Tales From My Mother’s Dementia

ALTERNATE TITLE: “Your Mother’s Just Tired”

My mom has dementia. We live an ocean apart, but thanks to video chat it feels like I am sitting in her bedroom up close, witnessing my mother’s mental decline. She knows who people are, but she loses all concept of dates or times, hatches zany schemes, has forgotten basic concepts of operating technology, and cannot recall previous conversations. She’s also somewhat murderous toward my father (her caretaker) and is unwittingly cruel to animals–which is something I never imagined from her. Ever.

Worst of all, I don’t know what is causing it. My poor paraplegic mother, wheelchair-bound for many years and addicted to massive quantities of prescription meds (including narcotic painkillers) could have nearly anything wrong with her brain at this point. Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s. Maybe it’s the meds. Maybe she is merely clinically insane. It could be some combination (there is a multi-generational history of senile mothers stabbing their daughters in her family).

All I know is that at her present age of 66, the shit she says is not normal.

And now I boil over with frustration (which seems more manageable than terrror). You see, my dad is very good at hiding or excusing her symptoms around doctors, family, friends, and neighbors. So according to every person on earth, she’s fine. Just getting old. A little tired. And why am I being so critical of her?

I am being fucking gaslit here, people. So I have decided to share some of her most choice phone calls from the past year. Many of them will make you want to laugh, and that’s okay. I alternate between laughing and crying over them. So does she. Maybe sharing this will bring me peace. Maybe it will help someone else to not feel so isolated in a similar situation. Or maybe you can just have a laugh. Because it’s fucking ridiculous and comically absurd. Truly. Anyway, I’m leaving out anecdotes where she gets vicious and cruel toward me.

I will update this as the calls continue…

Hacked Kindle

MOM: Katherine, my Kindle isn’t working I need help.

ME: [deep breath], Okay what’s wrong?

MOM: Well, you know somebody hacked it a long time ago*, so I called up the Facebook office and asked them to fix it. The man on the line asked me to describe my problem and when I told him, he said he could fix it for $9.99, plus a monthly payment of $9.99.

*Nope, not hacked. Not actually broken at all.

The Oven Mess

On a third attempt to call my phone and not remembering how to work various phones on her own end, she makes contact and relates a story about “that fucking dog” and my asshole father. That fucking dog is her beagle puppy named Jack, whom I begged them not to adopt. But what the hell do I know? So the pent-up dog, when released from his dog prison upon my father’s return from work, went nuts and chewed up my mom’s artificial fireplace. You know, the kind you can plug in and was purchased in an Art Van Clearance Center? It’s her favorite damn piece of furniture in the world, so she was livid with my father for letting it happen. Divorce livid.

He assured her that he could fix the finish on it, but not that very night. He was exhausted from work. Well, this wasn’t good enough for her. Not nearly.

To make matters worse, that night, he put a frozen pizza in the oven for himself right on the rack. Except that the pizza wasn’t meant for the oven rack and melted and sizzled all over the oven. A huge mess, apparently. Again, he explained that he would happily clean it the next day, but for the night he needed to go to sleep.

Now the murdery thoughts begin inside her head. So the next day she gets in her wheelchair and goes out to the kitchen where she takes an entire bottle of Lestoil cleaner (it’s like PineSol) and pours the whole damn thing into the oven. Then she turned up the oven heat to its highest.

Now, realizing this may be a bad thing, she doesn’t turn off the oven. No, I’ll let her explain what came next as she recited it in a very slurred voice:

MOM: So first I went into your father’s closet and pulled out your late grandfather’s handkerchiefs and tied them around the cats’ heads so they wouldn’t breathe the fumes. Then I called the fire department.

ME: Oh gods, was there a fire? Are you okay?

MOM: No, no fire. Don’t be silly. But I called the fire deparment and got Chet on the line. Chet knows me ’cause he comes to pick me up when I fall in the bathroom about once a week. And I asked Chet if I should worry about the fumes. I told him that ovens used to go hotter and I was upset that the knob only goes so far, no matter how hard I try to twist it. The firemen in the background started laughing by then. Then Chet said he’d call me back after talking to the manufacturer. Well, of course they said it was a bad idea, but that it shouldn’t be toxic.

Chet still offered to come out and help if I needed anything, but I hadn’t washed my hair in a couple days and I know if Chet comes over things might heat up, so I told him no thanks.

ME: Nope. No. Chet is not going to be your lover.

MOM: You don’t KNOW! Anyway, you wouldn’t believe it, but that oven is sparkling clean now.

Not My Birthday

ME: So are you doing okay, Mom, after the oops yesterday?

MOM: What oops?

ME: Remember, you called me in the middle of the night to wish me a happy birthday?* And you seemed distraught when I told you it wasn’t my birthday yet?

MOM: Oh well, I lose track of time easily. It’s your father’s fault. Sometimes when it’s time to flip the page on the paper calendar on the fridge, he doesn’t do it right away**, so when I zoom past the calendar in my wheelchair and I see a “9” circled I think, “Oh it must be Katie’s birthday, I need to call her.”

*My birthday still months away
**This happened in the middle of the month, but okay

This actually explains a lot. I’ve been getting these birthday calls a LOT, but apparently only during months when there is something written on the ninth day of the month on her refrigerator calendar (whether or not it is even the ninth).

Bridgerton On Repeat

This is a portion of nearly every single phone call with my mother in the last year:

MOM: Katie, have you seen that new show, the one about the Duke and I…what’s it called? Bridger–, Bridger Lane, Bridgerton!

ME: Yes, remember we talked about it last time and you inappropriately described what you would like to do to the Duke’s genitals?

MOM: [laughing] Well, I don’t remember that, but now that you mention it I would like to ***** his ***** and ******* his ******* until his ******* falls off. Even though he’s black*. But your father won’t do stuff like that with me anymore, not since we injured ourselves that one time in the bathtub. So have you seen it?

ME: Yeah. Yeah I have. [bangs head on wall]

*Yes, she’s also become openly racist this year.

Nearly every single phone call. Repeat.

Bridgerton, PART DEUX

4am my phone rings and seeing her ID on the screen, I know I shouldn’t answer, but I do.

ME: Hey, mom, is everything okay?

MOM: I’m sorry if it’s late, but I have to know about something you said earlier…about Bridgerton.

ME: [Puts pillow over face] Wh-what did I say?

MOM: You said you thought the ending was very different and not how you thought it would go.

ME: I did? I don’t remember that, but it’s 4am here so…

MOM: But what did you MEEEEAN?

ME: Ummm [calculates whether to engage reality or just play this out]…I just thought the book and TV endings would’ve aligned better. It was still good though. I liked it. Okay?

MOM: Alright. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Goodnight.

tHE pANASONIC pHONE sYSTEM

It’s just after midnight and my mom calls me with an “urgent” problem. My parents, ever at the forefront of technology, have just purchased a $200 Panasonic multi-phone system for their landline. The problem, my mom frantically states is that they can receive calls, but not dial out.

MOM: Katie, you have to fix this! I found a phone number on the bottom of the box and called it. They said they could fix it, but it would be $24.99 per month.

ME: Okay, don’t do that. You just spend most of your days calling numbers you fine online and on boxes don’t you?*

MOM: …

*I can hear her setting her jaw, wishing I was within swinging distance.

ME: Why don’t you return the damn thing and just use your cell phones? Save yourself money and get rid of the landline.

MOM: But I have a lot of doctor’s offices that have my number at the house and what if they can’t reach me?

ME: Well [sighs in the darkness of the bedroom], you can transfer your number to your cell.*

*I instantly regret this advice knowing it is far beyond her comprehension. Also, I’m half asleep and dreaming about the people at Panasonic.

MOM: Katherine, how am I supposed to manage a cell phone? I have to push the wheelchair and can’t hold a cell phone all day. And I don’t carry a purse around the house. I’ll just drop it. What am I SUPPOSED TO DO?

ME: Mom, we’re talking on your cell phone right now.

MOM: Well, if you’re going to be cranky, I’ll just go. But I thought you’d be able to help.

The post script is that they read the manual and figured out how to use it. Also, my mom still isn’t sure how she should hold a cell phone.

Facebook Hack

After a small flurry of Facebook activity in which people were asking me and my mother “Has Bobbi [my mother] been hacked? I got a weird friend request.”, my mom called me. I could have predicted that she would call about it, which is saying something since she has not answered her phone or talked to me in about a month (not that she realizes this).

This is roughly how the conversation went:

MOM: My Facebook account has been hacked. It says I’m Bobbi M______ [her maiden name] and has no photo. I haven’t been Bobbi M______ in a long time. I’m not Bobbi M______. And this person is sending friend requests. How do I fix it??

You know…it’s all because of Gmail when things went to shit. My Yahoo! email was fine until someone sent me an email that misspelled [my last name] with an “A” instead of an “E” and somehow it went through anyway and then people started trying to email me with the “A” spelling and got really mad when I wouldn’t get it because they spent an hour typing a long email….*

*I’m trying to follow this conversation, but keep in mind she has been using the words “yahoo”, “gmail”, and “email” interchangably and randomly.

ME: Okay, so someone sent you an email with your address wrong and it got through?

MOM: YES!

ME: [rubbing forehead] Wait, when was this? You haven’t had a Yahoo! account in ages.

MOM: I dunno, maybe 5 or 6 years ago.

ME: Okay, so this misspelling isn’t a current issue.

MOM: Well, no. But then you and your sister told me that the way to fix the misspelling issue was to get a new email address at gmail and then everything went wrong.**

**Of course not. Why would we give advice like that?

ME: Okay, we’re gonna skip over the email issues. Let’s get back to Facebook.

MOM: Fine. How do I skip it?

ME: No. Let’s just forget it. So Facebook, you think this fake account is sending out friend requests?

MOM: Yes. I know how terribly busy you are so I called Aunt Doris to get tech help and when I told her I thought my Facebook had been hacked because all of my friends were missing, she told me to change my password and that would fix it. And I asked her if I needed to do anything to get my friends back or if they’d all appear, and she said I may have to send friend requests out again. Help.

This is the point when Detective Katie has solved the case of the “hacked” Facebook account.

My mother has, for months, operated two (okay, actually three) different Facebook accounts, each one logged onto on a different device. She does not remember creating the duplicates, nor has she noticed that they are different accounts–except for the occasional realization. Hence, in her secondary Facebook account, for which she only has 3 friends, she thought, “Where’d they all go?”

An illustration:

This is her secondary account (the alleged “fake”one). This is how she notifies everyone her real primary account (with photo) is hacked. By posting here. On the “fake” one. You see how this is working?

Also, notice that on September 8, she tried to do an internet search for “Facebook on kindle fire” and just ended up posting it.

Case closed.