Sunday with Adeline
February 5, 2007
“I killed a bug that turned out to be a piece of fuzz,” I announce, then hold my breath.
She laughs. I release the breath with a sigh. It looks like it’s going to be a good day. On a bad day, I’d be hearing, “You killed a bug? Really? For lands’ sake! There are so many of the dirty little buggers around here.”
Adeline is 90 years old, and I have been told that she was the best-loved person in her small town for most of those 90 years. She is a simple person whose life has always revolved around her family and her friends. Even her language reflects her simplicity—cereal is “breakfast food,” a garage is a “car shed.” Sometimes I still see flashes of the humorous, loving person everybody adored, but she has slowly been becoming more confused and temperamental over the months I’ve known her.
I finish helping her get dressed for the day. Then I ask her what kind of cereal she wants for breakfast.
“Corn flakes,” she says without hesitation.
I know better than to simply ask what she wants for breakfast, because I’ll be treated to the whole never-changing list, given in excruciating slowness as she tries to recall every detail: “Oh, I’ll have some of that prune juice… and some coffee… and some breakfast food…”
Her other caregivers don’t ask her what kind of cereal she wants. They simply rotate the cereals so she doesn’t have the same thing two days in a row. It seems to me a simple thing to allow her at least that much control over her life, and what if she does ask for puffed rice twice in a row? Sometimes she doesn’t care what she has, and she will say so, but even that is a choice.
“It’s beautiful sunshine today,” I tell her.
She’s blind, and we have no plans to go outside today, but she always wants to know what the weather is like.
“Really? For lands’ sake! That’s a wonder,” she says. “It didn’t snow or anything last night?”
“No,” I say.
“What the heck!” she exclaims.
Every little thing is an amazing wonder to her. Sometimes I think the rest of us could use a bit more of that attitude.
“How did you sleep last night?” she asks.
“I slept fine,” I say. I’m not lying—I did sleep fine, once she finally settled down. This was one of the nights she lay awake for hours cursing quietly to herself. Her daughter tells me she never used to swear, but these days (and nights) she swears like a sailor. She won’t remember lying awake anyway, and it will just bother her to think she’s responsible for me not getting a good night’s sleep.
“It’s Sunday today?” she asks.
“All day,” I reply.
“At least we get some good music!” She can’t see, she can’t walk very far without “losing her air,” so all she has to do all day long is listen to the radio. She loves the old country music the station plays on weekends.
“Lawrence Welk is on tonight,” I remind her.
“That’s right!” she exclaims. Now she’s going to remind me several times throughout the day that he’ll be coming on. I’m not sure if she likes the music, or just the idea of actually having something to look forward to. Frequently she jabbers to me throughout the program instead of listening anyway, but she always looks forward to it so much.
She finishes her breakfast and I escort her to her recliner. I give her a pick to fluff her tight dyed-golden curls. I could do it better and faster, but it gives her something to do. She finishes her hair, and I give her a pile of hankies to fold. She is delighted to be able to do something that’s truly useful, so I always let her fold her own hankies. I tell her I’m lazy, and I’m happy to let somebody else do the work. Which is entirely true. She goes through hankies by the dozen, and I detest the tedious job of folding them all after I wash them.
I fill her sipper cup with ice water. “Oh, good!” she says. “I’ll have a drink right away.” Like so many elderly people, she hates to drink water because it’s such an effort to go to the bathroom, but I have discovered that if I make a production of putting ice water by her hand and loudly rattle the ice tray every time I refill my own drink as a subtle reminder she will drink a bit more.
Then we settle down for the day. Most days her son comes for morning coffee, but this weekend he has other plans, and won’t be here. Most Sundays her youngest daughter comes to give her a sponge bath, but this week she is off vacationing somewhere. It looks to be a quiet day, unless her granddaughter calls or one of her other sons happens to be in town and stops by this afternoon.
It isn’t even 10 a.m. and she is already dozing. She slept in this morning, so I won’t offer her morning coffee because she just finished breakfast. She never remembers on her own, and I feel somewhat guilty for not offering her something to break up her morning, but she really doesn’t need the calories of a big dessert right on top of breakfast.
She dozes away the morning, and I wake her up at noon and ask her what she wants for lunch, refreshing her memory of what is in the fridge.
When she finishes eating, she says, “Now, that was dinner, right?”
“Yes,” I say, “that was dinner.”
I escort her back to her recliner. Since it’s Sunday, there is an old time music program that she enjoys. She always listens for a certain song that she especially loves. If they happen to play it, it makes her day. If they don’t, or play it by a different artist, she volubly expresses her disappointment for the rest of the afternoon. Today, they play the song, and by the “right” artist, and she is happy.
Nobody calls or comes to visit, and she dozes throughout the afternoon, occasionally waking enough to make a comment to me or to some unseen person. At one point, she mumbles something about a child. When I ask her what she said, she says, “Oh, I thought there was a child walking across the living room with somebody holding her hand.” She says she is not blind—she just can’t see so good. She can see a tiny bit out of the corner of one eye, and she trusts that way too much, which has caused her to fall more than once. I prefer to think she is misinterpreting shadows she sees rather than seeing invisible people, and that’s how she usually prefers to explain the people she frequently sees who are not actually there.
At 3 p.m. we have coffee and cookies. It takes maybe fifteen minutes, but breaks up her day.
“Have they gotten more of those mountain lions?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “The season is closed.” We talk for a bit about how scary it is to have them roaming so close to our area.
She finishes her coffee and comments that she does not know what she wants for supper. I tell her she has a lot of time to think about it yet. I escort her back to her chair.
Out of the blue, she asks me, “Did you dream?”
I say, “I suppose I did, but I don’t remember it.”
She says, “Collette says to think of something pleasant, but it don’t help.”
She is referring to nightmares that she and I both had last weekend. Mine had been about being attacked by a mountain lion. Hers had been about being attacked by a man and fighting him off to protect “the little one,” as she refers to one of her other caregivers.
Soon she is dozing again. I cough, and she gives a startled laugh. “Wakes you up, by golly!”
She alternately chatters and dozes for awhile. Eventually, I comment that it’s almost 4 p.m. and ask her what she wants for supper.
“It’s that late already?” she exclaims. “The day is flying. It’s almost time for bed.”
I laugh. “Not quite,” I say.
“I don’t want very much for supper,” she says. Then she asks me for some Cracker Jacks, and she eats half a bag. We have a simple supper of meat and cheese and crackers.
“Now, that was supper?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “That was supper.”
When it’s suppertime, as far as she is concerned, the day is almost over. She spends the rest of the evening asking me what time it is and reminding me about her night pill and eye drops. We watch Lawrence Welk—she more or less listens, and chatters about whatever strikes her fancy. I describe a cute skit or an especially pretty or outrageous costume, and she exclaims, “For lands’ sake!”
Eight p.m., she is ready for bed. “I’ll need my night time drops—in both eyes—and I get one pill,” she reminds me. “Are all the doors locked?”
I assure her that, yes, I know what medications she needs at night, and, yes, the doors are all locked. Then I escort her to the bathroom, help her get ready for bed, and tuck her into bed.
“That feels good!” she sighs. “Who’s going to be here tomorrow?”
I tell her the schedule (for the umpteenth time) and say good night.
“I hope you sleep well!” she says.
“I’m sure I will,” I say. “Good night!”
I come back out and sit in the quiet living room, grateful that my shift is almost done. In the morning I will escape and get on with my life, doing work or shopping or reading or visiting, whatever I choose to do. But she will wake up to a day that will be virtually identical to today, except there will be a different caregiver, and her son will be coming for coffee. Adeline is a survivor—in her 90 years, she has survived several life-threatening illnesses, and she has outlived her husband, all but two of her many sisters and brothers, and two of her own children. We bring that up frequently, teasing her about being a “tough old bird,” and it seems to cheer her up. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder why.