• Lisa

A tale of two memory books

Speech pathologists love memory books. We huddle with our patients' families and have them collect photos and memorabilia, then together (hopefully) we assemble a scrapbook containing a lot of the past of their loved one. If the patient has enough recall and motivation, they may help too, writing captions for pictures of vacations and horse shows and children's dance recitals, and telling us stories to write down and include, against the day when they can no longer tell those stories or recognize those little ones who are now adults with careers and children of their own. Memory books are great things and get everybody involved in supporting the person whose memories they hold.

I have to confess, I haven't made one for mom yet. She can still recognize the photos around the house, at least who is in them, most of the time. Except me, for some reason. There's a picture of me that she frequently leads me to, to talk about her daughter, and gets very angry sometimes when I remind her I know exactly who that is, where and when it was taken, and where I bought that outfit I'm wearing in it. Maybe I'm not the one to make the book, though I'm likely the only one to make it, if you know what I mean. One thing she remembers is her rose bush, the one I mentioned in my first blog?

I cut this for her this morning, and it really made her happy. It's a memory book in touch and smell, sort of.

What I have done, as far as a memory book goes though, is started one for myself. Long ago I read where someone said, at times of great personal or general upheaval, one should start a journal and in it write everything you can think of about the way things used to be, so if and when a 'new normal' settles, you can then go back and read it and keep the memories fresh. Early this year I got a blank book and began to write down all the little things I could recall about the person my mother was. Sometimes it's just a sentence or two, but it's something I want to hold on to. If, heaven forbid, someday my mind begins to go, this document will represent possibly the only record of who she was. (At least, it will if I ever get it committed to typescript. My handwriting looks like a chicken waded in a bottle of ink and went for a hike across the paper.)

One night last week, I was sitting on her bed waiting to help her off the toilet, and I started to really look at the items scattered across her night stand. So many small things lay there, that she had once liked or been interested in, months or years ago, but that meant nothing to her now. There's a ceramic cup I found for her at Goodwill, commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. She was so fond of Diana. We were driving home from the Shelbyville Walking Horse Celebration when we heard about her death. Daddy went to bed when we got home, but I found live coverage from Sky News in Britain being carried by their sister network in the US, Fox, and mom and I stayed up half the night watching it; then we got up at the butt-crack of dawn a few days later to watch her funeral. In that cup is a fat ballpoint pen. I gave her that too, when I noticed some of my elderly patients could hold them and write more easily, and she liked it and used it a lot.

There's a little rubber duck dressed like a fairy princess; she saw it at a fast food restaurant we like and it made her chuckle so I bought it for her. Her calculator reminds me of all the nights she sat up late balancing the books for the ceramic shop she managed. She was thorough to a fault, and often overthought things; that's why she had a hard time initially passing the written training tests when she went to work at a care facility where I worked. I talked to the instructors and asked them to test her verbally, and she breezed through, because she could explain her thought processes.

She collected hearts and heart jewelry. An acrylic key chain in her favorite shade of blue, and a stuffed heart made from a bit of an old quilt, that I found at an antique store I stopped at one day between home health patients, testify to that. There are bottles of two perfume oils she liked, that came from a friend of mine in California who makes them, and another one we used to drive to an organic market to buy because it was the only place she could find it. Another piece of jewelry she hardly ever took off was a stretch bracelet strung with beads that represented the Lord's Prayer; when it broke, I hunted her up a replacement on ebay, found the loose beads and put them in a little paper cup and promised her I would restring it so she would have a spare. The replacement never came out of the box; she doesn't care to wear jewelry anymore. Not long ago, I took it upstairs to my bedroom. On a table up there sits a rough-carved wooden cross. Mom and I went shopping with a cousin, the cousin liked it, and mom distracted her while I slipped back into the shop to buy it. How Mom and I giggled together later on about it!

Mom began to decline shortly after that trip. The cousin went home and hasn't been back, so the cross is now in my room, and now mom's bracelet is hanging from it. Every now and then, mom and I can giggle about something still; not as often, but more valuable for that.

Next time, I’ll blog about something fun, I hope. Maybe Korean beauty products! Self-care time again, huh?Save

#writing #dementia #caregiver

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