Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Importance of Self Image (September 2011)

For the past few weeks every time I pop in to see My Mom, she's leaning w-a-y over in her chair or wheel chair. The staff has done a great job at trying to keep her propped up with a variety of special pillows. I add to their efforts immediately upon arrival, but nothing seems to help straighten My Mom out. In fact, she's becoming irritated at our prodding and I fear even slightly bruised from repeated attempts to straighten her up.
Some brief Internet research confirmed the lead caregiver's diagnosis -- this is yet another bizarre symptom of Alzheimer's. Evidently, eventually My Mom will lose control to hold her head up too. I'm dreading that day. Watching her mind crumble was bad enough. I don't need to see her physically fall apart too.
Even though we're doing everything possible to help improve My Mom's posture, when I look at her I feel like we're neglecting her care. It breaks my heart.
There's no legitimate rationalization, but seeing her in this sad state has somehow made me step up my caregiving skills. I don't know if I'm worried about what people will think when they see her looking pathetic and slouched or if it's for my own personal satisfaction, but it's become ultra important for me to make sure My Mom looks good. I went on a mini buying spree and bought her a half dozen adorable matching shirts and sweaters. And I finally took her hairdryer over to the home and have made a concerted effort to style her gorgeous silver hair poofed just how she likes it.
She was looking so good this afternoon with her new coif and slate blue sweater combo, that I pushed her wheelchair into the bedroom to see if I could muster a reaction from her by looking in the mirror. I've said it many times already, My Mom was very vain in her day. She didn't wear a lot of makeup, but she always had a vanity in her bedroom, even at our cottage. She would sit in front of the mirror primping for quite some time before ever heading out of the house. Remember she is a byproduct of the glamour girl era. She spent Saturdays going to matinees watching Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich and Ginger Rogers. My Mom and her sisters did their best to carry out the movie star images in their own lives. Throughout her entire life My Mom always made sure she sported the most recent hairstyle of the day. I have a great photo of her back in her 20's laying on the beach at the family cottage painting her toe nails bright red. I'm sure she had bright red lipstick to match. The only place she and her sisters went summer evenings during the war years were to small dances near the cottage and the only guys they had to dance with were farm boys, but it didn't stop them from dolling themselves up to the hilt -- complete with silk stockings. Later she bought herself a mink stole. She loved feeling glamorous.

Her room at the private care home has a full length mirror behind the door, so I pushed her all the way in and closed the door. I spun the chair around and began to tap on the mirror to draw her attention in the right direction. I couldn't believe my eyes. She not only came out of her new semi-permanent daze, she immediately noticed her lopsided position and straightened herself up! All on her own! It was like she had come back to life again. I pushed her a little closer to see if she'd inspect the outfit or hair-do. Yep. She adjusted the front of the sweater to make sure the buttons were straight then turned her head to and fro to inspect her hair and face.
"Ugh, look at this," she said touching her cheek. She has remarkably few wrinkles for her age, but she refuses to believe she's over 30. Instead of trying to explain away the skin quality, I told her that her hair looked gorgeous. She gave the locks a discerning look, then took her right hand to the bottom of her bob and began to give it a little push skyward to emphasize the oomph. It was fantastic.
It's left me wondering how long it's been since we've had My Mom in front of a mirror. The place that had once been so very important to her. She's bathed and brushes her teeth at least twice a day at the bathroom sink, but now that she's primarily relegated to a wheelchair, she can't see the shoulder high mirror over the sink.
Keeping My Mom from a mirror certainly wasn't intentional, but not showing her reflection on a regular basis surely took a toll. I wish desperately I would have realized the importance of self image much sooner. I used a mirror the entire time I was caregiving at my home. I played on her vanity to give her a vested interest in helping to care for herself. For that reason, I can't belief I let the ritual of her checking her appearance slip away.
I'm smart enough to know I can't beat myself up over every little nuance of her care. The fact that I haven't made mirrors available is certainly not the cause for the horrible disease of Alzheimer's growing steadily worse. If My Mom would have had access to a mirror, quite frankly, it would have resulted in both of us becoming distraught over watching her fail and trust me, My proud Mom would be even more bothered by her current state of debilitation than me. Honestly, I think the lack of a reflection saved her from facing the very painful reality of aging.

One thing I've noticed over the past three years, is that My Mom is pretty good at being selective in what she chooses to see. Right now she's focused strictly on her hair, which despite her age looks fantastic. As long as she's happy with what she sees, I'll leave her parked in front of the mirror for as long as she wants. It's the first "activity" we've had in weeks and actually it's turning out to be a great experience for me too. For the moment, she has me fixated on her hair as well. And with the deliberate ways in which she primps each section I no longer see the image of an old, crippling woman. Instead, I focus on that gorgeous silver hair. It's been the same since I was young. Watching her enjoy putting a little bounce in her bob brings back memories of the many, many times I watched her in front of the mirror while I was growing up. Just like when I was young, in the reflection right this minute I only see the beautiful, proud soul that is (and has always been) My Mom.

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