Updated: Sep 16
Some people do drive-bys. We do driveways. Not as lethal, but capable of the same chaos!
I'm worried about how long Mom has left among us (worried in both directions, mind you). If our time is short, there will be so many of Mom's loved ones who will regret not having seen her one last time. So, COVID be damned, last month, we began doing driveway visits with friends and relatives.
Masked up and ready for trouble (well, I'm masked and Mom's packing the trouble), we set off south on I-5 for our first foray into driveway sojourns.
We started with Ron and Sherry, a couple who Mom and Dad camped with, partied with, bemoaned their children with, and spent a life-time with. (Ron was best man at their wedding.)
It was a beautiful sunny day. I pulled the van into their open garage, and hopped out to see how much enticement Mom would need to abandon her vehicular cocoon. Not much as it turned out, because her friend Sherry knew just how to motivate Mom to engage - cookies! She happily munched away on freshly baked ginger snaps while meandering around the driveway and the expansive yard, commandeering first Sherry as her companion, then myself.
In between the impromptu property tours Ron, Sherry, and I snatched catch-up conversations, getting and giving all the gossip on our respective families.
About 45-minutes later Mom signaled that she was done by putting herself back in the van, ready to roll. The rest of us took our cues from her, gave out hugs and waves, and went on our merry way.
I was pleased at the success.
While Mom hadn't been incredibly engaged, she had certainly been stimulated by company other than mine, a scene other than the walls of her own home, and gotten exercise to boot!
Plus I benefitted greatly from the socialization. I've missed seeing friends and relatives. One of the cool things about being Mom's caregiver is that in keeping her in-touch with friends and family, I too have built more meaningful friendships with folks who years prior I rarely had time to see.
So, feeling a tad smug with success, I anticipated an equally pleasant time to be had at our next stop that afternoon: my Aunt Becky and Uncle John's house.
Well... not so much. Becky and John's driveway is small and at a bit of a tilt, so we decided to go to the backyard. Mom, agitated at being fenced in, spent the entire time looking for a way out, often in the direct sunlight of the day's heat. I became agitated with her agitation and after a half-hour gave up my fantasy of Mom connecting - or at least sitting down - with her sister. We got her back in the van where she finally relaxed, clinging to John's hand as she drifted off to dementia land.
On the ride home I decided to apply two rules to future driveway visits: 1) only one visit per day, and 2) stay in open territory! Both rules have served us well as we've jumped around the northwest.
A visit to Walking Buddy Betty and her husband was short, but sweet. Mom didn't get out of the van for this one, content to hold hands, relax, and doze off to the sound of our voices as we compared life in a pandemic.
Over the mountain and through the woods to my Aunt Ginny's house gave us a lot of laughter when, instead of posing for a picture with her beloved sister and a favorite nephew, Mom instead became quite fixated on my cousin's belly!
Mom and her friend Karen walked the neighborhood a bit before settling Mom back in her van where Karen entertained us both with memories of their rascally days as bank employees.
And The Boyfriend in the Basement's family went all out! Hauling out tables, chairs, hand sanitizer centerpieces on each table, and a buffet spread of sandwiches and desserts! (This was Mr. Bones favorite visit as he was spoiled with tidbits under the tables from every hand in attendance.)
My Aunt Butchie will be doing the honors this coming weekend and she's promised us a Driveway Teaparty! (Take note future Driveway Hosts: the bar has been raised by our last two stops; we will now be demanding cake at every upcoming destination!)
By keeping the engagements small, short, and outside we've managed to bring joy to our days, stay safe (so far), and keep loved ones engaged in Mom's world.
P.S. While writing this it felt insensitive to my fellow family caregivers who are unable to see their dementia folks in assisted living and memory care facilities due to COVID. Then I saw an Alconnected forum post providing info on the new visitation guidelines released by the California Department of Public Health that I thought important to share, providing hope that things are turning around.
Then I got to thinking, "But how do we help those dementia families in the future to avoid this terrible separation, devastating to the health and well-being of both dementia folks and their caregivers, during the next pandemic?" My thoughts and research are included in this week's accompanying post: Advocacy! Shmadvocacy!