It’s been a while since I posted about life with Mom, who is 89 years old. She is living with me now after years of living independently. Before she moved here, she had a group of friends with whom she would go shopping or work on craft projects. They would chat and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. They still do chat and laugh, but much less frequently and at a distance of 400+ miles. People don’t call as often as they used to and who writes letters anymore? Mom’s movement is more limited – it’s physically hard for her to get around and she is afraid to go out and do things because she’s in a new city. Sometimes she can’t remember where she’s going or how to get home. I think she’s afraid that if she goes out, she will be lost forever. Her world is shrinking.
It is part of my new role to make sure she laughs everyday. This is important because, more and more, I am her world. Sometimes we laugh at Oscar the cat’s antics – he’s always good for a chuckle or two. Mom and I also tease each other – we both like to tease. This can sometimes go awry, as she is a little more sensitive about some issues than she was in the past. I try to find TV shows or movies that have some humor … translation: we stay away from gritty dramas. Mom can’t really follow plot lines very well anymore, so we try to find things that are light and engaging … translation: we stay away from shows or movies that are too serious or controversial or complicated. She enjoyed Downton Abbey, for example, but I had to keep explaining who is who and what is what, which sapped some of the fun from the show … and it was exhausting!
Mom is sad because she has less contact with her friends. She is frustrated because she cannot remember details from 10 minutes prior. She is angry because it seems like she keeps losing aspects of herself – her crafting skills, her attention span, her physical strength and on and on. We can talk about how these things are a natural part of getting older, how it’s alright if she can’t remember or can no longer do something, but she usually ends up rather dispirited.
Occasionally, she wants to discuss these things and I listen. Sometimes she just wants to rant … and I listen. Sometimes, she cries and I give her space. But, most of the time, she wants to see that she still has something to offer and that she is not a burden. Humor is what we use to get past some of those harder times. So, I try to distract.
I try to find an opening to link to something amusing. It’s a challenge, though, because just changing the subject doesn’t work – she ends up feeling like I’m not really hearing what she is saying. It’s important that she knows that I am listening and understanding the broader message that she is hurting and needs comforting. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the funny, but we usually manage to there. Sometimes, there is an intermediate step that involves hot chocolate or candy or a cookie. Sometimes, Oscar will break the somber mood.
Whatever gets us to the laugh is worth it. She wants to laugh. So, the goal is to end on a happy note and enjoy the laughter together.