The Christmas Party

We had the annual Christmas party at the nursing home where my mom stays on Sunday. They told me to prepare to be really impressed…but I had no idea. The activity room was covered in garland and lights. There were two huge Christmas trees fully decorated. Everyone was in Santa hats and festive outfits.

There was bluegrass group singing songs while families danced with their loved ones..old folks hopping and wheelchairs swinging with everyone clapping and singing. There was a big holiday cookie spread to choose from. And after the band finished a group of volunteers did a Christmas carrol sing-a-long. I met so many people who in the last few months, when they would show up to see their family members, were greeted by my mom, and so had gotten to know her. The whole place was so alive and full of joy.

Unfortunately mom was starting to get sick from a sinus infection. She did a great job of rallying for the party, and even managed to greet Santa with a smile. However, when Santa left, and the party was over, it was all we could do to keep mom awake to open her presents.

Oh, I almost forgot about the presents, and it was maybe the most amazing part. We had brought a new coat, scarf and gloves for Santa to deliver to mom during the party. When he came to her room he had a huge bag with 5 times that many presents. It seems in addition to the presents families give for Santa, the staff draws names and does a secret Santa for each resident, and local churches and other groups donate gifts as well. They distrubute all these gifts among the residents so everyone has a huge bag of presents when Santa comes to visit. In the end, my mom made out, hauling in about 15 great cards and gifts! It was so sweet. And fun for us because almost everything was a surprise.

Here’s mom powering through unwrapping the gifts (when all she really wants to do is nap)…

Shopping for Joey and Katie

My mom was always the BEST gift giver in the family.  Joey gives fun and funny gifts.  I try to give stylish or hip gifts.  Dad always gives you his version of what you said you wanted.  But mom, she always knew the right thing to give.  I don’t know how she did it.  It was a cool outfit the year you really wanted to fit in.  It was the perfect microwave for the college apartment.  It was the best assortment of goodies in the care package from home. 

I remember that it was one of the real signs that something was wrong with her several years ago.  She started giving us really strange gifts.  I was in my late 20s and I got a toy bear I could take in the pool.  I was way too old for a toy bear, and didn’t live near a swimming pool.  Subsequent holidays we’d get strange things she had found in the basement or a closet and decided to give to us a gift.  At the time it was so incredibly frustrating.  And I’d get so angry because I’d spent all this money on my Christmas gifts, and mom was ruining the holiday, not taking it seriously anymore.  I didn’t know that it was the illness coming on.  In the early days of the illness, it’s so subtle, that you are constently reacting out of anger and frustration because someone isn’t being normal or acting right.  She wasn’t normal.  She wasn’t right. 

One of the traditions that we have created and kept through the ups and downs of the illness is that Joey and I take mom out and let her pick out Christmas and birthday gifts for the other one.  It’s really whatever mom is in the mood for.   Usually it’s also something that is in eyesight from where she is in the store when you prompt her.  So it take some strategic placement and then a gentle reminder we are searching for a gift, and after that, it’s whatever mom sees and picks.  For my birthday this year I got a t-shirt that says “This is what AWESOME looks like.”  I wear it all the time.  🙂

This week I took mom out for our annual trip to buy gifts FROM: Mom and TO: Joey and Katie.  Before we went, I interviewed her about what she wanted to buy for them.  You’ll never guess what she came up with…

Rudolph the mysterious reindeer

One of the wonderful things about the Alzheimer’s wing is that there are always new decorations in my mom’s room.  🙂  The residents on this wing wander all day and pick stuff up and put it down elsewhere, or have their stuff picked up and carried off.  The staff spends time every day wandering through rooms and returning pictures and whatnot to their rightful owners.  My mom had Happy Birthday balloons in her room last week.  Her birthday is in June.

When we visited this weekend there was a Rudolph the Mysterious Reindeer that has taken up residence in my mom’s room…at least for the time being…

Visit from Santa (and a Shout Out to Jesus)

When I was a little boy in Charleston, the place to meet Santa was at the Diamond Department Store for their annual Breakfast with Santa.  There is something great about growing up in the old days of the huge department store, where there was everything you needed under one roof, and when you went to shop, you had coffee, tea or lunch at the restaurant inside.  And once a year, the department store was lucky enough to host a breakfast meeting with Santa Claus.  And I was lucky enough to get to go.  And years later, after the Diamond Department Store was gone, Santa still came to town, but he sat on a big throne in the middle of the mall courtyard, surrounded by swirls of shoppers and lines of kids.  It wasn’t the same.

I honestly don’t remember much about having breakfast with Santa, but I remember what everyone remembers of those really early events…that Santa was a BIG DEAL.  And as I grew up, that never changed, the idea of Santa, the magic of Santa was always big in my family.  We got gifts from Santa well into adulthood.  Stockings were always stuffed with goodies, long after we knew who was doing the stuffing.  And in spite of all the changes we have gone through, one thing is still there…Santa.  And he’s still bringing us a little Christmas spirit just when we need it the most.

The Call

If you haven’t had a parent in a nursing home, let me tell you about “the call.”  The call most often comes with the caveat, “This is not an emergency,” and is followed by some sort of information that legally, ethically, or otherwise compelled someone to call and fill you in.  I have never had a kid, but I can imagine it’s like getting a call from the school.  You really hope they are calling to say your kid is acing all their classes and the model for all that is good and righteous in the world, and at the same time praying they didn’t burn the school down.

Mom and I had a great day today buying Christmas decorations and listening to a mix of Christmas songs.  And…she was pretty amped up.  She was evidently up most of the night wondering around and watching tv and barely slept.  When I came to visit at 11, it was like getting a kid ready for school who did not want to go.  She did not want to get out of bed.  But I told her she could pick out her clothes for the outing which was evidently a selling point for getting out of bed.

When mom is really tired she has repetitive speech, as in, “Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt.  Let’s go to your car, Matt. ”

You can imagine how this can require one to pull deep down into the depths of patience.  My tactic is usually to put my hand on her shoulders, go nose to nose, and in the calmest voice I can muster say, “Slow down, mom.  Calm down, mom.”   If that doesn’t work, I just start singing a song I know she knows and she moves from the repetitive talk to singing and all is well.  It’s like a system reboot.

Anyway, I got a call from the home tonight to let me know it wasn’t an emergency, but they wanted me to know that mom got slapped.  She has a really darling little old woman as a neighbor who has Alzheimer’s too.  She carries a baby doll around a lot of the time and whenever she sees me we have conversations where I am sure I am someone she knows but I don’t know who the person is.  She’s as sweet as can be. Mom was doing the repetitive speech thing with the sweet neighbor and let’s just say mom’s sweet neighbor had had it.  So instead of the soft reboot method I usually use to talk her down, her neighbor decided to use a hard reboot the system, a la Scarlet O’Hara and Prissy.

The nurse was quick to assure me all was fine.  I talked to mom on the phone.  I asked her if she got hit.  She said, “Yes, on the back.”  I said I thought it was on the face.  She said, “I have to go Matt.  It’s time for me to go to the cafeteria and have a snack.  I love you.  Good-bye.”  And she hung up the phone.  Nothing a little snack and milk can’t get her through.