My mom, Linda Ann Schofield has a bachelor’s degree (English) and two masters degrees (English & Educational Media). She spent most of her career as a teacher and High School Librarian. She was the 2012 Ohio Poet of the Year. She won this award with her poetry collection, “Psalms of the Hood”, which details (in poetic form) my sister’s first teaching job at an inner-city school. This collection never fails to make me sob like a colicky baby. One of my favorite poems in the collection is called:
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Babies cry; men don’t.
At least that’s what you’re told,
what you tell yourselves.
But what if your friend is shot
while waiting for the bus
to take him to school?
What if the only answer
your girlfriend has to your baby
What if you receive a phone call
that a rival gang banger is gunning for your best friend
and you get there just in time to see him shot?
What if on your eighteenth birthday
your mom hands you your clothes
in a black plastic bag and says, “You’re on your own.”?
Where do you go when life is unbearable,
when no matter how hard you push
down the anger and sorrow
it pushes right back up again?
You go to Mrs. R.’s classroom
where she lets you put your head
on her shoulder even though
you’re 6’5” and she’s 5’4”
or you’re black and she’s white
or you’re a gang banger and she’s never
even had a parking ticket,
and you cry.
My mom has been writing poetry as long as I can remember. Some of it was super moving and emotional. Some of it I didn’t get. (Most of it didn’t rhyme. She doesn’t like it when you point this out.) 😉 My mom is now 75 years old, and she has dementia1 and aphasia2. We bought a house together in 2016, and it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. We have managed to come up with a division of labor whereby I do the cooking and grocery shopping and she takes out the garbage and does the dishes. (and Miss Tammy does the deep cleaning once a month.) I totally got the best end of this deal!! Mom has offered to do my laundry, but I drew the line at that. I can’t be one of those people whose mother does her laundry at age 45.
Sometimes Mom’s dementia/aphasia presents itself as an inability to finish a sentence or find the right word. (She and I have both become really good at charades) 😀 Sometimes it presents as an unwillingness to talk on the phone or deal with people she doesn’t know well, because she’s embarrassed when she doesn’t remember their name(s). Sometimes, (though not often) she doesn’t remember conversations we’ve had.
Once, a few years ago, (when she had a UTI) it presented as her not knowing what day it was, what time it was, or whether or not she’d eaten, drank, or taken her medication (she had not). That was incredibly scary! I was worried that she’d had a stroke, or worse! (Fortunately, I stopped by at the right time, and she was just dehydrated. As soon as we got her to the ER and she had an IV of saline, she was back with us.) That was the point where we recognized how much easier we’d all sleep if she wasn’t living alone.
Driving has become a challenge for her. She has no problem getting to her church where she volunteers, or to the grocery store or pharmacy, or my sister’s house (all within 5 miles). However, any distance much farther than that or if it’s dark, or rainy, or she’s not been there 100 times before, and she’s uncomfortable driving. Fortunately, she’s taken to asking for rides rather than risking it.
Mom was first diagnosed in 2013, after a cognitive test at the behest of her neurologist. One of the tests was a flip book of nouns (Animals, well-known landmarks, and other things that most people can identify.) Some of the nouns she could identify immediately, others… not so much. She knew what they were, but she couldn’t find the word for them. (“Rhino” is apparently one of those words that the librarian in mom’s brain has misfiled and she refuses to go look for.) The following is an actual conversation between us as she was trying to tell me about this.
Mom: “What’s the African…” (she put a raised index finger next to either side of her head)
Mom: “No. It’s a real husky animal”
Mom: “No!” (her frustration began to show) “It’s something you really think of as being an African animal”
Me: “Lion… Zebra… Giraffe… Elephant… Rhino…”
Me: (I raised my own index fingers up beside my head, and then stacked them in front of my face.) “I was confused by the location of the horns.”
I asked her what she was feeling when she was sitting in the doctor’s office, knowing that she should know these words, but she just couldn’t find them. She admitted she was frustrated at that moment, but once home, before she received the report from the tests, she recognized an impending sense of what might be coming. “I already knew there was something wrong. This just confirmed it.”
Because we have a million conversations a day –only a slight exaggeration– I’ve gotten in the habit of supplying words when she can’t find them. (Sadly, out of habit I now also offer this service to people who have no problem finding their own words. If you know me in person and I interrupt you to supply a word, just know it’s not personal!) However, it tends to help our conversations along, and reduces frustration on her part. She said to me recently, “A lot of people are afraid to help me, for fear of offending me. If the situation is appropriate, I let them know that I’d prefer that they fill in the word if they think they know it, so we can just move on with our lives…”
My mom has an incredibly good attitude about her aphasia and dementia. Some of it is, “Laugh so you don’t cry”, I suspect. However, she’s also a woman of deep faith, and I think that leads her to believe that there’s a purpose. She has really made the best of a difficult situation, and that’s why she’s this week’s profile in positivity!
1Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.
2Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence