Silver Linings

Why is it so easy, it seems, to let the negative prevail and Astro-glide over the good stuff? Perhaps it’s news in general. Bad or shockingly horrific news sells. Dr Phil and his ilk thrive on people’s despair. My mom has been sucked into the negative cycle and it’s a challenge to get her out.

Earlier this year I took her to the Alzheimer’s society for an intake assessment. I was less than tickled with their approach but I’ve learned from experience that you can’t throw in the towel. I think my moms ability to do things without my dad is a good thing for them both. So a few weeks ago we started attending “Minds in Motion” at the Legion. I thought I had dad convinced to go with us (they said it’s good for participants to have some help and especially mom with her vision impairment) but on the day of, when I got to their place to pick them up, dad advised that he couldn’t come with us because he had to pick up his favourite bread from the bakery. Yup, a flimsy excuse but I got it. He likes a break from mom and she, in some ways, is better on her own too. Independence is taken for granted until yours is gone. Ask any prisoner.

Off we go. Not knowing what to expect I try to tell mom to keep an open mind. No. She’s not having it. Luckily the drive there is only 1 minute. Reality is better than “what iffing “. We are greeted at the door by Terry; he’s a volunteer. All the volunteers are wearing blue T-shirts. We walk into the room (which is the banquet room being repurposed) and there’s a circle of chairs set up. Another volunteer gets us a name badge. We take a seat. Mom is next to a man named Brian on her other side and I’m next to Jean. The circle starts to fill in and the last to arrive is a hunched over man being helped by his wife. He becomes the distraction of the group.

It’s a two hour session that begins with some gentle exercises and stretches. The facilitator, Pam, is a cheerful and bubbly younger woman who puts on her Bluetooth speaker with a little Steve Miller to get our toes tapping. (It was more of a Glen Miller crowd but a beat is a beat). For the next hour we engage in a series of motions that everyone does at their own pace. It was like watching little kids. Everyone was doing a variation with brains and mobility working not so harmoniously. However it was the latecomer gentleman who was almost immobile and his wife was beside him helping out. For her efforts he shouted at her “I can do it! I can do it!” He was loud and angry sounding. The shouting turned into foul language. Typical angry demented outbursts. Luckily everyone was more focused on their own movement.

But once we sat down for the ball exercise portion, the yelling was profound. Suddenly my mom tells him out loud to “shut up”. I bend over to her and say that he can’t help it. I notice that Brian next to mom is shocked at her outburst. He looks afraid. Then another string of shouted profanity from across the room “you’re an asshole! I’ll do it myself!” (The sane two or three phrases over and over) Now my mom is laughing. I can see her shoulders shaking up and down; it’s an inappropriate response but I can’t help smiling weakly and glancing at Pam. She gives me a sympathetic nod.

Once the exercise portion is complete the yeller is escorted out of the room by his wife. A volunteer hands out a granola bar while the others rearrange the room to have us at a giant u-shaped table. We are starting the “minds” portion.

Pam has created a few ice breakers and games to get us engaged and conversing. The theme is getting to know each other. She hands out a slip of paper to each of us (my mom tries to decline due to her vision but we ignore her). Everyone is to write down one thing about themselves that others wouldn’t know. While the papers and pens are being distributed my mom starts to chat with Terry the volunteer. I let mom know I’ve written down “I speak German” on her slip. But she’s busy chatting and that’s more important as far as I’m concerned.

Pam calls order to the group and starts st one end of the u. Everyone says their one thing. It gets to mom. She announces loudly that she can’t see and I’m her caregiver; she then adds that she’s forgotten what I wrote down (a few chuckles from the others) I whisper to her. Oh yes (as though everyone heard my whisper) she says, we came to Canada in 1959 and we lived in Manus Road …. she continues on oblivious that the rest followed instructions to say “one thing”. Everyone listens politely and finally she’s done and Pam moves on. The process takes an hour. Mom wants to keep chatting with Terry.

Week one is done. Mom liked it. But I didn’t know how much until we picked dad up and went for lunch. She wanted to tell dad all about it. He was going along with it until she said there was other men there and he should come too. The end.

For week two it was the same routine. But Yeller was absent and a few new faces were there. Name tags on we get our seats and the music starts. The theme of the “minds” session is “back to school”. I’m in! Pam hands out a slip and tells us that we need to write down a memory. Easy. I love cleaning chalk brushes and smelling the gestetner ink at Avon school. It’s moms turn. “I can’t remember anything”, she says. I say tell them what you just mentioned about the stick. That was all she needed. She’s gets on a roll about her class after the war. There was over 60 kids in the class seated in rows. She was in the back row with the gifted kids (I didn’t know mom knew the term “gifted”). When the teacher (an angry war veteran ) asked her question and she didn’t know the answer he struck her knuckles with a stick. It was odd to me that most of the memories were negative and involved corporal punishment.

We are out of time so Pam gives everyone a sheet for “homework”. Mom wants to decline but I tell her she can work on it later with dad. Shrug. Ok.

We call dad to tell him we are on our way. It would give him a minute to walk down to the parking lot. But there’s no answer. Dad is ready for us; he’s He’s frustrated. He forgot what time we were going to call. Then he fell asleep and woke up worried that he’d missed the call. He checked the phone. It was dead. He raced down to the parking lot and waited. For more than 30 minutes. He’d forgotten the time. Moms usual exercise class is 9:30 to 10:30. This new one is 10 to noon. When he got in the car he was angry. I had a few flashbacks to my childhood. Dad was angry and frustrated a lot from work. As young kids we couldn’t escape. As high schoolers I joined every club and activity to keep busy (and out of sight). Mad at himself he shouted about the impeachment debacle unfolding on tv. He wanted to argue and shout about the drama in the US.

Mom tried to change the subject. “Where are you taking us for lunch?” I say Boston Pizza. “No way. I don’t want pizza” she says. Dad shouts from the back seat: they have more than pizza. Mom is skeptical. When we arrive and get seated she is assuaged.

Dad orders a beer and mom a glass of wine. Whew. The edge is off. Mom gets to tell about her workshop. When she tells dad about her memory from school, he looks up from his salad and says with incredulity: “you told that story in public???”

Then he jumps in to talk about his day at the factory where he worked. They had an open house and he went with my uncle. This line of discussion gets him back on an even keel. Or maybe it was the beer. He had two. Mom enjoyed her wrap with rice. Better than pizza.

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