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Memories of my mother come in ripples

NIAGARA, Wis. — As I have shared in a previous column or two, I lost my mom this past December. She had come to live up here at Maryhill Manor nearly seven years before her death. Initially, people asked her why she was there because she looked so spry; she did not use any assistive device for walking and really seemed to take care of herself fairly well. She read books all the time, and had a quick wit. But she would answer their question with a sly smile and point to her head; she knew she was in the early stages of dementia as she had seen her own mother fall victim to it. Upon her death, a good friend of mine, who had also lost her mother to dementia, told me that grief would come in waves initially and then subside to periodic ripples. She advised to “let them come.” She is a wise friend.

Autumn was my mom’s favorite time of year, as it is mine. She loved nature, and we enjoyed driving all of the back roads up here “leaf peeping.” I remember her saying, “As often as we have taken this road, it never gets old.” Later, as her dementia progressed, she never remembered the routes — not even Upper Pine Creek Road with its distinctive bluff view — so enjoyed the drives as though they were the first time she had ever taken them.

Before she moved up here, I used some of my vacation from work every year to take her on a jaunt someplace in the Upper Peninsula — most often in autumn. We went to the Keweenaw where she was so happy to see a bear cub sunning itself in the middle of the road. We went to Sault Ste. Marie and rode the boat through the locks and visited the casino; my mother loved casinos! She gave me a roll of quarters so I would play with her, because at the time, I was way too practical to spend my money in a slot machine. And we actually drove to Paradise just to see what a town with that name looked like. We visited the Shipwreck Museum while up in that neck of the woods, and I have a picture of her wearing her bedroom slippers because she forgot to change into her shoes that day. We got a big laugh out of that. We explored the Ontonagon area, visiting the Porkies and a few waterfalls. And we went to Marquette many times; she loved Lake Superior.

Initially, the progression of her dementia was quite slow. She forgot little things, but who doesn’t when they are in their late 80s? Then she started forgetting big things, like our trips, the names of her grandchildren, who was married to who, and was surprised to know that they had children. She even forgot my wedding and was quite hurt that I had not told her that I was married! She got generations confused, often mistaking me for her sister. On my sister’s final visit from California last August, my mom introduced me to her as “her daughter.” Vicki said, “I’m your daughter, too.” It was a bittersweet moment. She lost interest in television because it confused her more than it entertained; the simple on-off switch of the remote was beyond her comprehension. The saddest moment of all was when I realized she could no longer read. Her cherished books stopped making sense to her because by the time she got to the end of a sentence, she had lost how that sentence had begun. A paragraph became impossible.

I continued visiting twice each week. We talked a lot about the same things, but that was OK because she never remembered from one visit to the next. Gradually, her verbal ability suffered because she could no longer remember what she had wanted to say or could not remember a particular word. I can still recall how she used to look at me as if to say, “You know what I mean … what do I want to say?” For awhile I could fill in the gaps but eventually there was not enough of a sentence there for me to complete. So, we sat. I held her hand, and we smiled at each other. It was so little, yet it was enough.

Naturally, her physical condition declined along with her cognitive abilities. She eventually used a walker all the time. When she became too weak for her walker, she opted for the wheelchair. Her physician encouraged her to participate in physical therapy to keep her strength up, but she adamantly refused, saying, “I’m old. I do not need to do that stuff anymore!” Her osteoporosis worsened, and she sustained multiple vertebral fractures. In the beginning, we opted to have them repaired but eventually she could not tolerate that procedure.

Finally, she stopped eating. It was then that I had to acknowledge the end must be coming. About the time I decided to ask her physician about it, her physician came to me to tell me that there really was no more medical treatment that could be done for my mom and suggested that I consider simply keeping her comfortable for as long as she had left. I had asked my mom if she was “afraid of death.” She immediately said, “Yes, but not my own. I am afraid of the death of someone I love.” She had been talking a lot about her own mother, so I knew she was ready, even though the rest of us were not prepared to let her go.

I was given an article written by De Anna Looper, RN, CHPN, a clinical and legal nurse consultant for Carrefour Associates, LLC and distributed through Crossroads Hospice. Titled “Predicting End of Life,” it is helpful in letting you know, when faced with certain decisions, how to proceed. Looper takes great care to stress that the decision to move away from actual medical treatment to comfort measures is never an easy one. As loved ones, we naturally want to keep trying. Our loved ones come to that decision much easier than we do. She lists the following as some signs there are six months or less of life remaining.

— Speech becomes limited or nonsensical.

— Ambulatory status becomes impaired, such as requiring a wheelchair when a walker had been sufficient or needing a walker when the patient previously had been independent.

— Swallowing may become difficult.

— Weight loss becomes an issue.

— There is a change in intake and continence.

— Mental status diminishes.

— Infections and chronic urinary tract infections that do not respond to antibiotics become frequent.

— Skin impairment becomes a problem.

— The patient regularly refuses meals or medications.

— Patients give up; they are simply sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The last time I saw my mom, she was sleeping peacefully. She had become so small that she barely made the blanket rise. It was very early in the morning, and I had stopped in to let her know that I was heading to Arizona with our youngest son to see our grandson graduate from college. The trip had been planned for months, airline tickets had been purchased and an air B&B had been secured. I was so conflicted. Never before in my life had I wanted to be in two places at once so much as in that moment. I did not have the heart to wake her. I left knowing this would most likely be the last time I would see her. Five days later, as we were driving back to my son’s house in St. Paul at the end of our trip, I got the call from Maryhill. It was close to midnight; she had passed at 11:30 that evening.

My mom was ready. I was not. I continue to let the ripples of grief wash over me when they come. Dementia is such a thief. I will cherish all my memories while I have them … and remember her at peace, snug in her bed at Maryhill on that cold morning in December.

——

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus will not be published this week in an effort to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they re-open, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers who are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed below.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Pork roast, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn relish

Wednesday: Chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, lettuce salad

Thursday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes, broccoli, beet salad

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday: Menu for the week —

Monday: Pork loin, baked potatoes and corn.

Tuesday: Beef stew and cornbread.

Wednesday: Chicken, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Thursday: Baked fish, potatoes and broccoli.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Chicken stuffing sandwich, peas and applesauce.

Tuesday: Polish sausage, sauerkraut, noodles and green beans.

Wednesday: Creamy garlic chicken, mashed potatoes and corn.

Thursday: Italian soup, carrot salad and dinner roll.

Friday: Ham and cheese pea salad and chips.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256.

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Oatmeal bake, sausage and fried apples.

Tuesday: Philly sandwich, potatoes and side salad.

Wednesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles, carrots and salad.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Fish sandwich with lettuce and tomato, western baked beans and fruit,

Tuesday: Cook’s choice — entrée, vegetable and fruit.

Wednesday: Pasty, gravy, coleslaw, fruit and rice pudding.

Thursday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, broccoli and fruit.

Friday: Chicken broccoli rice casserole, side salad and fruit.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Now open with limited seating 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Home-delivered and/or takeout only on Thursdays. Menu for week —

Monday: Fish, macaroni and cheese and mixed vegetables.

Tuesday: Chili and cornbread.

Wednesday: Chef salad and hard-boiled egg.

Thursday: Parmesan chicken, noodles, green beans and breadstick.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick up – must call ahead and wear a mask when picking up. Menu for the week —

Monday: Pork chop, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and carrots, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Tuesday: Spaghetti or polenta, winter blend vegetables, garlic bread, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Wednesday: Noon meal — Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, fruit, juice, milk and dessert. 5 p.m. dinner — Barbecue ribs dinner.

Thursday: Ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, fruit, juice, milk and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes, peas and Mandarin oranges.

Wednesday: Philly steak and cheese sandwich, cole slaw, chips and bananas.

Thursday: Biscuits and sausage gravy, hash browns and apple slices.

——

The Dickinson Iron Community Service Agency will have a special food distribution for senior citizens starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the DICSA warehouse at 621 N. Hooper St. in Kingsford.

Pick-up will be while supplies last. Other notes:

— Those taking part in the distribution must be at least age 60 and a Dickinson or Iron County resident.

— Anyone who arrives early will be turned away.

— Participants will be required to provide a name, address and telephone number. Someone else can pick up for a homebound friend or relative but must be able to supply that person’s information.

— When coming to the site, stay in your vehicle and follow the directions of the volunteers on site.

No prior registration is needed.

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