Aging Parents · Cancer · Grief · Life

Why’d you put that there?

This is a photo of my cat. Because… cats.
When I was heading out to go spend some time with my mother for her next round of chemotherapy, I knew without thinking too much about it that I would be given things to write about. What I didn’t expect was that I would have things handed to me before I even entered her home. 

I began the 3.5 hour trek to see her at a very reasonable time of day. I was lucky because I got to visit one of my amazing nieces on the way at the university she attends. It was so wonderful to be with a young woman at the beginning of the rest of her life, knowing that once I drove late at night home from the university I attended to see her as soon as she was born. She was born and I saw her, and now she is in college and I am seeing her, and Mom is nearing her end and I’m going to see her. It was a lovely little bookend. I adore bookends. 

After seeing Niece, I headed out to Mom’s. It didn’t take too long to get there but when I arrived I sat in the car for a solid minute breathing before opening my door. If you have been reading, you know that I was apprehensive to see Mom this time, worried abut the effects of her chemo. I needent have worried, because the real issues were not about the chemo at all. Having done a good five count breath (thanks, Yogi!) I opened the door and walked toward the front of the house. I looked at the birdbath in the garden on the way as I always do because it belonged to my gram and it makes me smile. Well, it used to make me smile. I think that’s gone now, because this time when I looked there was cat food in the water of the birdbath. 

You read that right. Cat food.

Please picture it for me, because it is important. There was not a full birdbath of cat food like a food bowl, rather a birdbath of water and a few floating pieces of cat food. It scared me, to be honest, because all I would think was what are the other things that are happening in that house while she is alone. We talked a lot about these things while I was there. Mom has lost track of lots of information and documents and refuses to use any organizational system we suggest. She also loses things like vacuums and jewelry which are exactly where they are supposed to be, i.e., the closet and jewelry boxes. There were so many things lost, “taken,” or even things that suddenly appeared though there was no way they could have gotten there and Mom certainly is not responsible for them. I asked after a lot of these things, and I got barked at a lot. At one point I just started to let things go and tried to be one with the crazy. It was peaceful. For some reason, though, I could not move past the cat food in the birdbath. 

I had to ask, no matter what anger it was going to incite. “Mom,” says I, “please explain to me why there is cat food in the birdbath.”

“Well, it all started when your aunt started feeding the cat…” There was a long story that followed. There were twists and turns and things that I didn’t see coming.  There were times when what I was hearing could have absolutely nothing to do with cats, cat food, bird, or birdbaths. I listened quietly. After hearing all of these things and determining what a “chippy” is to my mother, I discovered that Mom leaves cat food outside by the birdbath for small animals to snack on instead of throwing it away because her cat won’t eat that brand anymore. I think that the food wound up in the birdbath because she thought it would help the “chippies” get to it and she just didn’t think about the snow getting in there and melting and making a weird cat food stew. 

The thing is, in Mom’s mind it made total sense. It even sort of made sense to me, really. I started to see why Mom is feeling so frustrated. You see, all of the things that she is doing right now are like the cat food in the birdbath. The baggies of hair around the house, the stacks of bills and letters, the old photos and greeting cards on the porch, these things all have a purpose. The problem is that we aren’t seeing the purpose, and since Mom is so forgetful and changing so much, we assume that these things are a result of her failing mind. When we question Mom about them, she gets defensive because she knows that things aren’t the same and that they don’t seem to make sense to us. They make sense to her, though, and she often isn’t able to explain how. All around it is frustrating for everyone. 

It must be the most difficult part about aging, when people don’t really believe you anymore even though you know what your doing makes perfect sense. Or, at least, it makes perfect sense to you at the moment you do it. I feel bad for my mom, and I feel sad for my siblings and for me, because we have to dissect everything that Mom does to make sure she is safe and taking care of herself. As long as Mom is turning off the stove, eating, drinking, getting clean when she needs to, etc., I guess she’s ok, no matter where the cat food is. 

Cat food in the birdbath is going to be the new phrase in my mind for when there is something that makes sense to me, but will probably look bananas to the outsider. Like this. This is my own personal cat food in the birdbath. 

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