And now, time for a little caregiver humor from Louise Fusfeld of Suburban Squirrel Productions (Gnawing Edge Comedy)…
I always called my mom by the pet name, Tabinkers. Don’t ask. We were tight and comedy was the spine of our relationship. I had returned to my childhood home to live with and take care of her and my dad. They were both 90-years old and my mom had dementia. As she often played up the role of ‘the demented, old lady,’ it was sometimes a trick to figure out how confused she actually was, and how much she was playing us for a laugh.
My dad had been in rehab for seven weeks, recovering from a near-fatal heart attack and a severe case of pneumonia. Needless to say, he did not look his old self. He looked like some tough old coot who had just been pulled out of Dachau.
After my dad had been home and toodling around the house for a couple of weeks, my mom turned to me and said, “There are these three old men around the house and I can’t figure out which one is my husband.”
She didn’t seem at all disconcerted by these strangers in the house, simply confused. I had no training in how to deal with dementia perspectives, but I had heard that you were not supposed to contradict the patient or bring attention to the fact that their idea was looney. I, of course, did the opposite. “Tabinkers, they’re all your husband,” I corrected her.
My dad was always moving from the kitchen table to his chair in the living room or to the bathroom and other exotic realms within the house. My mom was confused by these apparitions. To her, he seemed to be a different person each time he appeared in a different place.
Time went by and she again brought up the fact that the three-old men were confusing her. This time, I played in to the comedy of the situation and said, “You just want to have more men in your life.” It’s like that old Brazilian movie Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos – Wikipedia.org. A subtle laugh rippled up to her face and I could see we’d reached some common ground between her emotional view of reality and the physical one I saw.
Later, I was sitting on the side of her bed with her facing the hallway. My dad did what I called his ‘walkies’ up and down the hall with the caregiver hanging onto his gait belt. He and the caregiver waved at us and we would smile and wave back, sort of like a parade. At last, she seemed to know this old guy as her loving husband of the past 60 years.
Just after he passed the doorway out of sight, her warm smile faded. She looked at me with exaggerated disgust, pointed at the hallway with her stiff, arthritic finger and asked, “Is that my husband?”
Louise Fusfeld has been writing essays and sketch comedy and studying improvisational acting for the past 20 years. She lived with and cared for both of her parents for 4 ½ years until their deaths. She is currently working on a memoir about these experiences called Eldercare Jungle – Adventures of a Guerrilla Caregiver. Louise lives in Los Angeles where she works as a marketing consultant and studies improv with actor/writer, Melanie Chartoff.