Dementiadventures

My wife and I recently purchased long-term care insurance. I told my insurance guy that if he had suggested it to me even three years ago, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But in very recent years we’ve had to deal with the effects of old age on our parents. My father-in-law had to move into a nursing home and eventually died. (The insurance we bought is pricey, but the annual cost is about equal to the one-month cost of keeping my FIL in a nursing home, so it’s all a matter of perspective.) That left my mother-in-law living alone in a big house on an almost two-acre lot outside of town by herself, and my wife worried herself sick over her being alone like that, so we sold the house and moved her into an assisted living facility (for now it’s basically an apartment with meals provided, but services can be added as needed). My own father died many years ago, but my mother recently had a health issue arise such that she could no longer live alone–she now lives with my oldest sister.

I just this moment finished reading a book that gives a unique (and frankly charming, if also sometimes difficult) window into a child experiencing those final months of life of a beloved parent: Michael Hicks, Do Clouds Rest? Dementiadventures with Mom (available at Amazon in paperback for $5.00). This little book recounts the experiences he had with his mother, Marilyn, during the last eight months of her life as her memory progressively failed her (eight months before her death Michael had moved her from her home in Palo Alto to an assisted living facility near his home in Orem).

At the outset Michael had made an executive decision to visit his mom every single day while she was there (and every few days to take her out, even if just to go shopping). It was just easier to make that decision once rather than to obsess about whether he needed or didn’t need to go this day or that day. I was deeply impressed by that; I love my mother, but (were she near enough) committing to visit her every single day, even with the press of other responsibilities, would be a challenge. I’m confident Michael is very glad he made that resolution and stuck to it.

Anyway, back when this was happening in real time, Michael would post short notes about his experiences with his mom and her balky memory on Facebook, which he dubbed “Dementiadventures.” I remember reading many of these short notes as they were originally posted, and found them in turns charming and sometimes a little heartbreaking. Many of his friends enjoyed them and suggested he compile them in a book, and this volume is the result. In this 111-page book there are 57 dementiadventures (each from one to three pages, some as short as a single paragraph), together with some additional material, such as her last diary entry, the obituary he wrote and the talk he gave at her funeral (which is simply beautiful; I’m glad Michael didn’t listen to Elder Packer’s dogma about funeral sermons…)

I never met Marilyn, but because of the pictures I’ve seen I have an image in my mind’s eye not of an 88-year old woman slowly dying but of a young, vibrant, very beautiful, artistic California girl. Even at that advanced age the charm and wit of the younger woman often shines through, until near the end when it didn’t.

Below I’ll share a few shorter examples to give you a sense for their interactions:

Dementiadventure 8

Shocked Mom at Day’s Market scans the meat section and exclaims: “Look at all those poor animals.”

Dementiadventure 12

I showed my mom the CD A Flintstones Motown Christmas, thinking she’d get a laugh and maybe detect for herself the weirdness of it.

“Who are the Flintstones?” she said.

This was the scariest thing she could have said. Once a person forgets the Flintstones, one has reached the point of no return. I didn’t know what to say and blurted out, “They’re the modern stone-age family.” I was ready to explain more, but she interrupted with, “And what’s Motown?”

I paused. “Maybe this CD isn’t for you.”

“I do like Christmas,” she said.

Dementiadventure 32

Every time I go outside with Mom, every single time for months now, she always says at least once, “Look at that beautiful cloud.”

And I say to myself, “Let that be a lesson to you.”

I just picked a few short examples (so I would have less to retype) to give you a general flavor of the interplay and interactions between mother and son as they both struggle with her increasing dementia.

The book is in turns funny and charming and sad, but mostly it’s just plain real as it recounts the small interactions between a mother and her only child in the final months of her life. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

 

 

Comments

  1. Mike Hicks’s book sounds touching fascinating by turns. Thanks sharing Kev.

  2. Thank you for the review! Just curious what does elder packer say about funeral sermons?

  3. Thanks. A nice tribute to Dr. Hicks, and what sounds like a beautiful tribute to his mom.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Basically he taught that a funeral is a church meeting (like a sacrament meeting) and should be focused on teaching doctrines of the gospel, not on the life of the deceased. His preference was that family shouldn’t even speak at the funeral, although he wasn’t absolute about that. I think his views are idiosyncratic; just watch a funeral of one of the prophets, and there will be substantial attention to his life and not just gospel principles in the abstract.

  5. All over my ward we are experiencing this life change. It seems like every week I talk to someone who has been spending time with parents or in-laws in this boat. It has even spread to my family. I just returned from a weekend with my parents watching my once amazing engineering minded father forget conversations we had 10 minutes before, but seem to remember his long ago childhood with perfect clarity.

    This spreads into wards, as care giver family members need to move their calling so they can help indefinitely. Not all of us can fly our family to facility near us. Sometimes it’s not advisable even if we can.

    Thanks for the book reference I will definitely check it out.

  6. Thanks. This sounds great. Which also reminds me – it’s time to watch another episodes of Joe Joe’s YouTube series following his mother’s journey down the same path.

    http://bit.ly/2y72g0M

  7. I’m at the age where all of us are caring for our elderly parents, have done that recently, or are going to do it sooner than we think. My siblings and I are caring for our mom as she progresses into dementia, and it’s a process that occupies my time and thoughts daily, even though she’s living with another sibling at present. As hard as it is, I prefer this phase to the one in the vague future where we all are the ones being cared for. If we’re lucky.

    You have done a wonderful service to your children by thinking and planning for it now.

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