Columns

Seeing Mom

If I’d known I wouldn’t see her again for six months, I’d have given her an extra hug.

When I left my mom’s assisted living apartment on Feb. 29, I assumed I’d see her when I returned from visiting my grandsons. COVID-19 proved that assumption wrong.

Phone calls took the place of weekly visits, and instead of loving celebrations on her birthday and Mother’s Day, we stood in the parking lot below her second-floor window and held up signs that her failing eyes could barely see.

Mom has Alzheimer’s, so phone calls are often challenging. She still knows all of us, but her memories of the distant past are much sharper than say, remembering what she had for lunch. Or remembering why no one has come to visit her.

“My mom used to send me to my room when I was bad. Have I been bad?” she asked.

So, I remind her of the pandemic and how her facility is trying to keep everyone healthy, and she says, “Oh, yes. I saw that on the news.”

The next time I called she said, “I tried to go to the dining room for lunch today, but I got caught at the elevator and sent back to my room. I finally made some friends here, and I’m worried they’ve all forgotten me.”

She doesn’t have much of an appetite, and eating all her meals alone in her room, hasn’t improved it. Recently, I was on the phone with her when her dinner was delivered, so I asked her to tell me what room service had provided. She obligingly took the lid off her plate.

“0h, for the love of Pete, not again! It’s macaroni and cheese with what looks like birthday sprinkles on it!”

I tried to convince her it was some kind of vegetable garnish, but she wouldn’t buy it.

“It’s birthday sprinkles,” she insisted.

Some days she’s in better spirits than others. One morning she told me she was up and dressed, had breakfast, made her bed and even curled her hair.

“Of course, I have two curlers in the front which I’ll probably forget to take out like I usually do,” she said. “Also, I’m all out of hard candy. I can’t figure out who keeps eating it all!”

I didn’t feel the need to remind her she hasn’t had any visitors since the first of March.

Finally, on Aug. 26, I got to have an outdoor socially distant visit with her. She scooted her walker out the facility’s front door, and even though her face mask was in place, I could tell she was smiling.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

So we got the crying out of the way first thing.

Mom, August 2020.

She reached out for a hug, and I had to back away.

“We can’t hug yet,” I told her.

What a thing to tell a mother, especially my mother.

Mom is a hugger and a kisser. She grew up longing for physical affection that she didn’t receive from her mother, so when she had children and grandchildren, she lavished them with all the affection she’d craved.

Still, I’m so thankful to be able to sit across from her and visit. Being out of her room and in the fresh summer air is so good for her, but hugs are healing, too.

Countless studies have shown the importance of physical touch. It reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and calms the heart rate and blood pressure.

For now, I’m focused on making our outdoor visits as enjoyable as possible. Last week, I wore a mask that matched my navy and white polka dot blouse. I knew Mom would get a kick out of it. She was quite the fashion plate in her day.

When I snapped a photo of her, she insisted I take a selfie of my matching ensemble.

“I taught her that,” she told everyone who passed by.

Matchy, matchy made Mom happy!

In-person visits do both our hearts good. The results of social isolation and touch deprivation can be devastating, especially for elderly parents. And honestly? It’s not great for their kids, either.

This pandemic has taught me not to take anything for granted – the professional handshake at the outset of business meetings, the quick hugs from friends, a mother’s warm embrace. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to comply with mandated health protocols.

I really want to hug my mom again.

Columns

It’s not what I miss; it’s who

March 29.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the last time I wore mascara. I’m putting that extra five minutes a day to good use, though. For instance, I posted that fascinating tidbit across my social media platforms.

Seriously, for all the frustration and inconvenience of the stay-home order, there are bright spots. Not only am I saving money on cosmetics, but my gas use has plummeted. Doing all my interviews by phone from home means the only time Ruby Sue and I leave the driveway is for groceries.

And new routines are replacing the old. Knowing my family’s screen time has increased exponentially, I dug out a deck of cards, and introduced our youngest son to Gin Rummy and Kings Corner.

Sam wasn’t so sure about this old-fashioned nondigital form of entertainment, and I was horrified to discover he didn’t know how to shuffle.

I’m proud to say that after several weeks of nightly card games, our son can shuffle the deck almost expertly, and has actually won a few hands. If the stay-home order isn’t lifted soon, we’ll have to teach him poker, and I fear for our stimulus money.

Some friends are using their mandatory confinement to explore new hobbies or tackle remodeling projects. I’m a wee bit jealous, because I’ve always worked from home, and I’m busier than ever. But I’m extremely thankful to be able to continue the work I enjoy. And honestly, I’d probably spend my bonus time napping.

Speaking of naps, Sunday is now a lot more relaxing. While I miss corporate worship, I have to be honest – livestreaming the service in my bathrobe, ensconced in my recliner, is heavenly. I did make more of an effort in honor of Easter. I wore yoga pants and sparkly slippers.

Still, I miss lots of things – happy hour with girlfriends, picking up books at the library, getting a haircut, and Saturdays with my mom.

Feb. 29

That’s the last time I visited Mom in person. She lives in an assisted-living facility that was extremely proactive in quarantining its residents. I’m so thankful for their foresight and diligence. They quickly went from screening visitors to no visitors to residents staying in their rooms at all times. And so far, no residents or staff has been infected by the virus.

But this is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my mom. We’ve always lived in the same town, always within 3 miles of each other. Even before she moved into assisted-living, I’d stop in and see her every Saturday.

She’s been in great spirits for the most part. Even though she has Alzheimer’s disease, she usually remembers why I haven’t been to see her.

“Don’t worry honey, they won’t let your brother in here anymore, either,” she said.

Having all her meals in her room isn’t much fun, but she seems to understand the reason for the quarantine.

She teases the staff.

“I tell them I’m going to be extra good, so they’ll let me out of my room again.”

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Mom turned 89 on March 21. We dropped off gifts at the designated area, and the staff delivered them to her room. Then I called her from the parking lot, and she came to the window so we could see each other.

“You look so cute with your hair in a ponytail!” she said.

I explained I couldn’t get a haircut, and she laughed.

“Me either, I think I’m just going to leave a curler in my bangs so I can see.”

But recently she seemed a bit down.

“I miss you,” she said. “This is getting hard.”

Then she told me a story about how she and Dad never went to church alone. They were always stopping to pick someone up and give them a ride. One woman’s name was Aleece.

“She told us her daddy named her that because they had a lot of boys and he said, ‘At least this one’s a girl!’ ”

Sure, I miss the freedom to dine in a restaurant, shop in a bookstore, or get a haircut, but I miss Saturdays with mom a whole lot more.

Mom and Me

Columns

Can’t do 55?

I stood in the middle of the bedroom and spun in a slow circle.

A few minutes earlier I’d left my desk and rushed upstairs to get something. Something really important. Something I needed immediately. But darn, if I could remember what that something was.

Walter, our tabby kitten, sat on my feet and looked up.

“Meow?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t rush in here to cuddle you,” I replied.

He padded over to the closet and sat by his food dish.

“Meow?”

“No, you’ve already had lunch.”

Flummoxed, he hopped onto our bed. That’s when I saw the notebook I’d left near my pillow.

“That’s it!” I said. “Thank you, Walter.”

When you have to rely on a 10-month-old kitten to keep you on task, you know something has shifted.

My husband thinks he knows what it is.

That evening when I told him about my memory lapse, he grinned and started singing, “I can’t drive 55, oh no!”

Knowing his penchant for belting out Sammy Hagar songs, I waited until he’d sung through the chorus twice, and let him get in a few air guitar licks.

“What does my lead foot tendency have to do with why I can’t remember what I went into the bedroom for?” I asked.

Derek pointed to the calendar.

Ah. We’d just celebrated my 55th birthday.

“So. You’re saying I’m old? That I’m having senior moments?”

He wrapped his arms around me.

“Look at it this way, you’re not old, you just need to start shopping at Fred Meyer on Tuesday, so you can get the senior discount.”

Actually, those forgetful moments have been happening to both of us for years. We’ve begun texting shopping lists and errand reminders to each other. Of course, that means we have to remember to check our phones when we’re out.

And lately we’ve become one of those couples who fill in each other’s blanks.

“What was the movie we saw when we were first married?” Derek asked. “It was a part of a horror triple feature with Ronnie McDowall.”

“Fright Night,” I replied. “And it was Roddy McDowall.”

“What was the name of that restaurant where we used to eat at after church?” I asked.

“Rancho Chico,” he said.

“No, before kids.”

“Oh! Mr. Steak.”

Shared memory is one of the perks of a long-term marriage. And speaking of perks, I was really excited to realize I now qualify for the senior discount at the movie theater. When my friend Carol and I went to see “The Call of the Wild” recently, I proudly asked for the discount.

Honestly? I was a bit disappointed the cashier didn’t express surprise at my request, or even ask to see my driver’s license, but the cheap ticket was worth it.

Carol and I headed to the restroom before finding our seats because that’s what you do when you’re 55. As we left the restroom and headed toward the line I reached into my coat pocket for my ticket. No ticket. I checked my other pocket, then my jeans. No ticket!

I went back to the bathroom to see if I’d set it down while washing my hands. Nope. I dug through my purse. Derek calls it the Black Hole for a reason. It’s large with lots of pockets. I scoured it. I shook it. No ticket.

Mortified, I explained my dilemma to the manager.

“And it’s the first time I’ve used the senior discount, too,” I said.

He graciously waved me through.

Meanwhile, Carol was laughing so hard, it’s a good thing she’d already used the restroom.

“Your first senior discount and your first senior moment,” she chortled.

Well, one out of two of those statements was correct.

We took our seats, and as the previews began, I unzipped the cellphone pocket in my purse to ensure my phone was on silent.

“Carol,” I whispered. “Look, I found my ticket.”

Thankfully, we were able to get our hysterical giggles under control before the movie started.

Looks like Sammy Hagar isn’t the only one who has issues with 55.

Columns

Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Columns

Illness, injury, indignity & inspiration

Sometimes when it rains, it blizzards. At least in Spokane, anyway.

This past month of endless precipitation was echoed by a round of illness and injury for me. It’s worth noting that I only get sick once a year – always in February. I tolerate my yearly cold as a minor disruption and a gentle reminder to slow down a bit.

It’s also worth noting that I routinely ignore gentle reminders.

What became an epic stream of misfortune started with a trickle – from my nose. One Friday morning, I woke up sniffly. My throat was scratchy and my head ached, but I’d just signed up for 30 hours of training to become a court-appointed special advocate – or CASA/guardian ad litem – for Spokane County Juvenile Court, and there was no way I was going to let an inconvenient cold interfere. I slurped down some orange juice, grabbed a packet of Emergen-C and set out.

By Saturday, it seemed like everyone was speaking underwater, and when I croaked out a question, I sounded like Darth Vader.

I tried to take it easier during the week, and when Friday rolled around again I was feeling much better. Perhaps because I’d gifted my cold to my friend Sarah.

Mindful of the need to take it easy, I collapsed in bed when I got home, fully expecting to bounce out of bed after my nap with my vitality and vigor restored. But when I woke and tried to sit up, a shooting pain exploded from somewhere in my midback. There would be no bouncing. Apparently, I pulled a muscle while sleeping. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Having never before experienced a back injury, I did the only sensible thing – I took two ibuprofen and asked for advice on social media. Hey, I said I was generally healthy, not universally smart.

I received a wide range of guidance regarding back pain and promptly followed what I now know to be a piece of spectacularly ill-conceived advice. This is what happens when you seek medical help on Facebook. Despite that setback, the pain gradually subsided over the weekend. This was great, because by Tuesday I was having difficulty seeing out of my right eye.

Last year, I was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. It’s bad enough to have poor vision, but to tack “age-related” in front of it is just mean. Anyway, a large floater suddenly appeared in my right eye. I guess having one in my left eye wasn’t enough. Because this can sometimes be a sign of a detached retina, I had to schedule an emergency eye exam.

Thankfully, the new floater was nothing serious, just annoying. Vitamins have been shown to reduce or slow the affects of the disease, so I redoubled my commitment to healthy eyesight and even added a supplement my husband assured me would help.

I should note that my husband is not a doctor. He doesn’t even play one on TV. But he’s well-read and has done a lot of research about the effects of supplements on certain ailments.

Sadly, I woke up violently ill in the middle of the night. Even worse, it just happened to by my birthday. I couldn’t believe after surviving a cold, a back injury and an eye problem, I now had the stomach flu. The health downpour had reached flood stage, so I was hopeful the waters would recede.

They didn’t.

On Valentine’s Day, I prepared a lovely meal for my family. Shortly before Derek came home, I diligently took my vitamin and supplement for the first time since my birthday. Within an hour I was desperately sick.

“Did you take out life insurance on me?” I wailed at my husband. “Those supplements are poisoned!”

Distressed at how ill I was, he Googled the ingredients in the supplement. Turns out one of them, “curcumin,” affects a small percent of the population the way it did me.

Lesson learned – the hard way.

As I write, heavy snow falls once again. I wish I’d taken a picture of the grass I’d spotted peeking out from the edge of our lawn Sunday. However, no matter what it seems like, winter really doesn’t last forever. Cold and flu season passes, too.

Crocuses and daffodils wait patiently beneath the frozen ground, biding their time. They will bloom. They always do. Sunshine and fresh air clears stuffy heads and brightens tired eyes.

And sometimes, it takes a long, bleak winter and a bout of illness to renew our appreciation for beautiful spring bulbs, and to revel in clear nasal passages that can breathe in their fragrance.

 

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

A visit from the Frown Fairy

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In which I’ve come unglued. Or something. Seriously, aging isn’t for the faint of heart– or weak of ankle.

Squinting at my phone, I rubbed my thumb across the screen, certain there was a smudge on it marring the photo I’d just taken of my friend and me.

After posting it on Facebook, I checked the enlarged photo on my computer and that shadow I’d seen between both of our brows was still there. Only it wasn’t a shadow – it was most definitely a crease. How had we both suddenly developed frown lines right between our eyes? Neither of us is prone to frowning.

And not for the first time, I realized I should have listened to my mother.

Sometime in her late 40s in an effort to combat wrinkles, my mother came up with an innovative solution to prevent pesky frown lines. Before going to bed at night, she affixed a corn plaster right between her eyes. She dubbed them “frownies” and was confident the plaster would prevent wrinkles from creasing her forehead while she slept.

 The only problem was sometimes those frownies migrated during the night. She’d come to the breakfast table with one in her hair or on her cheek. This was the subject of great mirth to me and my siblings. To Mom, not so much.

I’ve noticed other signs of increasing decrepitude. A few months back I started having severe pain in my right elbow that radiated down my forearm.

“How could I have tennis elbow?” I moaned to my husband. “I haven’t played tennis in 25 years!”

I took ibuprofen and soldiered on, unwilling to spend time or money on a doctor visit. A colleague heard my groans and diagnosed the issue. Turns out it wasn’t tennis elbow – it was “mouse elbow,” a common problem for people who work at computers all day.

She sent me a chart about how to sit at my desk to help alleviate the pain. I adjusted my chair and desk, bought an elbow brace and before long, the pain was gone. Who needs a doctor when you’ve got a journalist?

It’s a good thing my elbow felt better, because lately I’ve been limping. The pain radiates from my Achilles tendon, making walking miserable. This is not good news because I walk several miles three to four times a week and need this exercise for both my physical and mental health.

Achilles tendinitis is most common in runners, and I can assure you I only run if something or someone is chasing me. Baffled, I tried ice and heat and ibuprofen. Nothing seemed to work.

I took several weeks off from my walking routine, but it’s not like I can go through life without walking anywhere.

Even my journalist friends were baffled.

Then one day while sitting at my desk, I discovered the source of my strain. While writing, I often cross my legs and push my right foot against the back of my desk, flexing my Achilles. I also often tuck my legs behind me, flexing my right foot against the chair leg.

Bingo! Pain solved. Kind of.

Keeping my feet on the ground while working has fixed the source of the problem, and I’ve been able to resume my walking routine, but hills are still painful and if I walk too much, the limp returns.

According to Google, this type of injury can take up to two years to heal. Google further said this problem is also associated with the aging process.

Sometimes I really hate the internet.

So, there you have it. Apparently, I’ve reached the age where frown fairies sneak into my room and slap a crease between my brows while I’m sleeping. I can hurt my elbow by typing and my Achilles by sitting at my desk.

This morning I woke up, stretched my arms over my head and sighed when I heard my shoulders snap, crackle and pop. I didn’t bound out of bed, I cautiously tested my tendon and groaned when I felt the familiar ache that told me I’d walked too many miles yesterday.

I took the stairs to my office one at a time and carefully adjusted my mouse pad, keyboard and chair before I began writing.

As I type my feet are firmly on the ground. At this rate, they’re going to be the only firm thing about me.

Like Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”

Which could be why she also said, “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of Champagne.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.