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Carrying the mother load
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Because my mother in-law lives in a different state, I don’t have the opportunity to interact with her on a regular basis.

I speak to her from time to time on the telephone, but because she has absolutely lost her short term memory capabilities, she forgets that we speak, so each conversation is exactly like the one before.

Even though I was aware of that fact, I wasn’t really prepared for her when she agreed to spend a week with us.

I mentioned in a previous column that I asked her, half expecting her to bow out because she wouldn’t want to be “a burden,” but she clapped her hands and was happy to have the opportunity to visit us in our new home.


So. Driving the eight or nine hours from her place to ours requires crossing some high desert areas where nothing much grows but Joshua trees and sagebrush, and you might see the occasional jackrabbit or roadrunner beat a hasty path across the highway in front of your vehicle. If you think hitting a deer is traumatic for your vehicle, try getting slammed by a six-foot wide tumbleweed.

From the moment we left the little burg she lives in until we rolled out of El Cajon Pass, she said, “It sure is deserty out here...”.

I think I heard that about twice an hour, each time her sleeping head would bob up from a jolt, she would look out the window and utter those words.

At least twice an hour she would ask, “Where’s my purse?” frantically trying to look on the floorboard for it, but I assured her each time that it was safe and sound in the back of the vehicle.

“Oh, I would just die without my purse!” she would say breathlessly, in a panic.
“Your purse is just fine. Just relax.”

Just. Relax.

Two words in the English language that have zero meaning to her, which I found out the minute we arrived at my house.

Her idea of relaxing is taking out her pill case and the little chart she made, taking each day of the week marked on the case and comparing the pills inside each compartment to the ones taped on her chart.

An exercise in futility.

The funniest thing about her pill taking was that at the end of the day, just before bedtime, she was to take Aricept.

You know. The one for “memory.”

Except that she would forget to take it. Or would forget to take her other pills.

I tried to keep a close watch on her when she was taking her meds, but I think that overall she managed to stay on schedule.

It was an obsession, constantly watching the clock once she got here.

But not just watching the clock, she was almost OCD about opening the case and counting the pills. She would average about four or five checks in a 15-minute span, usually first thing in the morning.

No short term memory, no remembering have just checked the pills.

The first night was memorable, after we all went to bed.

I tucked her in around 11p.m., assured her that her purse was right by her bed, her pills were just on the night stand, and the portable oxygen tank was on and ready for use — but that would prove to be a useless 10-pound bag of a joke for night time use.

We’re all in bed, the house is quiet, and within about 20 minutes I notice a light go on. I didn’t say anything because it didn’t stay on.

I looked at the clock and it was nearly midnight.

The light went on six more times in about five minutes.

Hubs finally called out, “Are you all right?”

“I just need to see where I am. I’m confused.”

He got up and went to tuck her in again, she seemed a bit more settled after she could see where she was.

Five minutes later, she called out to me.

“Where’s my purse?”

“Right by your bed!” I hollered back.

I started counting on my fingers and got to “eight” before she called out again, “Where did you say my purse was?”

“Right by your bed!”

“Oh! OK!”

And then once more for good luck on the count of “seven.”

It was pretty much like that all week, the purse, the pills, and — oh, I forgot to mention — her hair. Since I’m pretty handy with a curling iron and hairspray, I did her hair for her. She wasn’t totally pleased with it because I did not give her armored curls. You know, the kind that the wind can’t even shake? She was just as happy to have someone dote on her though so she didn’t squawk too loudly about that.

At the end of her stay, I took her down to the airport and managed to have her put in a wheelchair with the promise from the staff that she would be well tended to. I had my doubts as to whether or not I should leave her there on her own with them, but she seemed to be OK with it. She had her purse clutched tightly to her chest as the lovely young gal wheeled her down toward her gate.

I can only imagine what she must have been fretting about after I left. I assured her the whole long trip to the airport that she was all set, that my sister-in-law would meet her at the gate, that she would be taken care of from point A to point B and all would be well et cetera ad nauseam but she kept forgetting everything I told her.

I called a few times later in the evening to see if she’d made it home safely but got no response from her house or my sister in-law’s place.

Yuh oh. I imagined the attendant getting frustrated with the litany of repetitive questions and taking her out to the tarmac, leaving her sitting in the wheelchair, clutching her purse.

All I know is, there but for the grace of God, go I.