Looking Out To Sea, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:32am

Transcendence stayed home.

When planning to take my mom to the sea I was driven by an image. Something to do with a horizon. Me and Mom. She sits in her wheelchair or stands with my help, the wind blows her silver and gold hair against those big sunglasses. Me, standing with her, bent over to put my face next to hers and align our eyes. The two of us sharing a view.

In fact, something else happened.

I’d made a timetable. My siblings being the people they are, people arrived at Mom’s memory care place on time. We left, on time. All in one car, my mother, my brother, my two sisters, my brother’s 4-year old, a caregiver, and me. The well in the back was packed full with a wheelchair, my cooler of picnic food, a bag of table linens, plates, and plastic cups. I didn’t go as far glasses made of glass, I’m not crazy. The car was quite crowded. We were funny.

We’d planned to go Half Moon Bay, on the Pacific. I thought the beach where I had taken these photos would be perfect. I even called the campsite office the day before to make sure there’d be parking and a picnic table; I had Mom’s handicapped placard to display. The drive over the hill went just fine.

But Mom had started to doze off just before we left. She fell fully asleep in the car. And Half Moon Bay was windy.

My brother and sisters helped her out. She began to protest immediately. “No, no, no!” We persisted, reassuring her everything would be fine. We sat her in the wheelchair. “I’m cold!” she said. And said again. And again. We covered her in the hat, scarf, jackets and blankets we’d brought.

I thought maybe it would be OK once we got to the table. Once she could see the sea and feel the sun. But no. I unloaded the food, spread the tablecloth. Mom kept complaining. We gave her a cupcake. She ate it.  “Come on Mom,” I said, “Let’s see the ocean.” I wheeled her closer. “Can you see the ocean?” I said. “Yes,” she said. “Can you see the waves? “No. It’s just gray.”

In fact it was deep blue.

I think I asked her if she thought it was beautiful, but I don’t remember if she answered. She wasn’t happy.

I took her back to the table. Started to set out the plates. At some point, maybe now or maybe later, my sister took her walking around for a few minutes. At some point (maybe I heard it or maybe one of my siblings told me?) Mom said, “This is MISERABLE.


Packed everything back into the car, including all seven people, and drove up to a town I like called Princeton-by-the-Sea. Nothing to do with Princeton, just a town with a harbor, fishing boats, some restaurants. I called ahead, from my cramped seat in the third row, and pleaded with a hostess to put us on their waitlist, against policy. I explained what had happened. They were so nice.

And when we arrived in town, the wind was gone. We waited about 10 minutes, they seated us. Mom was still groggy. We ate lunch. Mom wanted bread and butter. She ate so much butter it got in her hair. She had a glass of red wine.

I listened to my siblings tell each other about their work, their lives. The caregiver and I talked. She was from Fiji, and although she’d been in the US for something like 5 years, she’d never been to the Pacific.

Then a young waiter came over and stood where Mom could see him. “Nancy, ” he said. Mom looked up. “Nancy, Happy Mother’s Day!” Mom smiled.

We kept eating. Mom started struggling to say something. “I want more (unintelligible).” Finally we guessed. She was saying, “I want more mens.”

We called over another young waiter. Asked him to do the same. It was Mother’s Day and the staff was doing their absolute best job for everyone. Odd requests granted.

Time to return. The drive was uneventful. We wheeled Mom back into her place, and upon returning to our cars realized that my middle sister and I had both left the hatches of our cars wide open in the parking lot. We had been so focused.

My siblings took their leave, I stayed behind a little while to make sure Mom was OK after all the hubbub. The caregiver who came with us would stay for another 45 minutes or so. We went into Mom’s room. Mom showed no agitation, no concern. I think she felt she was home. “Let’s go see (unintelligible),” she said to the caregiver. “Mom, I’m going to go,” I said. “OK?”

“OK,” she said, and looked up at me. I went home.

Afterwards I cycled fairly quickly through an unsurprising  feeling of failure. I wondered if I had learned anything. Seems maybe yes. Absent transcendence, aphorisms. Any of my Twitter buddies will have heard these already, now you know where they came from.

Just because a better outcome was possible doesn’t necessarily mean you could have done a better job.

There are no new lessons to learn, only new ways to ready yourself to learn them.

I realized that my Mom still knows how to get what she wants but most of all I realized that there isn’t anything we should be doing for Mom that we aren’t. That her world has to be smaller now. When you stop visiting big oceans, if you are Nancy, you are free to focus on your home and the people who live there.

And sometimes your children come to visit. Sometimes the horizon is here.

I made myself cry. Thanks for allowing me enough overt sentiment to do that. Have a good weekend everyone.

(edited to add my realization that mom gets what she wants, and to change the title just because)

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  • You made me cry a bit too. The life lessons just don’t stop, do they? You’re a lovely writer. Thanks for sharing.

    4:49 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Donna, 60 is so much more about learning than I expected. And thank you for reading.

  • Oh, honey! We can’t control Alzheimer’s — not even the most competent control freaks among us. And we can’t fix it. And it will change, although not in the ways we expected or prepared for, or in the direction we anticipated it would move.

    I love that your mom’s caregiver finally got to see the Pacific Ocean. There’s the gift you gave and the gift you got. :)

    You did good.

    4:50 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Ann, Aw thanks. Plannerina is the family name for it;). And I also felt that the caregiver’s trip turned out to be the largest gift. xox.

  • No matter the outcome, your heart is always in the right place. And you’re a wonderful, loving daughter whom your mother is fortunate to have. Life is just so hard sometimes.

    Happy Belated Mother’s Day to you.

    5:22 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Sandra, Thank you very much. I work hard to keep my heart in the right place, it’s a full-time job. xox.

  • Beautifully written Lisa. My dad had Alzheimer’s too, I could relate to it all.

    5:23 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Mary Jo, I am so sorry. Maybe some day we will meet and share stories.

  • I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as you’d hoped, but it sounds like a good day anyway. I can relate in a way…with our son we’ve had the experience that from one day to the next activities that he used to love and that we could rely on become unappealing to him and untenable for us due to his reaction/behavior. You learn to go with the flow, and yes, sometimes the world gets smaller…

    9:45 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan B, In this case we planned for the flow not going as I hoped;). That made it all much better, and quite salvageable. Tough for me, as someone who likes to move towards a vision of The Best vs. protecting the rear from The Bad.

  • Such a poignant recounting. I’ve been to Half Moon Bay and can almost picture the whole excursion.

    I’ve found that my 94 year old mother (who does not have Alzheimer’s) does not always understand or want special things we try to do for her. Her preference is a chain Mexican food restaurant. The familiar, the mundane.

    9:46 am
    Lisa said...

    @Susan D., The familiar, the dear mundane. <3

  • I love the aphorisms. I cried a little and smiled a little too – you are a wonderful writer!
    Thank you so very much for sharing.
    Suz from Vancouver

    9:46 am
    Lisa said...

    @suz, Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

  • What an achingly beautiful post. Not at all what was expected. You and your siblings are to be commended. A for effort and planning.

    On a different note, I thought those tweets were about the president, or conservatives or maybe politics. Now I get it.

    9:48 am
    Lisa said...

    @MaryAnne, Thank you. It was hard to plan for the possible turn of events, not that the plan was hard, just that it’s hard for me to give up on transcendence. The aphorisms were wholly unpolitical;).

  • So true, so touching. so heartfelt, teaching us all something that may be in our future. Thank you.

    9:49 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sandra Sallinq, You are more than welcome. Thank you.

  • Growing old is not for sissies. I watched my parents fade and flicker but my love for them lives on and the expectations have faded. Bravo to you for living in the moment of time.

    9:53 am
    Lisa said...

    @pve, Thank you. Your devotion to your parents is palpable.

  • Lisa, I recognize most of those scenes as familiar ones with my parents as I struggled to do special things for them as well. It sounds like you turned it into a good day for all and I’m thinking you will arrive at a peaceful place now; knowing she’s happy and has all she expects or needs at this time of her life. I kept thinking my parents must hate where they lived and when I asked my Mom, she said they were happy. Taking them places was such an ordeal for everyone so we gave that up and just ate with them in their dining room. My mother was very strong willed and was “miserable” anytime we tried to take her out. What a sweet thing to arrange for her and your efforts were not lost as an example for more than you know. What a wonderful family you have.

    10:00 am
    Lisa said...

    @Denise, Thank you for sharing your story. I do have a wonderful family, and I feel really lucky so often for their company. My mom has gotten more strong-willed in her dementia – I kind of think it was there all along!

  • I love that!!!

    1:16 pm
    Denise said...

    @Denise, PVE

  • Your intent was loving, and the outcome we can’t control. It’s very hard, or impossible, to know how people in your mom’s condition will respond. She still enjoyed the men as well as the food and drink – in her 90’s with dementia, my own mom responded better to men too, so I guess that innate characteristic never goes away! We just try to be the best children we can be, and have to let it go at that.

    8:35 am
    Lisa said...

    @Janie, I guess it just never goes away:).

  • So evocative . . . your mom had an adventure, and so did you. She went from “miserable” to wanting “more mens” and having precisely what she wanted for lunch. We should all do so well. I once took my mom on a beautiful drive on a beautiful day, chauffered by her newly licensed granddaughter, to get ice cream because that had become her favorite thing in the world (next to pink wine with ice). When we got there, she wouldn’t get out of the car because she felt unspecifically uncomfortable, and on the way back identified her discomfort as a problem with her adult underwear, which we remedied immediately upon arrival at her care home. Nothing went as I had intended (and I really had wanted some ice cream), but I don’t count this as a failure – at least mom had some people she still more or less knew fussing over her and listening to her and doing something with her. That’s what I had to offer, and that’s what she was able to take. I truly believe that these experiences did mean something to her psyche, if not her conscious mind, something good. I think the same about your adventure.

    8:39 am
    Lisa said...

    @marsha calhoun, “Unspecifically uncomfortable,” yes, that’s the thing. One cannot know. And it was an adventure, albeit one with a Plan A and a Plan B, which was good as it turned out;).

  • This is beautiful. My own mom is 87…in good health, still driving, still sharp as a tack, still doing everything for herself. I’m fortunate and grateful beyond measure. Even so, my mom’s world needs to be smaller now too. She moves slower and with care, she can’t just trot everywhere I can anymore. I was wanting to keep doing the same things we always had, and the results were starting to be not so great for either of us, and I felt guilty that I couldn’t make it “like always.” Then I realized my mom was happy with a smaller life and we both enjoyed things so much more if we stuck to those smaller things…we both have fun and no one feels bad later. It helped me when I realized heck I don’t do some of the things I used to do either! Seasons change, but our love does not. You express yourself beautifully, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on something I’ve kept to myself until now.

    9:13 am
    Lisa said...

    @MarlaD, Thank you. And it is very helpful to hear that the smaller world is also a thing for older people with good mental capacity. Mom is the only mother I have, the only 80-year old woman I know well, so I haven’t had any benchmarks to judge her experience by.

  • I think sometimes when you look back at how things “went wrong” or didn’t go as planned, you can still see the beauty and humour in what actually happened. At least that is the vision I got from your post. I have come to realize that we all make the best decision we are capable of at the very moment the decision was made, taking into account our capabilities, limitations, personalities, experiences and available information – if we could have made a better decision at that point, we would have.

    9:14 am
    Lisa said...

    @Bonnie,” I think sometimes when you look back at how things “went wrong” or didn’t go as planned, you can still see the beauty and humour in what actually happened.” Yes that is exactly what I took away. Exactly. I can’t quite grant myself credit for making the best possible decisions, but, if they are good enough that will do. xox.

  • I’ve experienced some of what you describe here in your trying to please your mother. It has frustrated me with my mother but I see now the wisdom you have gathered. You have described this so well and without rancor or regret.

  • Thank you for sharing. When my mother had dementia I eventually realised after a few failed events that I was actually trying to recreate the experiences she used to enjoy for me rather than for her. On some level I was trying, I think, to go back in time to a place that I found familiar and where she felt familiar but the reality was she had moved on and I hadn’t. I remember I bought her favourite perfume Channel No 5 for her because she had worn that fragrance all through my childhood, my whole life really, and she totally refused to wear it,. The things she had previously loved doing suddenly annoyed her. I found I had to let go again and again of the old Mum and accept the person I was dealing with had different wants and needs. In fact when I think back, Mums illness was a constant exercise in letting go. All the best to you. We certainly grow personally while we support our parents through this journey.

  • I have no words that won’t be trite after this poignant post (and yes, it’s an overused word in danger of being trite, but I have to risk it — the post is painful and beautiful in equal measures, which is where poignant is for me, mostly).
    hugs instead of words?

  • I love your blog . . . it is so well written and always interesting. Your day was perfect. You gave your all and your mom took what she could. I am 70. As we age, we really do become different. And these changes can happen in ways we may not fully understand. Just be. Just love. You did well.

  • “….constant exercise in letting go”-says Linda … … world getting smaller and smaller….
    This must have been emotionally exhausted…..
    But you did well

  • Thank you. I often wonder what else we should do for our 92 year old mother-in-law when she begs to be taken out and then hates it. Her world is smaller and I have to understand that my definition of “out” and hers are worlds apart now. You did me a world of good.

  • Lisa, Thanks so much for sharing such a beautiful, poignant experience with us. I could relate to so much of it. My mom had Alzheimer’s for many years. I want you to know another gift you’ve given is to all of us who follow you. By sharing your personal stories, you give all of us who are going through something similar, or did in the past, an opportunity to feel like we’re not alone. Connection to other humans is so healing. So thank you.
    The other gift you gave is by taking the caregiver to see the Pacific. How wonderful.
    You’re a good daughter.

  • Lisa, your story was so close to my heart in so many ways. Sometimes we have to let others live THEIR lives in the way they want to….and we have to be content with that…. It’s like delegating responsibilities and being OK with what happens. Hard to learn and sometimes hard to deal with but we will want others to do it for us as well.
    Hugs to you.

  • Your book continues to write itself…xo xo

  • Thank you for sharing this lovely moment of learning with us.

  • I wonder if you plunked Mom in the front seat one afternoon and just you and she went, maybe parked at a scenic view and had a Ginger Ale sitting inside the car away from the breeze if you’d have a better experience.

    Hurrah for your siblings who made it through the ill-fated trip for not being snappish or hitting you with an “I told you so” when things didn’t work out so well.

  • Yikes! As I approach the one year anniversary of my husband’s death (and his birthday is in a few days too) this:

    Just because a better outcome was possible doesn’t necessarily mean you could have done a better job.

    There are no new lessons to learn, only new ways to ready yourself to learn them.

    so helpful!

    Thanx Lisa. thanx so very much.

  • Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Your deductions at the end are extremely helpful.
    Every good wish to you all

  • This situation brings to mind…’best laid plans’… Your improvising and shifting gears to avoid the beach ‘wind’ was both insightful and beneficial for your Mother. Always impressed when a family can do this in loving support of their family member dealing with this very unpredictable disease.

  • The hardest thing for capable people to accept in the face of the unfathomable is that you can plan, dream, imagine..but it will just happen or not. And dementia is the most unfathomable of all because it is a world of nonsense walking. But you did your best to make her happy and she enjoyed the bread and butter and the charming young men and you were all together. Sometimes, she smallest gain is what you have to take.