Missing Persons Report

It’s been six weeks since Mom came to live with me. It has been hard. I wrote this piece last week while sitting in my car at lunch. It’s raw, so be warned. I almost didn’t publish it, but then I thought, “I feel constantly alone. I hate feeling like I’m drowning in an uncharted sea, but I doubt I’m the only one. Maybe sharing this will assure someone else they’re not the only one.”

My mother was the most self-sufficient person I know; stubborn, intelligent, painfully self-controlled, independent, and blunt. While she was never a talker, she was always clear and direct about her opinions. She was often judgmental towards her children and family members, yet deeply accepting of strangers and new friends. She had a rich sense of humor, a love of books, and a vast sense of playfulness. She was adventurous and, in many ways, fearless… as long as you didn’t expect her to talk about her feelings or sex.

You, whoever you are, are not my mother. You do not understand the world around you. You cry when you are tired, hungry, or confused. You’re easily frightened and often anxious. You cling to familiar people and don’t venture off on your own. You wear my mother’s face and move around in her body, but you are not my mother. You are a body snatching monster out of the most craven nightmares. You’ve stolen her voice, her thoughts, and her sense of self and left me with an empty shell that still breathes, and eats, and sometimes sleeps, but is most definitely not my mother.

img005Early on Saturday mornings my mother would crawl into bed with me when she heard me stirring, even long after I was an adult. We would snuggle and talk about our plans for the day and laugh together. Many times we squished into the same big chair to watch a movie, or she simply plopped onto my lap for the fun of it. Now, when I hug the body that you are living in, you often laugh uncomfortably and pull away. When you reach out, it’s awkwardly, as though you’re not sure how to be affectionate. You are not my mother.

When Daddy died, my mother turned off the phone, tiptoed around the house, locked the door, and sent away all visitors, protecting me in my grief. She knew me and knew what I needed; 36 hours of peace to sleep and process, to grieve without questions or people demanding attention. Then I could put on my big girl pants and make funeral plans, write an obituary, sort through photos, say goodbye, clean his house, find the money to pay for it all, and do it sanely. She respected me and my need for sanctuary. Now, when I leave the room or close a door or curl up on the floor crying you, body snatching beast, follow me, stare, hover. You, in my mother’s body, crawl out of the bed time and time again each night, turning on lights, shuffling and muttering incomprehensibly, taking things apart, waking me up, stealing my sleep. You, with your lack of thoughtfulness, are not my mother.

My mother taught me to read, letting me cut my literary teeth on Tolkien, Herbert, Asimov, and Lewis when other kids were working on Seuss and Pooh. She pushed me to achieve perfection; to get A’s, not B’s; to get 100’s if I got A’s. In her 50’s, my mother went college. She taught herself to use a computer, conduct research on the internet, write essays, and graduated Suma Cum Laude. We spent hours talking about books, sharing articles on interesting topics, and discussing educational philosophies. She paid her bills on line and lived well in the modern world. You are a stranger. You pick up the books she loved and read the same paragraphs over and over, with no comprehension. You look at a cell phone and laugh when it rings, because you don’t understand what it is. You get lost trying to change TV channels. You are not my mother.

My mother was painfully thin and constantly denied herself foods she actually loved. She only ever ate half of anything (unless it was a box of crackers) and she refused to give in to her sweet tooth most of the time. She starved herself in a strange belief that she needed to be thinner. You will eat anything put in front of you. If it’s a food you really like- or desert- you’ll gorge yourself until you’re nearly sick. You are not my mother.

My mother was competent, spry, and often preternaturally good at managing life on her own, one handed. She could drive a stick shift, sew beautifully, and do just about anything else. She was agile, deft, and a perfectionist. Her life-lesson to me was, “Do it right or don’t bother;” many a time she made me rewash whole loads of dishes because just one wasn’t clean enough or told me, “Good thing we didn’t name you Grace,” when I was clumsy. Not you. You are awkward and incompetent. You do everything ineptly, from eating food to cleaning up after yourself (if you even think of it). You struggle with the simplest of tasks and get frustrated at puzzles and Legos that don’t fit together because you can’t turn them the right way. You are not my mother.

You wear my mother’s beautiful hair, her hands that look so much like my own, her knobby knees and bony feet, but when I look for her eyes, she isn’t there. I don’t see her mind behind the brown irises. All that exists is confusion and you; you who stole her thoughts and devoured her personality. YOU are not my mother, even if the few words you say emerge with her voice. You are an alien living in a body that doesn’t belong to you. You’ve stolen it, and taken my mother away from me. She was my biggest fan, my closest ally, my best friend. It was always my mom I wanted to call first when there was news, and I always wanted her to be happy with me. No longer can I call and tell her about what brings joy to my life or share my worries with her. No longer can I ask her for an opinion or use her as a sounding board for the dreams a girl only shares with the one who loves her best. You are a thief, and I hate you for what you took from my world.

More than one well-meaning person has said, “At least you still have your mom;” “Enjoy her while you can;” “She’s lucky to have you.” I want to scream at them. That’s not my mom. That’s an interloper wearing my mother’s skin. And neither of us is lucky. I have a stranger whose well-being is my responsibility, but how can I take care of a stranger? I don’t know the language you speak. I don’t know how you feel, what you think, what you want, or if my mother is trapped inside the head that you have hijacked. Is she’s simply gone all together? I don’t know how to reach her if she’s in there, and it breaks my heart each time I wonder if she’s cognizant of what is happening. Can she see me trying and failing? Is she as sad as I am?

There is grief but no healing when the door is still open, when I can still see her face and reach out for her hand, only to be met with the lost-rabbit gaze of an impostor. My mother has gone missing, but there’s no report I can file and no one to whom I can turn. I miss her.

Adventures with Mom

In October, we placed my mom in a group home (Wadesboro Place) that we really liked.  It had the right combination of clean, affordable, and the promise of a supervised environment which was definitely needed. The owner/director said they took trips to the library every week and had lots of activities.  We were happy with it up until the last month or so.  Since just before Christmas, the owner has been increasingly distracted and unpleasant.

That unpleasantness reached crisis point this last week. It went something like this:

*phone call at work.*

K: Hey, I just got off the phone with Debi (owner of Wadesboro). She said Mom keeps walking around with out a shirt on.

Me: Ummm…okay.

K: She said one of us needs to go out there.

Me: Why didn’t you just have her put Mom on the phone and talk to her?  That should be all it takes to redirect her.

K: Um… I didn’t think of that.  I’m at the dentist with [my son].

Me: *sigh* Okay.  I’l call Debi.

*call Wadesboro*

D: Evie!  I can’t get your mom to listen.  She keeps coming out in her bra and every time I send her to put a shirt on she comes back with just her bra and sweater again.  I am going to call the ambulance if you can’t come get her.

Me: Wait… call the ambulance?  For what?  She’s not naked.  She’s wearing a sports bra.

D: I can’t have her walking around like that.  I’ve got things to do and I can’t watch her all the time.  You’ve got to do something with her or I’m calling the ambulance.  I’ve got places to be and I can’t deal with her.

Me: She’s wearing a sports bra.  It’s not exactly revealing.  Did you give her a shirt and ask her to put it on?

D: Yes.  Twice.  But I don’t have time to keep telling her, and she keeps just putting on her bra and sweater. I’m calling the ambulance if you’re not coming out here.

Me: What do you expect the ambulance to do?  She’s not naked or sick.  Just put her on the phone and let me talk to her.

Mom: Evie!!

Me: Hey, Mom.  You okay?

Mom: I… maybe?

Me: It sounds like you’re having a strange morning.  Debi tells me you’re walking around in your bra.  That’s not covered enough in the cold.  You need a shirt on.

Mom: I have a shirt.

Me: Okay.  That’s good.  You’ve gotta keep that on, okay?  I’m coming out tonight for bath night, and I’ll see you then.  Okay?

Mom: Okay!  I love you.

Me: Love you, too.  Give Debi the phone please.

D: Are you coming to get her?

Me: No.  I’m at work.  She says she’s wearing a shirt now.  Is she?

D: Yes, but I can’t have her disturbing everyone anymore.  If you’re not coming I’ll have to call the ambulance.

Me: That makes no sense.  She’s wearing a shirt.  She’s not sick or hurt; she just got her wires crossed this morning. I can’t leave work and run out there every time she has a weird moment.  I’ll be out there tonight for a bath and to check on her.  She seems confused but fine.

*30 minutes later; phone call at work*

K: Hey, Evie, I just got off the phone with the sheriff.  He said he can’t Baker Act mom.  She’s calm, complacent, dressed, and not hurting herself or anyone.

Me: Well, duh. Of course he can’t.  Wait, why were you talking to the sheriff?

K: Evidently Debi called him.

Me: What?!?!  Over Mom in her sports bra??

K: Her sports bra?  Debi said she was topless.

Me: Yeah.  Shirtless, but in a sports bra.  She physically can’t pull her bra off without help.  Did you think she was naked?

K: That’s what I thought Debi said.

Me: Ah.  NO.  And by the time I talked to her she was wearing a shirt, too.

K: Then I don’t know what the problem is.  She’s always walked around the house in her sports bra.

Me: I know! Debi has issues.

K: Well, if that’s all it is, then I’m not going out there either.  I told Debi to call me if anything else went wrong.  I’ll call you if anything happens.

Me: Sounds good.  Thanks, bro.

*at lunch*

D: (via text) The EMT’s just left.  Until your mom can be placed in a nursing home, you will need to hire a sitter or have a family member take her. She can’t stay here otherwise.

K: (via text) I’m at the neurologist with Mom.  Debi tried to Baker Act her, but the EMT’s and the sheriff wouldn’t take her. I don’t think she needs to go back there.

Me: WTF!!! On my way. And hell no she’s not going back there.  Debi won’t take her back anyway.

By the end of Wednesday we’d had her seen in the neurologists office, by two social workers, and by a psychiatrist, as well as the initial sheriff and the EMT’s. The nurses, social workers, and doctors all said she was a-okay and Baker Acting wasn’t appropriate.  She is not dangerous.  Not self-harming.  Not sick.  She’s just suffering from dementia and often gets her wires crossed.  Both social workers also suggested that her caregiver wasn’t a safe choice anymore, to which we heartily agreed.

So, now, she’s living with me.  We’ve got her on a waiting list for a nursing home.  We’re starting the application for Medicaid.  We’ve got a case worker from Elder Affairs coming.  She’ll be starting elder daycare soon.  Until then, because I have the most amazing friends in the world, she’s safely spending her days with one of the sweetest girls I know.  She’s eating well, sleeping deeply most of the night, and laughing at everything that strikes her fancy.  She sits quietly for hours reading children’s books and stacking and unstacking Duplo Legos.

Mornings are a challenge.  The first morning was a heartbreaking reminder of what this disease is doing to her brain and body. She was deeply asleep when I called her, and even though she got up and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, her brain wasn’t yet functioning.  I’ve seen “the jumps” before, but never quite as bad. They’re something between a petite mal seziure and tourettes. This time the toothbrush went flying, the soap rolled into the sink, she leaned forward and grunted, and she almost fell when I tried to get her to sit down.  It took almost an hour for the jumpy arms and legs to calm down and her eyes to start to focus.  The neurologist said it’s a common sign of braid decay progressing, and it breaks my heart.

This is not the adventure I would have asked for, but it’s the one I’ve got.  And I’m growing.  I’ve never been good with patience and compassion.  It’s not how I’m hardwired, but I have a feeling this adventure is going to force me to try.  As hard as it is, as much as I may have to miss out on until we find her a safe, loving, nursing environment, every bit of it will be worth it to know she’s secure and happy.


Oh, to get lost in words

Hours spent immersed, surrounded

By the music of the neighborhood,

Yet deaf and blinded

As words flow through me,

Around me, and in me.

Words grow

Like breathing,

The inhale of reading,

Writing an exhale.

Words are a solace,

A calming of my mind,

A stilling of my soul’s race.

Words fade

As the sun slips into the west,

And, like a diver, I surface

Once more into the world,

My essence a tranquility.

Clean, renewed, I am

Once more, me.


Out-of-Character Political Rant *warning*

Out-of-Character Political Rant *warning*

You know, you constantly hear all kinds of hubub in the media and on-line about this topic or that topic, and it’s usually so politically charged and biased that you can’t figure out if its totally true, entirely false, or just spin loosely based in truth. I usually err on the side of assuming its all codswallop and ignore 90% of it. Today, though, unless the document linked here is the most complicated of hoaxes (seriously, it’s linked directly from the supreme court web site), today’s uproar is actually true, and I have to admit to taking it very personally. READ it (pg 5-6 carry the verdict of the day), then get pissed.

The US supreme court has ruled 5 to 4 that corporations like Hobby Lobby don’t have to provide contraceptive healthcare coverage if it violates their “free exercise of religion”. Because of the way the Healthcare Act appears to be written, ALL forms of birth control- including drugs like RU-486 that terminate an early-stage pregnancy- are to be covered for free and it’s the free coverage of that which Hobby Lobby (where I will never shop again) has protested. The result of the decision appears to be that they don’t have to cover contraceptives at all, rather than that they must write special healthcare plans that do not include the pregnancy-terminating drugs in question (which I actually wouldn’t object to).

No one in mainstream American culture has seriously claimed birth control was morally wrong since 1965. Women here are educated, smart, and capable, and mainstream culture likes it that way, but “people” like this corporation seem to be waging a war against smart, capable, educated, autonomous women who choose not to procreate until they’re ready. Letting women make their own choices and live with them appears to violate some other asshole’s religious freedom, and we can’t have *that*. So they’re trying to stop us from preventing unwanted pregnancies. They certainly don’t want us to terminate them, but sweet baby Jesus knows they’re not going to pay for medicine, food, and college tuition for our 8 kids once they’re here, either. Thanks, bigoted, woman-hating, religious extremists for hammering down one more nail in the coffin-lid of my dying Christianity. May your smart, capable mothers be long-dead so they never had to see what a worthless piece of paleolithic-minded toilet floater you’ve turned out to be.  

And the same goes for you, Supreme Court of the United States, for not telling them to get stuffed over this.    


Kevin's card

Just 5 short years ago, my mama graduated Summa Cum Laude from university, and no daughter has ever been more proud. She did it on her own, and did it well.  Last week, she sent this note to one of my brothers. There can be no clearer evidence of just how much this disease is stealing who she is and how she functions.  This is the woman who read to me as a child, not children’s books, but Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, Herbert, and more.  Who taught me to read before I even made it to pre-school.  Who instilled in me a love of language and the natural world.  Today, she often writes, reads, and speaks like a child or someone struggling to learn English.

Its so incredibly hard to explain to others the depth of what’s going on, and in some ways even harder to wrap my own head around it.  You spend your whole life seeing your parents one way- the way you did growing up.  I don’t think you ever really expect them to stop being self-sufficient or more full of life-experience and wisdom than you are.  You always expect them to be the ones you go to when you need advice.  Watching my mom so rapidly change into someone who needs our frequent guidance, who writes, speaks, and even behaves so much more child-like, is deeply saddening.

There’s an incredible bi-polar pull on my heartstrings.  One half of me carries a fiercely protective instinct toward her, just as I would with a child.  The other half of me both resents that I need to take care of things for her and fears that she hates it, too.  I would; in her shoes I’d be so, so very angry.  And I know her- she’s always been so independent that the idea of being watched over and policed all the time should be maddening.  It doesn’t seem to be, though.  So far, she’s been… passive, distressingly so.  That loss of confident autonomy is just as sad as her loss of language.

I suppose the plus side is that, so far, she seems not unhappy.  With any grace, as this disease steals her cognition of language, it will also steal her awareness of what she is losing.  While that doesn’t make it easier for those who love her, knowing she’s not suffering the same heartbreak would be a relief.

When Self-Awareness Kicks you in the Pants

Sometimes realizations come along and simply cut you off at the knees, leaving you thinking, “Oh!  OH!  So that’s what!”

I had one of those days last week, as I was struck with this internal truth bomb: DENIAL & AVOIDANCE.

I like to pride myself in being direct and driven.  I see a problem, assess the pieces, consider options, and then act without looking back.  I am decisive and motivated once I’ve chosen a path.

Lately, though… not so much.

I’ve been avoiding talking seriously to people who matter.  I’ve been procrastinating about certain business-management tasks. I’ve ignored this blog.  I’ve immersed myself in all the “busyness” I could find. I’ve been futilely angry at the Universe.   All because it was easier and safer than accepting what is and letting it be real.

I’ve been desperately, if unconsciously, waiting to wake up and discover that the nightmare is over and life is back to normal.  But that’s not going to happen, and I finally awoke to the reality of my own denial.

I came home from Mexico to visit in July.  I stayed because my Mom is sick.

This month, the “sick” got a diagnosis and the saddening prognosis that it’s not going to get any better.  She has a degenerative brain disease that’s stealing her words, her ability to calculate and reason, and her ability to process language.  She’s losing herself, and I’m losing her.  It kills me.

That, more than anything, surprised me.  I tend not to think of myself as sentimental or dependent and I’ve learned to armor myself in practicality- or so I thought.  It’s especially surprising given my often-rocky relationship with my mother.  Part of my truth-bomb this week involved shifting my perspective on that.  My mom and I have never seen eye-to-eye.  I’m liberal, bordering on pagan, extrovertedly social, and open; she’s strictly Christian, introverted, and often closed.  We’ve butted heads and admitted to not really LIKING each other very much over the years.  In spite of that, for a very long time as I grew up, it was just me and her against the world.  We’re bonded by years of teamwork as we struggled to survive and get ahead.  Even when she hasn’t liked the person she saw me as, she has supported my decisions and loved me unconditionally.  Not a lot of people can say they know what unconditional love looks like from the inside.  I can because of my mom.  She is deeply and personally important to me, and the thought of losing her- slowly, as her personality and faculties deteriorate- both frightens and devastates me.

Not talking about it.  Not blogging to share it.  Not doing the needed tasks.  Not allowing myself to admit that I am grieving and its well-founded rather than frivolous.  It all meant I could pretend it wasn’t real, that I didn’t have any reason to be sad.  Then I could push it out of my mind. Except denial and avoidance just led to anger, anger at every little thing that didn’t go my way and even general anger at the Universe itself.

That’s not “dealing”, though.  That’s avoiding a problem, and it’s not healthy.

So… here’s to me taking one step at a time and letting life move forward, even if I’m sad and scared.  Here’s to me saying it publicly and letting it be real.  Here’s to crying at random, and not being ashamed.  Here’s to self awareness and acceptance.  Here’s to my mama, and to making the best of the time we have.    Here’s to accepting that life doesn’t go the way I plan- hardly ever- and digging to find the beauty in the manure pile.

(Disclaimer: I realize this particular entry has nothing to do with writing or wandering.  Hopefully it sheds some light on why neither has been a priority lately.  My novel has been re-read, edited, and returned.  I’ll be final-drafting as the Spring continues.)


Richard “Dick” Sauerwine.Image

He started out as just another big, strapping farm boy, but his life was anything but ordinary.

He became: a Pearl Harbor survivor; a Navy Seal before they were Seals, doing underwater demolitions to clear the way for the march across the South Pacific; a veteran of the Korean War; a long-time sheriff’s deputy; a South Florida cattle rancher with an affinity for the circus, who rented out the back-forty to Barnum & Bailey’s big animals every winter; and much more.

He was a stern father, but a loyal husband; he married the girl who grew up next door, and never loved another woman.  He quietly embodied the real-man qualities of respect for women, constancy, hard work, creativity, listening well, and thinking before you speak.  He had intuition and great instincts, and from him I learned to heed to my gut about people.  He wasn’t religious, but he lived by his own personal code of ethics.  He loved projects, but rarely finished one.  He was a reader, a road-tripper, and adored both gadgets and plants (seriously, African violets sprang up in his steps); he shared with me his love of Western movies, driving all day, puttering in the greenhouse, and cool new science.  He had a fantastic sense of humor; nothing was funnier than ImageGrandpa sticking his dentures out at me because I stuck my tongue out at him first.  He was often quiet, but his sneezes could be heard from space, and when he laughed it filled the whole house.  If you caught him in the right mood, he was a champion story-teller, and loved to tell about The War.

He was a fixture in my life for 35 years; he lived to the ripe, old age of 92, and lent some of his stoic German determination to this quick-tempered Scottish girl.  God-speed, Pops, you will be missed!



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