When I get old I will …
When my mother-in-law was well we used to tease her, saying she should have had her own consumer TV show. Need a pan a certain size? A blouse in that precise shade of blue? You’d only have to call her and within a couple of hours she could tell you which stores in your area had it, how much it was, and whether the Sunday paper had a coupon that would save you another 20 percent. Man, she was good at this, and we loved it!
So why were we surprised that early in her disease when she lived with us, she had her caregiver take her shopping every single day? We wondered what she could possibly need Monday through Friday from Kohl’s, JCPenney, Sears, Northeast Mall — what did she need that made her wait, handbag in hand, every morning for the moment her companion walked through the door?
My mother has her own obsessions, some based on charity work she did before her decline. She prepared groceries for needy families, so she often solicited bags for packaging. Those she helped adored her. She no longer does this work, but the bag obsession is firmly anchored. If we’re not careful, her entire house will be overrun with grocery bags, shopping bags, and produce bags — behind the washer, under the couch, in otherwise empty suitcases, where they seem to multiply in a rustling mass of plastic.
I marvel that our loved ones’ compulsions, habits, likes, and even skills seem to become magnified two- and three-fold with the onset of dementia. At first we try to correct those things that swell and threaten to obliterate every other aspect of the person, which is silly, but human. Then we learn to let go of the need to control that which cannot be controlled. Because in the end it takes far more energy to stress about it than to let it go.
All of which prompts me to sometimes envision my own future. Which of my many idiosyncrasies and habits will be most pronounced when I am old? Will it be the need to collect every stray dog that crosses my path? The need to save each and every magazine piling up on the ottoman despite the fact that I will never catch up on my reading? Or worse — and most likely!– will it be that my failure to curb a highly combustible temper now (it flares up mostly in response to misfiring technology) is going make me the meanest, whiniest woman in the nursing home one day?
I can only laugh: I’ll be the one squawking at everyone who walks by about how the Internet is down again, damn it! For Christsakes, why doesn’t anyone do something about the damned Internet, can’t they see I have work to do and online bills to pay? And where is my phone, I just put it down for a second and now it’s gone. And I won’t calm down until caregivers retrieve my toy iPhone from behind the nightstand or the back of the closet so I can send emails that go nowhere, check the weather, my Facebook, and read CNN.com, msnbc.com and The New York Times, precisely in that order.