"We have to have rain some time," I counter.
After a few moments, she says, "Okay, I guess I should go back to my place." And she begins singing, "California, here I come! Right back where I started from."
I sing along with her until she, suddenly perceptive, she accuses me, "You sound like you're happy that you don't have to take me to your house!" Hook #2
It's true. I had told myself that it rains so rarely in California that I should take advantage of this unusual reason not to have to load her in and out of the car, supply her with various snacks and foods for a hour.
But I do not succumb to her effort to hook me into sympathy, guilt, and the usual Sunday trip to my house.
"Would you like some French fries?" I ask. "Let's go to McDonald's, and we won't even have to get out of the car and get wet."
"Okay," she says. "But I have to go to your house to get the news. John always has the news." Hook #3
"We can stop and buy you a newspaper," I answer. "And we will do a couple of other errands too. I need to buy some dog food."
At Centinela Pet Feed, I tell her, "Here's your milk shake. I'll just be a minute to buy the dog food."
"Get me some celery!" she demands.
"There's no celery here," I answer. "This is just a pet store, not a grocery store."
"If you won't get me celery, then I'll eat dog food!" she whimpers. Hook #4 --poor me.
"You don't have to eat dog food," I answer. "You have French fries, a cheeseburger, a milkshake, and a doughnut."
The rain is letting up by the time we drive back to her residence, and I hope she doesn't notice. I'm really counting on saving an hour by taking her back now, at 12:30, instead of 1:30 or 2 pm.
Inside, it takes a while to clean her up in the bathroom, but at least I have plastic gloves and wipes. I set her up in her recliner with her milkshake and doughnut on her tray in front of her, but she says she's too tired, not interesting in eating any more. I start a DVD that happens to be in her television, about the birth of Jesus. Oh well.
I open her newspaper, throw away the ads, elevate her feet, read her a post-Christmas letter from her best friend, Janelle Krueger, formerly dean of nursing at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Well, it's a typed Christmas letter from Janelle's daughter Bunky, with a note in Bunky's hand, and a signature from Janelle as well as Bunky and her husband. Such is communication at age 89 if one has dementia.
There are a few more hooks as she attempts to delay me and keep me with her longer, but at 1:30 pm I finally escape out the locked door into the elevator lobby.
A caregiver, Stan, sees me leaving and says, "You look tired."
"I just did four hours with her," I say. "That's not much, compared to your hours, but it's enough to wipe me out. And I didn't have any gloves or wipes when she had a BM in the church bathroom."
Stan is instantly sympathetic and solicitous: "You should have them with you."
I stop to use the second floor bathroom, as I often do when leaving. My need to close a door and be alone and quiet for a few moments is overwhelming.