Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Mom and I watched part of the closing ceremonies of the Olympics tonight. While most people were tallying who won the most medals, who made the biggest triumph or overcame the biggest hardship, ours ended just as they began -- with a focus on hats.
From the moment the games began My Mom's been mesmerized by the knit ski hats, particularly if they have a tassel on top. In her opinion, Canada took the Gold, US with the Ralph Lauren offering a Silver. No other country displayed visible tassels or poms, disqualifying them from the competition.
I thought it was a novelty that first night, but I left for a 6-day trip to Florida and found her just as enamoured upon my return. We were watching some type of an Alpine event last Saturday, they panned the crowd and out of the blue she perked up, "there it is!" she said. I was dumbfounded. There was what? The network had taken a break from the action. What could she have seen? I rewound and in an instant knew just what she spotted -- a grey knit hat with a giant tassel on top perched on the head of a spectator. There were 12,000 people on the hill at Whistler. She spotted the one wearing her hat.

Now, let's review her condition. Next month makes two full years of living here. Every single night she's gone to bed and every single morning she's woken up in the exact same room. Not once has she found her way into the room or back out on her own. Only fifty percent of the time does she even know I'm her daughter. Just when it seems like a lost cause, enter wardrobe. Clothes seem to dress up the situation. A new outfit, or even a small accessory like a hat, can hide the distressing signs of her Alzheimer's disease like a good black sweater can hide a few extra pounds.
My Mom's always been a clothes horse. She was a career woman who married late in life. She liked to shop and being single, could afford to buy the best. Most of her labels came from Saks. My cousins tell me of how they used to go to Aunt Wyn's to borrow clothes, especially for fancy dances. I borrowed her clothes myself when I reached high school.
Now that I think about it, the day my Dad died I took my Mom shopping to distract her from the tragedy. It was March and the department store had 80-percent off all winter merchandise. We left with two armfuls of big name bargains. I felt rotten to be shopping when we should have been grieving, but honestly, they were good deals. (Like mother, like daughter... enough said.)
Alzheimer's seems to worsen during times of stress, so My Mom has deteriorated mentally quite a bit just in the wake of my Dad's death and subsequent move to Michigan. In other words, she's no longer into brand names, but she she still knows what styles work for her. She loves anything in black and white.
For the most part I accept her decline, it's not like there are a lot of choices. But I haven't gotten into researching the disease or worried about splitting the hairs over strict definitions of whether she falls into dementia or Alzheimer's. For the record, my new line is -- "No one knows how to define the disease. Her doctor classifies her condition as 'dementia as a result of Alzheimer's' which covers both," so if pushed, that's my answer. If forced to explain the disease, it's supposed to kill off brain cells, right? But that's where they lose me... does it?
She got a gorgeous black and white sweater last year at Talbot's. The next morning, eyes still closed, lying in bed she uttered "Is my new sweater still hanging on the door handle?" through a groggy haze. Now come on! Seriously, she was still half asleep. Even if she had taken a peek around the room, her eye sight wouldn't have been good enough to see the sweater hanging way over by the door. She remembered the sweater.
She's completely accepted that she can no longer wear heels, but she's become incredibly proud of her new white tennis shoes. "Those are mine," she says like Rain Man every time she sees them. I have to hide them at night or I'll find her in bed in the morning with the shoes on! You've already read about her attachment to the white slippers. So... you get the point. Her mind fails her in many ways, but when it comes to fashion, there's still a pulse. And it's pretty strong.
She's remained as dedicated to that knit hat for the past two weeks as an Olympian training in pursuit of a medal. I decided she earned a reward for maintaining this mental stamina and went on line yesterday to buy her a knit hat with a giant pom on top. Sadly, at the end of the season, I found pickings slim. But, like any good Olympian, My Mom has overcome this seemingly enormous obstacle. During a late night trip to the grocery store last night she spotted a super grunge guy wearing the very hat she wanted. She peeled away from me at paper towel and bee lined that grocery cart right to where he stood buying 32 ounce cups for beer pong to oogle over his lid. She looked past his tattoos, past the hoop ring protruding from his lip and another dangling from his eyebrow, gazing straight up to the white knit hat with a giant pom sitting on his head. "Where'd you get it?" she beamed. Luckily, he was a good kid and not only treated her with respect, but as if she were serious. He told her the name of the snow boarding store where he bought it and even gave her directions on how to get there. She listened as if she'd be heading over there first thing in the morning.
Luckily he didn't catch on that she was trying to get him to give it to her. Can you only imagine where that hat has been? But she tried, once again proving that like an Olympic torch, she's got a light that doesn't completely extinguish in that brain of hers. Some day soon she'll have a new hat to keep it warm. I just hope after all this effort she wears it.

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