Double, double toil and trouble!
Tormenting Mom with a dementia double date in Halloweentown.
When a long-time Stumped Town Dementia reader who I'll call "Deb" (you know... because that's her name), discovered that we live a mini-road trip away from each other she and her husband invited us to spooky fall fun in their hometown of St. Helens, Oregon - also known as Halloweentown! Ever since Disney and Debbie Reynolds showed up on the steps of their little burg to make the Halloweentown movie in the late 90's, and the Twilight people knocked out some exterior shots at several local hovels in 2008, the denizens of St. Helens have been celebrating all things unnatural the entire month of October.
Well! Since I too like to celebrate the creepy and Mom's kind of creepy but doesn't like to celebrate anything, I thought it a match made in dementia hell and utterly imperative that we hightail it to our own homegrown Halloweentown for a lunch date and a stroll through ghost and goblins of the past and present.
It is always a treat to have company when taking Mom out and about. It is an even better trick when it's with people who understand dementia! Deb and her husband Tom have a long association with family caregiving for cognitive decline, and know exactly where Mom and I are in this journey.
When we sat down for lunch with them at the Kozy Korner Mom's dementia destructo alter-ego hit on a bowl of little creamers, picking each one up and clawing at its innocent white plastic shell in an effort to deflower whatever was trapped inside. Not only did the rest of us keep talking without batting an eye, but there were 2 additional pair of hands who knew exactly what to do - discretely move the sweeteners and assorted condiments out of Mom's reach while I extracted the hapless creamers from Mom's clutches.
When Mom treated her gooey pancakes as finger food while meandering around the table, they weren't embarrassed. When Mom tried to get the front door of the cafe open, they didn't panic. When Mom refused to give her maple syrup encrusted plate back to the waitress, opting instead for finding the kitchen herself to return it to, we all chuckled instead of stressing out over the deviation from cafe protocol (I'm guessing the waitress doesn't have a lot of customers fighting her for the privilege of busing their own table).
It's not that these things bother me when I'm not with dementia-familiar folks, I go with the flow, but it was surprisingly relaxing to sit and enjoy a meal without having that faint but underlying, ever-present worry about someone else's reaction to Mom's unorthodox way of getting through a lunch date.
When we had finished destroying Kozy Korner's food (and the mental stability of their wait staff), we grabbed Mr. Bones from the van and followed our hosts on a short stroll to the frightening festivities. Unfortunately, the two and a half block walk was a half block too long for Mom. She came to a halt at the corner right before the main attractions and refused to budge in any direction that did not lead back to her van.
But I wasn't giving up that easily.
Once we'd returned to Mom's van we showered big "Thank Youse!" on Deb and Tom and said our goodbyes. Then I fixed a wicked eye on that wicked mother of mine, steeled my determination to see the spooky sights, bundled her back in her carriage of dementia carnage and started the search for closer parking, doing our part to destroy the planet with unnecessary carbon emissions in the process.
I found a parking spot half a block off the main drag! Mom could sense her doom as we parked - I pretended not to notice as I pushed and pulled her along in my hunt for the horrifying. What we found were big monsters, little monsters, ghouls, and fiends frisking about every which way! Swarming a ginormous pumpkin, whisking through grisly scenery on broomsticks, laughing, cavorting, and cackling as a multitude of macabre scarecrows looked on. It was awesome! Then I saw a truly terrifying sight that made my blood run cold:
Mom. Giving me the evil eye with every ounce of malevolence she could muster.
I knew my Halloweentown time was up, my very survival hanging on how quickly I could get her back to the van. Suddenly, Dorothy's last words to Glinda the Good Witch reverberated through my skull...
"If I ever go looking for [Halloweentown] again I won't look any further than my own [mother's face]. Because [when she's pissed she is the scariest, most terrifying thing I know.]"
With a hug and a smile that said "Please don't kill me, Mom," we headed back home, through the beautiful reds and golds of fall, Mom finally content and dozing quietly and me completely sated from my quest to scare the bejeezus out of myself.
As we move further into the final stage of dementia Mom's capacity for pleasure diminishes. So why do I keep hauling this scowling old woman around the Pacific Northwest when her ability for enjoyment has plummeted? I've asked myself that question many a time, and was forcibly struck with the perfect answer in this week's guest blog post...
"...Mom should really live and not get by in some broken state because of her Alzheimer's. And it's my job to help her."
That's exactly how I feel too. That the diagnosis of dementia doesn't equate to Mom languishing in the shadows. That Mom's experience of life doesn't end until she does. That there are more yummy pancakes, irritating jaunts, annoying daughters that talk too much and drag her out to either enjoy or despise her surroundings in all her days to come. That it is my job to help her LIVE and FEEL SOMETHING every day she has left. Something other then the heart-rending loop of dementia anxiety. Something familiar, old hat perhaps, that the pre-dementia Mom excelled at, like, say, a life-long annoyance of her eldest daughter's hijinks!
So, when the hurly-burly's done, when the battle's lost and won, I'll finally let that old woman rest, knowing that I've (mostly) done my best.
Thank you, Deb and Tom! And Will Shakespeare for those oh-so-eloquent witches in Macbeth.