The challenge this Christmas was how to give Mom a happy experience even though on December 25 we did not see a way to include her.
My solution was to take her to church and to our home for eight hours on Dec. 24 and then again for six hours on Dec. 26--and to hope that she would not realize she was being left out of everything on Dec. 25.
However, we didn't make it to church in time for the 10 am service, and we had no back up service at 11 am because it was Christmas Eve. We had to wait until the 5 pm service or not attend church.
Instead of going to church, I reluctantly drove to a CVS store. I had planned everything so I would not have to shop on Dec. 24, but my hair dryer had stopped working the night before, borrowed by visiting daughters, and we couldn't get through Christmas without one.
In the parking lot before I had gotten out of the car, a solicitor stuck her face in my car window and asked me to buy a bumper sticker in red, white & blue--a flag-style peace sign.
I angrily refused and decided that I had to close the car windows all the way to the top before doing my quick errand. I usually leave Mom in the car for an errand like this, with the windows open 3-4 inches, because getting her into the wheelchair and pushing her around the store slows me down.
But with this woman working the parking lot, Mom wasn't safe with the windows open. She might be accosted by the lady and be confused, perhaps give her the rings off her fingers.
When I came back in 7 minutes, Mom said, "This car is so stuffy!" She had been confined in the hot sun with no air--all because of this panhandler. I went back to complain to the store manager and also yelled at the woman herself: "I can't leave my car windows open for my mother because you are bothering people in this parking lot!"
That encounter soured the day--so much for Christmas spirit.
Finally Mom and I arrived at home, and I served her and me a nice (leftover) dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and fruit salad, hoping she wouldn't notice that only she and I were eating it. John was at church; Roz and Marie appeared in pajamas as we ate.
Then I gave Mom all her presents and started helping her to open them, hoping she wouldn't notice that she was the only one opening them.
She opened a faut fur vest and a hat from me, and I handed her a soft present from Emily for her to try to open while I searched the pile of presents under the tree for any others with her name.
As I looked, I didn't realize that she had succeeded in opening the gift from Emily until she said, "I guess these are gloves."
I turned my attention to her and realized that she had received a long soft hand-knit scarf from Emily and had wound it around her hands until it did look like gloves.
Around one wrist she had doubled a green beaded necklace from Emily, so it looked like a bracelet, all the while sucking on a candy cane.
Then I took a few more photos of Mom with Roz and Marie and with her Christmas gifts.
Now it was almost time for the 5 pm Christmas Eve service, but she was tired. Normally at this time of day she would be ready for a bath and a long nap in her recliner until bedtime, but I wanted to take her to church so she would have the full Christmas experience.
As we drove to church, she said, "I don't want to go. I think God will forgive me for not going."
"Let's just go for a little while," I said. God might forgive her, but her daughter wouldn't change plans.
Getting out of the car and into the wheelchair, she complained of pain somewhere in her neck or shoulder. Once in the service, she put her hand over her eyes in a gesture of refusal.
A kind man sitting next to her was bored by the children's Christmas pageant and took great interest in Mom and me. After about ten minutes, he commented, "I think she's crying."
I was irritated by having to reassure him as well as cajole Mom into appreciating the music and pageantry. It took a half hour before I admitted to myself that bringing her to this service had been a big mistake. It was a noisy, humorous pageant without much music. After all, the 5 pm service was for children, the 7 pm for youth, and the 9 pm and 11 pm for others. There was no service for elderly with dementia.
Finally we left just before the service ended, but the fringe of her colorful shawl got caught in the wheels of her wheelchair as we exited. The kind man enjoyed trying to help us get the shawl extricated, but I finally gave it a yank, losing some of the fringe. Again, I was irritated and far from the Christmas spirit.
Next we drove to a grocery store to buy a cake and a plate of shrimp for the assisted living staff that had to work Christmas Eve; then we returned to her residence.
I had given her weekend private caregiver the night off and planned to do her bedtime routine this night (also on Dec. 25 and 26 to give the weekday private two days off).
I changed Mom into her nightgown, skipping the shower, but she complained of pain in her neck area. I noticed that the large bump at the base of her sternum, near the left clavicle, had appeared again. Why was it there? Had all the transferring in and out of the car and wheelchair reinjured her? Or did she have a hairline fracture that the x-rays hadn't revealed?
Then I tried to escape, but she employed every delaying tactic she could think of. "You aren't going to go and leave me all alone, are you? Will you stay with me?"
"No, I have to go home," I said, but she seemed to know by instinct that she was being abandoned. The previous year I had slept in her room on Christmas Eve, and the year before that she had slept in my home.
"Will you put me to bed before you go?"
"It's only 8:30," I said. "I'll leave you in your chair, and after you have your 9 pm medications, they will put you to bed."
But she insisted on going to bed immediately, so I got the meds, gave them, and put her in bed, carefully arranging all the covers and pillows, turning on the Posey Alarm, and discovering that the mechanism to elevate the head of the bed wouldn't work. By that time it was 9 pm.
As I left, the lead caregiver, Marnie, gave me a Christmas gift, which I opened. It was a green candle.
"Because you are our light," she said.
"Oh, thank you," I answered. "What a beautiful gift!" I was feeling tearful because someone appreciated me but also feeling unworthy. After all, Marnie is the patient one, putting in 50-hr weeks to care for all these elderly people with dementia, whereas I had yelled at the solicitor in the parking lot and resented the good Samaritan at the Christmas Eve service.
Furthermore, I should be the one giving gifts to the staff, not receiving them. (The residence, however, has a rule against giving gifts and tips to the caregivers.)
At 9:20 pm I finally arrived back home, where I found John and kids sitting around the living room near the Christmas tree, a bit resentful that I had been away since 4:30 pm.
"Why don't you come in the house and talk with us?" John asked.
I lit my candle.