Sorts, out of

[A couple of people have been encouraging me to write here just to get some stuff off of my soul. So I’m trying again. This is a piece of my life at the moment.]

The issues that have grown up around food and grocery shopping have reached a level of complexity that far outdoes the adjective, Byzantine (with apologies to any Byzantines or fans of theirs who may be reading).

It’s a key to understanding dad since the stroke that he does not respond to hints, polite requests, or even calmly spoken orders. If he is doing something that’s a problem, he will not respond to a request to stop — the only way to stop him is to scream at him, or to physically interpose oneself. So I have to pick my battles. I’ve gotten a lot of uncomfortable queries from our personal helpers about this — “why do you let him ______?” and the answer is simply that I can’t scream all the time, and while I don’t think he would hit me, the possibility is always there. I just can’t enfroce every boundary that would be sensible. The dementia counselor says “you never win an argument with dementia,” and since dad turns every request into an argument, the only way is to try to edit his environment so certain problems don’t arise, to prevent issues from occurring. It’s a bit like living in The Truman Show, I suppose.

Before the stroke, we had started doing online ordering / curbside pickup (about three years ago). It was always my responsibility to both select the food and bring it into the house and store it. Post-stroke, dad became insistent that he help me carry the food into the house, but his balance was poor, there are twelve stairs in the entry to our house, and he insisted on carrying as much as possible (in those cheap plastic carrier bags) in one trip. It isn’t safe, even when the surfaces aren’t icy. The dementia counselor — let’s call her Calluna — suggested giving him specific things to carry. This led to him yelling at me that he is not an invalid, sometimes for periods of ten minutes or more. For lack of a better alternative, I began locking the car during intervals while I was carrying groceries into the house. Pick up bags, close and lock doors, go into the house, go back out to the car, open doors, repeat.

Now excluded from carrying, although at least safe on the stairs, dad began insisting that I am buying too much food: “pissing my money away!” (He says this to me several times a day these days about various things, and he’s developed a series of delusions around this, including that I am hiding money from him — money that is in his savings account for him and everyone else to see — or that I am not paying his bills — again easily disprovable. The man has a much better credit rating than I do.) This pattern became worse post-COVID, because I stopped doing a weekly shop and started doing much bigger ones (every three weeks, every other month or even every third month, with brief supplemental dashes into a convenience store). We were recommended to have at least a three week supply of staples on hand. So, Calluna suggested limiting how much he saw me bring in at any given time. So I only brought freezer and refrigerator stuff into the house on the day I bought it.

This was just as well, because after COVID, dad turned our pantry into a supermarket for Flower. If we had something in our pantry that she wanted, he insisted that I drive it over to her. As Flower has her own child living in our neighborhood, Calluna was adamant that (given the history of our past interactions) I not respond to these requests unless Flower was in immediate distress, and that if I were concerned, I should call Flower’s child to let him know about her needs.

Dad is never not home: that is the definition of lockdown. However, the result is that my car has turned into a pantry stash, since I’m hiding groceries (and not just groceries) both from dad and by extension from Flower. When I buy groceries the perishables come in the house and the other items stay in the trunk. If I need something, I put it into my bookbag and sneak it into the house. Eight months of doing this has left the predictable mess, and I’m no longer certain about which foods are where and how much of them are available. Although the winter has tarried, it won’t hold off forever. It seems likely that a sustained spell below freezing is likely to happen soon, and while steel cans can stay in there, I still need to get a lot of that stuff into the house. I scheduled that for dad’s fall fishing trip, except that HL came back a day early. And then I re-scheduled it for the first day of the white-tail hunt. I figured I could combine a big shop ($450 worth of groceries to last well into the New Year — the last time I’d been for a big shop was the end of August) and maybe get all the staples we would need until February, with retrieving everything that is already in the car. However, HL decided there was no way for dad to be out with him safely this year, so that was canceled.

And so, on Saturday, we had the predictable confluence of factors. This time dad added a new complaint to “you’re pissing away my money,” or rather, he developed it into a new critique: I was leaving the door open while carrying groceries into the house and heating up the whole outdoors. He was angry enough about it both to yell at me and to storm down the steps, precariously, and slam the door.

(I should add here that I left the breakfast dishes to get the groceries and that also created both anger — “you’re dirty and lazy” — and a mess, as dad ran all the fat from the sausage and bacon I made down the drain, and then the drain clogged.)

Anyway, after his explosion, I calmly opened the door to get some more groceries, but he again tottered down there and slammed it. I totally lost it, despite all my best resolutions. But he could have hurt himself badly if he’d kept it up with slamming the door. After I figured out the drain, it took me hours to get the adrenaline out of my system. And so, you guessed it, the car is full of even more pantry staples and we are another week closer to a real freeze. It’s snowing today, in fact.

I need a heavy lift from HL to get dad out of the house for a while so I can move the groceries in, but that’s unlikely to happen at least until the white-tail season ends in another week.

The other thing is the now almost-constant fighting over the food I cook — not the expense, but the amount. This was always set up as a complex problem: dad won’t cook for himself, he won’t eat leftovers, and he refuses to express any preference as to what he prefers to eat. This has always been true — my mother spent years of her life as a short order cook who was constantly guessing as to what to make for any meal– but he regards making a bowl of cereal in the morning as onerous labor. He has slowly accustomed himself to occasionally microwaving soup from a can (don’t ask me why that is okay, but warming a leftover isn’t). He’s lost about a quarter of his body weight since he stopped drinking and this is part of what qualifies him as medically frail and makes him totter on the stairs.

So: It is one of my central responsibilities — as recommended by his GP — to get 1,800 to 2,000 calories into him a day. Sometimes he makes it to 700 calories during the day, so the evening meal is the attempt to make up for all of that. I almost never succeed. But I have learned a few tricks. Focus on calorie- and protein-dense foods. Don’t worry about draining or trimming fats off meats or using low-fat dairy. Leave a lot of snacks, candy, protein shakes, nuts, fruit, bakery, chips in conspicuous places. Keep the freezer full of high calorie ice cream choices that are easy to open. If I am eating something, offer him some of it, too. Lower the barrier to eating difficult foods (for example, he will eat two potatoes if I peel and boil them, but only one if I microwave them with the skins on, because he won’t eat a potato with a skin on but he also won’t make the effort to peel more than one). He eats more if he can serve himself, so rather than making a plate of a thousand calories, which he practically never finishes, my best hope is to guess what he wants to eat, make sure it’s easy to serve and eat, and let him portion it for himself. This hasn’t been easy, mostly because he is a very conservative eater (so — no Asian foods, no rice as a carb staple, and a very limited assortment of foods that are not basic American or German-American foods. Noodles only in lasagna, tuna salad or spaghetti bolognese). No introducing any new foods, and if I make something that he either doesn’t like or isn’t in the mood for, he eats five bites and then he’s done.

(Two nights a week, a senior helper is there at supper time and gets takeout for him, so I get two meals off per week, even if I basically need to eat them in my car. Did I mention my car is a mess?)

During the spring panic, when affordable meat disappeared from our usual markets, I put a deposit on a half hog, which is now in our freezer. (I stopped eating kosher when I moved back the first time, in 2014.) We occasionally did this before I left home, so it wasn’t a totally foreign experience. When I moved the boxes into the freezer, I told dad that we split it with HL to quiet his objections. I also thought it would be interesting to have the freezer decide what we are having for dinner. We eat a lot of pork now, but on the whole this decision has been good — it was a “free range” pig with better flavor than what we usually got.. But it also confronts me with cuts that I’ve either never eaten or never prepared myself.

Now, dad’s constant lament when he sees me cooking — whether breakfast, dinner, or supper — is that I am making too much. (This is not true — we don’t have that many leftovers — but it appears to be a central anxiety of his that there is no way to quiet.) I get up and go into the kitchen and turn on the light and he immediately follows me into the kitchen to tell me not to make too much food. Calluna’s suggestions here have been useful. When he says, “I can’t eat all that,” remind him that I’m cooking for me, too. Say that I’m going to use some of the food for lunches (hard now because I don’t leave the house for lunch six days a week, and I have to make him a fresh dish for every meal). Tell him that I am going to share some with HL’s family or other friends. Tell him I am going to freeze half for a future meal. (This is tricky, because dad is suspicious of food made from leftovers, e.g., soup made from odds and ends in the freezer.) There’s a real problem that with the kind of food he wants to eat most of the time, one can’t always reduce the amount infinitely; he almost always wants a cooked meal, and the ingredients often come in fairly standard packages or amounts, so that subdividing them creates its own potential waste problem.

All the problems converged yesterday: “pissing away my money,” “too much food,” and “unfamiliar food for Serv.” The uppermost package was labeled “pork ribs” (and because it’s not a retail item, there was no weight on it). This was in the category of “never eaten, never prepared” and twenty-five years of kashrut have left me somewhat underprepared for pork anyway. I read about them on the web (the key issue seemed to be separating the membranes) but I made the mistake of opening the package while dad was in the kitchen and drawing his attention to them by asking if he knew if they were short ribs, spare ribs, baby back ribs, etc. He did his usual “why are you asking me stupid questions” noise (a frequent move of his — Calluna thinks it’s a self-protective move because he can’t admit that he doesn’t remember something), and then told me he could not eat all that. I said that I had asked him because I thought he might know (he did grow up on a farm and butcher, although I didn’t say that), but I would figure it out. Then came the “you are wasting my money on expensive food” and I said, “we’ve been eating this meat for a month now, it is high quality.” And finally came, “I can’t eat all that,” and when I said, “I am cooking for me, too,” he made a really mean reference to my weight. That was an escalation and it really hurt, not least because I have been eating following his needs and not mine for two years now.

I’ve reflected before on my failure to be the child he wanted, and I tried to remind myself of that, as well as the fact that the doctors are convinced this kind of behavior is a reflection of his disease, not of his choices. But I really needed to leave. HL had just texted me about something and I found the stuff he wanted and left it and lied about needing to run an errand and just left for three hours. Well, it wasn’t a total lie — I needed to pick up the turkey for Thanksgiving — but I would have gone out for twenty minutes, not for hours. However, the combination of Saturday, the constant wrangling about food, and then the additional remarks converged into the worst kind of combination of hopelessness and anger.

So you can see where this is going, because then three hours later I walked into the house with a five pound (fresh, “Amish”) turkey breast. “What have you got there,” dad said, “you didn’t buy more food, did you?” and then another recital of the litany of my faults: wasting his money, making too much food, weighing too much. I said, “it’s for Thanksgiving,” and put it in the fridge. “It’s too much,” he yelled. I said, “It’s hard to buy a small turkey in the U.S., and it’s Thanksgiving. We eat turkey.” He said, “well, don’t expect me to eat any,” and I said, “that’s fine, I am cooking for me,” and he said, “you’d better eat it all, then.”

I had just been away for three hours, so I couldn’t leave again, but I went out and sat in my car and listened to the radio for twenty minutes. I can’t really listen to music right now, and it’s not like the political news is especially cheering.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, the ribs (I took a picture of them and sent them to my mom’s cousin who told me they were baby back ribs) turned out well. I rubbed them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika and baked them for three hours, then glazed them with barbecue sauce from a jar and broiled them a bit longer before letting them rest. I served them with potatoes roasted in olive oil, garlic and parsley, and frozen California vegetable mix with butter on it, and biscuits.

However, I timed it a bit wrong. He will only eat with the TV on, and “Wheel of Fortune” ended about five minutes after we set down. Dad went into the other room, had to locate the remote and change the channel, and then got stuck watching “Family Feud” until I went and asked him to come and finish eating. In the end, he ate about six ribs, which is a normal adult portion, and so did I, and we ate all the potatoes, vegetables and biscuits I made except for about three ribs, which I wrapped up and froze. Dad had an ice cream sundae for dessert. So he probably got his 1,800 calories yesterday.

I don’t count my own calories, but I know stress hormones increase the efficiency of food storage in humans.

Thanksgiving is Thursday, and apart from the “discussion” I am anticipating about Flower, it’s very hard to make that meal in less than two and a half hours, even cooking all out. I usually time things around the turkey, and this breast will take 2 hours or a bit more in an oven bag. So I anticipate all the demons (“wasting money,” “making too much food,” “I won’t eat this,” and now my weight) will come out to play. And then of course there’s the fact that I am getting store-bought pies.

Uch.

I think I will leave this there. If I get too much into how I feel — well. It seems like the only way we will survive this lockdown is not too feel too much.

***

[Obviously, this was a vent. I know a lot of people are reading, so don’t feel obligated to leave a comment if you’re just too tired — I completely understand. I’m exhausted most of the time myself. Also, please understand that I do have two professional advisors who have thought of a lot of the most obvious advice. And I am fully aware — indeed I say it to myself practically hourly — that we could have it much worse than we do.]

~ by Servetus on November 25, 2020.

53 Responses to “Sorts, out of”

  1. Wow. You are stretched to your limit all day long. This is a vivid snapshot of what caretaking involves in your situation. Please know you are amazing in just taking this on — day by day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I keep thinking there has to be an easier way — but it’s either do it the easiest way or the do it the way that avoids arguments th emost. I’ve opted for the latter, but.

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  2. When my grand baby was struggling to gain weight, her gastroenterologist suggested making all her food as caloric as possible. So eggs cooked in butter, pancakes with butter and syrup, things that pack a lot of calories in a small amount of food. Would this work with your dad? I remember from my mom that the elderly seem to survive on very small amounts of food

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    • Yes, see above under “calorie-dense foods.” However, I’m not sure dad has ever eaten anything but butter except when he was in the Army. We are pretty butter-friendly around here. The real elephant in the room we’re addressing here is that he used to get hundreds of calories per day from alcohol. That’s why there’s so much sugar in his diet now.

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  3. My aunt has the same issues with paying bills. When they go to New Mexico my uncle will worry about the bills. Not only it stresses my aunt out he gets to me too. I get their mail and send it to them as they will not have the mail forwarded to them. Not sure if their going to New Mexico this year or not with Covid I really hope not. They have been going out to eat and will not stay home.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

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    • Yeah — the stress gets passed down the chain. I pass mine on to Calluna and the Aging and Disability Resource Center. I hope they stay put, too. It’s going to burn out here eventually but not if people spread it on their winter travels. I appreciate the thoughts and prayers!

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  4. Sending hugs and positive thoughts your way. I’m sorry that you have to experience this verbal abuse, even though he isn’t able to stop himself or even realize that he should. Just try to remember that it isn’t actually about you, but about him feeling powerless. I’m sure in the moment that doesn’t make it hurt any less, though. Know that you are doing a good thing. The Covid situation doesn’t help though does it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah — earlier I have tried asking him not to say certain things because they are hurtful but it just blows right past him. This is not a “love and logic” situation. That part of his brain is shorted out.

      The thing is that all of my “time out” places are gradually becoming unavailable to me. I don’t have an office anymore (employer sold the building), the coffee shops are all closed for sit down customers, and the places that are open (bars) are not really safe. So theoretically I have 8 hours “to myself” every week but I spend a lot of it sitting in my car.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You don’t have any libraries open I guess. Or restaurants? Here, they are open and a lot of them have put Plexiglas between booths. Starbucks just shut down their seating again. Our cases have increased and for the first time there is a mandatory mask order. Movie theatres are still open but I haven’t braved them. Is that a possibility for you? Although I’m not sure I’d be comfortable, I haven’t heard of any issues with movie theatre transmission.

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        • Libraries are closed — I can get books out via curbside (which is really great, much better than having to rely solely on electronic resources). This is really hard on the homeless population and jobseekers, etc., who need their F2F resources. Movie theatres and restaurants are still open here (long story — the GOP has busily been suing every official from the governor on down who tries to institute any kind of health order) but they are not safe. Our seven day average of new infections is around 5500 per day, about 40% of those testing are currently testing positive, and yesterday we broke 100 deaths per day for the first time. Given that we now have Thanksgiving underway, it probably won’t be safe to be in public even in a mask for at least two weeks.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Wow. Those are some crazy numbers. We had our first employee test positive, so instructing, advising, etc has kept me busy in addition to my regular work. I may have mentioned I lead our health as and safety team. Not so bad during regular times, but…

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’m sure you’re encouraging people to take every precation, which is not what’s happening here, hence the crazy numbers. We also had the gun season start last weekend and that puts a lot of people in bars. I’m really worried about the next two weeks.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, definitely. Guns and bars, together? Doesn’t sound like a great combination with or without COVID. My family are/were hunters too, and drinkers, but maybe not at the same time. But I can see why you’d be worried, especially with Thanksgiving as well. People find it hard to resist getting together, I guess.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. Hope your turkey breast feast was good and relatively calm.

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                • Thank you! The anticipated argument materialized, i.e., you’re making too much food, I can’t eat this, etc., etc. However, the gravy turned out insanely well. As I am not sure why, I probably won’t be able to reproduce it, but I think I know now what people who talk about great turkey gravy mean.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Too bad about the argument, but great about the gravy. Mine usually turns out well, but one year I put too much flour as I was trying to thicken… was not the best.

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                    • yeah — as little flour as possible, I guess. Mine is usually fine, but this was stunning. I was surprised because I did it in a bag and that usually is not so great for the gravy. I guess I’ve concluded that it was maybe the turkey itself — I bought a fresh Amish turkey breast. But it’s weird that I got such a flavorful turkey without any dark meat.

                      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am glad you got this out. I think in such an inescapable situation it’s important to at least voice your feelings once in a while.
    {{{Hugs}}}

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate it. The issue has been that when I express this stuff I don’t usually get the response I need, and it’s just easier to try not to ponder it. And then the story has gotten so convoluted I can’t just sit down and tell people about it what’s going on now because it doesn’t make any sense to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a daughter to my late father, who had Alzheimer’s, I hear you. There were moments when I longed for the period where he just sat in his chair and wasn’t interested in anything ( that drove me crazy at the time because it was so not like him). The paranoia about money and the need to control everything is understandable when you take a moment to step away from the situation, but when you’re smack in the middle of it 24/7, it’s just maddening. You need to get away from it, but at the same time you know you can’t. It’s a no-win situation. Hang in there.

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    • Yes! I hate it when he spends eight hours watching TV in a row, but part of me is also relieved — he’s not doing anything dangerous or criticizing me. And it’s true — understanding tha the is searching for control doesn’t make it any easier to take as the target. What’s weird to me is that there are plenty of things he could control that are not dangerous to him, but he’s not interested in any of those. He’s only interested in things that generate a power struggle.

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  7. Gosh, that was upsetting to read and worse for you to write I am sure . As above, know you are doing a great job n a difficult situation . I have helped care for someone with dementia and I can empathise . Take care of yourself as your first priority – really ! Sending positive vibes and online hugs . Lynne UK

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  8. I’m so sorry you have to deal with these problems. Even with the help of the advisors, It is impossible to deal with that level of irrationality. Extracting yourself from the situation was a good idea, I’m sure. Your patience (despite the anger and frustration) is admirable, but venting is probably also a valid and good solution. Sorry to be unable to offer anything else but best wishes of strength and socially distanced hugs.

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    • Socially distanced hugs are the best! (as you know, I’m not the biggest hugger)

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      • Ha 😁 good to hear you haven’t lost your individual sense of humour and I totally agree that this is one of the (the only?) positive things about covid that people don’t get so touchy feely close right now 😉

        Knowing very well how important it is to have a refuge somewhere even if the living arrangements mean that this is not in the place where you live, what works well for me is to spend some hours or a day out in nature to do a reset / recharge (but I never had to provide care for someone like you are doing so can absolutely not compare to what you’re coping with on an everyday basis) anyway, as for places to go, outdoors is definitely a good option even with strict covid lockdown in place.

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        • I’m not really a lover of the out of doors, and it’s about to get colder, but I may be forced in that direction, soon.

          And yeah — no regrets on no touching here. I keep seeing these articles about how not touching people is emotionally damaging to humans and I’m just like, huh. OK. If you say so.

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  9. I am so sorry you have to deal with all that. I do understand your pain. My step dad is a huge bully that I’m stuck living with. One thing I find that helps is EFT tapping. There’s a free app called The Tapping Solution. Give it a try and see if it helps. Sending you tons of love.

    Like

    • I’m sorry you’re suffering with your stepdad. I had recently read something about tapping and thought I should look into it — thanks very much for the poke! Good to know it works.

      Like

  10. It’s important to vent sometimes. I just wish you had much more support (eg your brother) in dealing with all of this. Know that all my positive thoughts go out to you! (((Hugs)))

    Like

  11. Sending you strong hugs!! It’s an exhausting up and down daily. I found locally a food delivery company that will forever be in my highest thoughts and eternal thanks. It’s hard to know what the best thing to do really is. Many hugs, hang in there and please do vent it may help even just a bit ax

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you found someone, and I hope your dad is feeling better!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly no, been off work 3 weeks now 2+ back taking care if dad, 1 more week here hopefully flights open again and i can take him back to London. Covid has caused cognitive decline so even tougher times ahead. No idea how I’ll deal with work and care from 1 bed flat but work i must. One day at a time at present.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I can totally commiserate and I wish there were something like reasonable advice that actually helped. The fact is that being stuck in a room with someone in cognitive decline for long periods of time is punishing. Let’s hope they get the vaccine sorted out soon, at least. Sending you hugs.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I hear you! Lots of distanced hugs your way too and yes on the vaccine! We need to be able to get out and interact with people again and do stuff in person and have people over safely.. one less thing to worry about would help. Fingers x for quick vaccine plan snd delivery! X

            Liked by 2 people

  12. sending energy and strength and hope your way in little virtual tins…!

    Like

  13. Whew, your car has really come into its own. Your capacity for coping with this difficult situation is incredible but I know you have little choice, and there must be bad days, hopefully writing (venting) helps and distracts. I am glad you’ve blogged. Big hug from across the pond.

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  14. Don’t know what to say really. I can’t imagine living like that. I read something you blogged in august of last year. About getting the wrong parent. You would not see it like that but in my opinion you make a great sacrifice. I know there are probably good times as well but still… I could not do it. After years of trying I decided to step out of the circle that was my family. The part I was assigned didn’t fit me anymore. I left and made the family I had wanted and I became the parent that I had needed when I was a child. My father has since died and I rarely see my brother and mother. They do not fit in my life and I do not fit in theirs. But it still hurts too much for me to be able to do what you do without resentment. You have a great heart and much compassion. My thoughts are with you.

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    • I think everyone sees it differently. For me there is a difference between toxic parents (I have friends who have toxic parents and I support their decisions for complete, total, permanent separation) and damaging parents. I think we can put my father in the “damaging” category (although I think my mother was a great parent for me, and he was probably a better parent for my brother). I have had therapy about this and so I can look at the situation with clear eyes (at least most of the time), which doesn’t exempt me from emotional responses that are largely pre-programmed (but at least I know that). I wish sometimes that I had established the degree of independence in my twenties that would have separated me further from my family — but we were all way too fully enmeshed, and I was too weak then, to have been able to do that. So we are where we are. I don’t know that it’s a consequence of virtue: just the place that we ended up. Path dependency, so to speak. I have always been really impressed by people who have been capable of totally remaking their own life under their own power; I just wasn’t capable of it. It might have been different had I had children, but I never wanted them, so.

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  15. That sounds all so awful. I know about dementia, but my dad was so much easier to handle than yours and I still couldn’t do it anymore. I really don’t know what to say, I just hope you can manage 😦

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    • It’s apparently really hard to tell what is dementia and what is brain injury from the stroke. After that series of tests summer before last, the neurologist said to me, “you have to imagine that his brain is like an engine that revs but can’t get into gear.” I find that a good description of the situation. Thanks for the good wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. […] / December were another long list of problems (this was one) with no relief. I fell apart repeatedly to both HL and the dementia coach and the […]

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  17. […] spoil) and money (you’re pissing it away) intensified drastically, and we had the “you can’t leave the door open to bring in groceries” fight, so I didn’t bake. Indeed, the mixer didn’t made it out of the back of my car initially […]

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  18. […] is the dementia piece. I’ve written before of dad’s inability to respond to normal conversational cues. Any significant household task to be accomplished without aggravation needs to be undertaken in […]

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  19. […] is the dementia piece. I’ve written before of dad’s inability to respond to normal conversational cues. Any household task to be accomplished without aggravation needs to be undertaken in dad’s […]

    Like

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