Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Curious Case of Helen Kinzbach

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  I hadn't thought about that film much since it came out in 2008 until now.  Benjamin was born a baby in an old man's body.  At the age of 7, he was the size of a small child but looked like a bald, bespectacled 80-year-old man. Throughout his life, his body grew younger and younger while his mind became older and older.  By the end of the story, he was an infant.  It was then that he died.
Helen Cute-as-a-Button 1926.

It occurred to me that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button film should be included as an essential element in the School of Dealing with Aging Parents.  We are born without the ability to feed ourselves.  We have no bladder or bowel control.  Our babbling makes absolutely no sense.  But, we are wrapped in such adorable, giggling packages that people stop to smile at us as we ride in the seats of grocery carts.  "Isn't hers just precious!  Oh, look!  I see 2 toofies!"

At the end of life, the same exact process begins.  Same exact.  But, because the person is wrapped in a wrinkly, withered body that sometimes smells a bit odd, no one stops a 95-year-old's wheelchair in the grocery store and kneels and exclaims, "Oh, he's just precious!  I see 3 toofies!  He looks just like YOU!  Mmmmm!  Don't you just love that old man smell?!"

Nope.  We overlook the aged as they return to "childlike behaviors."  Demanding meals at 8:00, noon, and 5:00, they seem unyielding.  My mother's 90-year-old friend, Leonard, doesn't like Mexican food.  He migrated to Texas from Baltimore when he was in his 80's.  The love of Mexican food wasn't expected of a Marylander.  In Texas, we are hard-wired to salivate when we smell a pan of piping hot, cheesy enchiladas.  Leonard orders from the child's menu at Mexican restaurants.  While we inhale our tacos and burritos, he happily feasts on chicken nuggets and French fries.  I don't know if this is a new behavior for him that can be attributed to the aging process or if he has always been a bit of a picky eater, but Leonard doesn't really like complex dishes like casseroles.  He likes to have the chicken separate from the rice which is separate from the broccoli.  

I raised 3 sons.  I well remember spooning tiny portions of individual items into the sections of their plastic Sesame Street dinner plates.  The boys were well into their twenties before they officially enjoyed eating "mixed up" or "foreign" foods.  They still don't exactly devour my Thanksgiving dressing or green bean casserole, but they politely enjoy portions of each on that special day every year.  Update:  My youngest son reported that he LOVES my Thanksgiving dressing.  He further told me that one of his brothers also loves it.  Good to know.

Nowadays as I sit watching my mother scoop at peas on her plate and coming up with an empty spoon, it reminds me of watching a toddler learn how to operate an eating utensil.  An upside-down fork yields little to no harvest of green beans.  I find myself micromanaging the process just like I did so long ago for my little boys.  "Here, Mom," I say taking the fork from her small wrinkled hand, "let me cut that chicken up for you so it will be easier to eat."  I cut the chicken and stab the first bite.  Sometimes, I gently transfer the fork back to her hand so that she can feed herself.  Other times, I almost make "choo choo" noises as I hold the bite up to her lips.  Either way - she doesn't complain.

There were times in my life with Meems that she drove me absolutely cuh-ray-zee.  There were times when she made me mad.  There were times when she wasn't happy with me either.  She needed a lot of attention, and  I was impatient and pretty focused on my own happiness.  When Meems turned 80, I took myself by the shoulders and said to myself, "Self, Meems is 80-years-old now.  All bets are off when it comes to the words that she says and the things that she does.  From now on, you are going to give her pure, godly GRACE.  GRACE, I tell ya!"  That little self-talk was life changing.


Helen Cute-as-a-Button 2016.
So, as Mom's dementia makes her more childlike, and her sleep pattern shifts back to that of a newborn, I think of her as my child...so much so that just the other day when I was making an appointment for her I told the receptionist that I was Helen Kinzbach's mother.  My "child" needs 24-hour care.  She cannot be left alone - ever.  She likes to have her meals served at regular times with snacks in between.  She will happily tell you that her bedtime is 7:00.  No more staying up until 1:00 AM on a school night to finish sewing my homecoming dress.  Her needs are simple and few:  roll her to the meal table, roll her to bingo, roll her to "Fun 'n' Fitness," roll her to Laughter Yoga (yes, it's a real thing).

Someday I'm going to invent a wheelchair that has a little movie screen suspended over the head of the elderly passenger.  A loop of a lifetime of photos and videos would play 24/7.  The display would communicate to the world the true identity of the aged, seemingly "used up" traveler.  Pictures of babes in arms, weddings, homemade homecoming dresses, adventurous travels, and lifelong occupations would scroll across the screen intermingled with videos of high board swan dives, grandbabies being rocked to sleep, and flowerbed tours.  The stories would be told.  Hidden identities would be revealed.  

There was a man with advanced Alzheimer's in the memory care unit Mom lived in before moving to Wedgewood South.  He couldn't feed himself.  His loud words were garbled.  He sat slumped in his wheelchair.  On the outside, he didn't seem so great.  But, great he was.  He was a war hero from the Greatest Generation.  I can't remember his rank, but it was something like a general with some stars.  He was a big deal.  The adult diapers he wore belied his history of bravery and leadership.  He had returned to the situation into which he had been born - total helplessness.  

The Curious Case of Helen Kinzbach is a sweet tale about a childlike 91-year-old woman who could swim a mile when she was in her 60's and explored nature while carrying her own camping gear in a heavy backpack until she was in her 70's and worked in her flower beds in sweltering Central Texas summer heat during her early 80's.  That little wheelchair-bound lady over in the corner sleeping with her head slumped down to her chest once lived fully alive.

Kneel and speak.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Honor these senior citizens.  And, give them lots and lots of grace.  We will ALL need to be given grace in the years to come.

Amen.

I love hearing your stories!  Keep 'em coming on the Finding the Funny Facebook page or down below in the comments section!!!



  

1 comment:

Lisa said...

You are spot on! Taking care of Michael's mother has so many similarities of your mom. We are truly at that point in our lives that WE are the caretakers. Love reading your stories. Love you also!