Aging makes me so angry!

I was finally ready yesterday to take an honest look at my feelings from my last visit to see my Mom in Denver. When we first arrived there, my brother went to take a nap because his lower back always hurts him. I sat down with my Mom and we had a lucid and serious discussion of many things. Even though it only went on for thirty minutes or so, she seemed completely there and asked a few truly revealing questions about my life, and I thought,

This is what I wish my relationship had always been with my Mom.”

It seemed relatively healthy and honest, but within just a few minutes she disappeared completely into remembering very little. The next few days were a confusion of her feeling anxious because she needed to ask every few minutes “What day is it?” and “What are we doing today?” I learned that she doesn’t eat well or take her pills on a regular schedule, etc.

How does that feel? I know it sounds irrational to say that aging makes me angry, but to watch someone I love slip away so very slowly, and to know that what I am losing is gone for good, is truly devastating. At first I felt angry, and as always, the sadness soon followed. My Mom will never be the Mom I remember from the past 65 years again. She is vanishing so slowly but permanently, and I can do nothing about that.

Neither one of my Mom’s parents lived as long as she has. Her Mom died in her mid-70s of cancer and her father lost it after that, dying at 81. I remember most my grandfather’s anger that his dutiful wife had abandoned him when he needed her most. He finally just gave up. So we really don’t know about dementia in her side of the family. She has outlived everyone in her family’s past.

Personally, I have experienced my share of “aging” in the past few years, where I have gone from a healthy 60 year old, who exercised regularly and never smoked, to someone on full-time oxygen. Yes, aging sucks! I have one gigantic constant reminder. Life on a tube is so frustrating. I guess I see now how so many of our elders end up angry and so sad all at once.

Life in the fast (and slow) lane

We just took a trip up to Denver for a few days, and I mean “a trip.” I never get used to the many changes that happen as we drive up there. As far as Pueblo, the highway is pretty mellow, but north of there we quickly get into “get the fuck out of my way” traffic. That’s how I differentiate city traffic from life down here. Suddenly everyone around me is in a gigantic hurry, swooping down on me and sitting on my bumper. This just doesn’t happen much down here, especially on the county dirt roads…

My Mom is doing OK in her senior patio home, although she misses Dad terribly. She says she’s lonely and a little depressed. I get so nervous when she drives in Denver. It’s beginning to be too much for her now. She’s looking forward to moving to assisted living after Covid restrictions lift. Soon I hope. Even going to the store is stressful and exhausting for her.

For me, being with my Mom is always a reminder of the environment and rules I grew up with, especially because she seems to think I’m still ten years old. Heaven forbid I might make some choice or decision on my own! Sometimes I really can’t believe that I’m 65. I’m sure she never believes it. We also have to remind her ever few minutes what day it is and what she’s doing today. It’s sad and yet she is quite comfortable with no real health issues besides a slow dementia.

Yes, it is difficult to see my Mom this way, and yet in her more coherent moments she sees that she has had a great life and appreciates that fact daily. She says she is ready to downsize her life and have others around to help all the time. Thank goodness she can choose and afford the help she needs.

How many parents miss out on knowing their adult children well?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately…

I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.

I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….

… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”

He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…

I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)

And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.

Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.

Mom and me in 1985

This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.

This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.

Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:

“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”

Brain changes: Are there connections between dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

Every time I spend time with my mother now, I see increasing signs of her slipping away from me. Our conversations aren’t as friendly and light. Her affect seems flat. I feel no joy there. The mother I remember is absent. She refuses to wear her hearing aid, so it’s difficult to tell how much she is taking in of our conversations. She refuses to see a neurologist about these changes. I am left wondering how long she will be able to engage fully with us.

Alzheimer’s disease of course comes to mind. Five million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer’s. It is the most common form of dementia.

According to Alz.org, symptoms may include:

  • Increased memory loss and confusion.
  • Inability to learn new things.
  • Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, and working with numbers.
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically.
  • Shortened attention span.
  • Problems coping with new situations.

“The future ain’t what it used to be…” – Yogi Berra

These thoughts lead naturally into wondering about myself after one moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a few concussions. Every brain injury is different depending on what part of the brain is damaged and how severely. In my case, I have had concussions before and after my TBI. The later one is probably a result of losses in coordination.

According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information:

“Traumatic brain injury remains a major problem in modern societies, primarily as a consequence of traffic crashes and falls. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually, of which 275,000 require hospitalization and 52,000 die.”

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include any of the signs and symptoms of mild injury, as well as these symptoms that may appear within the first hours to days after a head injury:

Physical symptoms

  • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
  • Persistent headache or headache that worsens
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of coordination

Cognitive or mental symptoms

  • Profound confusion
  • Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Coma and other disorders of consciousness

Over the past 30 years, research has linked moderate and severe TBI to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, years after the original head injury. According to recent studies,

“Individuals who have had a head injury of sufficient severity to result in loss of consciousness were at approximately 50% increased risk of dementia compared with others.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716376/

Now you see why I continue to read, write, think, watch Jeopardy! and exercise as much as possible…