Thursday, 29 January 2015

Family trip

Did the family trip out at the weekend: lunch and walk at a shopping mall.
Unusually DS was home for the weekend - to attend a friend's wedding - so on Saturday we did the shopping mall a trois.

Okaasan enjoyed the trip, I think. We walked quite a long way from end to end of the mall, and she sat down several times. Fingered things in shops, looked at the kids' play area, slurped her noodles for lunch.

I feel there is a slight disconnect with Okaasan and the world around her. Of course she knows it's a shopping center, she knows she is there with us. That far is still all okay.
But somehow like a tourist walking down a colorful market in a foreign country, she is observing things, but not participating in it. I get the feeling that if we walked round a country fair display of agricultural machinery she would have the same reactions - it is all there, and she is looking at it. But no particular engagement in it.
Can't explain it any better. Just a sense I have.

At the end of the lunch and walk we needed basic groceries shopping. But Okaasan was already looking tired. So DS went off to shop and I sat with Okaasan and had a drink in the food court. Kind of silent, companionable sitting. She watched all the noise and bustle around us, gave short responses to things I said - but basically just sat and waited.

Day Care

Going well. Okaasan is going each Wednesday with the helper to the local supermarket. No problems. The weather has been bad here recently and I feel sorry for the helper-woman having to fight thru to get here, and get a taxi to come down into this narrow street.
But Okaasan is shopping and walking, and choosing the things she likes to buy. She hasn't complained about the system. Usually she buys things for her own dinner, or the helper heats up/cooks something simple in our kitchen. I get home after work at 7.30 or 9 pm and find her settled in front of the TV.
And most importantly - Okaasan has made no effort to go out alone this winter. I worry on sunny days that she will go into the hallway and try to go out alone for a walk. I try to hide her shoes usually. I wonder if I will get home and find her angry about "I want to go out but I have no shoes!"....But she isn't trying to go. That's a relief.
Her legs are certainly weaker now, with only twice a week walking. Her mind seems okayish. Better than I expected really.

I did worry about this winter. Only once a week with a helper, and the effect of lack of exercise and mental stimulation on Okaasan. But she is generally ok.

It's a hassle that I have to think about "taking Okaasan somewhere" every weekend. But it's the least I can do. Monday to Friday is busy busy in my life and giving up a few hours at a weekend is just what I have to do. Also this winter - my changed schedule of night classes only 3 times a week - that helps too. Means I can get back and cook and put dinner on the table and give some chat.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Essential me.

Dementia changes so much - but it doesn't change the essential "me" of a person. The deep down, who you are and how you react with the world.
Been thinking about this recently.
After seeing the documentary film "Alive Inside/Personal Song", and rereading "And Still The Music Plays" by Graaham Stokes.

Who is the essential Okaasan? And how is she coping with this life situation? Dementia and living with a son and his non-Japanese woman?

Okaasan was born in 1930s Kawagoe, a large regional-center city north of Tokyo. Surrounded by farms, full of temples and tradition.
Her father had his own truck driving business - delivering goods all over the Tokyo area. A rare thing: having a driving license and having a truck. Kawagoe was famous for making the wooden chests called tansu, and his customers were local manufacturers who gave him their chests to deliver to customers. The family home was in the city center and had a telephone for business use. Local people came to use the telephone for emergencies. They had a pond with carp in the garden.
Her mother had come from the far north of Japan, where HER father had been a kind of community leader. She had six kids, and Okaasan was the oldest and expected to do a lot of housework and helping with the younger siblings.

War changed it all.

The family stayed in Kawagoe, Okaasan's school sent the children to work in the fields helping farmers, or in a factory making underwear for soldiers on big machines. Her father was a military driver. Kawagoe wasn't bombed so much, Okaasan firmly believes this was due to a US decision to protect Japanese heritage - like Kyoto.
After the war she went back to school and tried to make up for lost studies.
She started work as a book keeper in a company, and met a smart guy who'd moved to the Tokyo area from Kyushu. He'd left a fishing community to go to university and move to the center of life in Japan. It was the 1950s and Japan was rebuilding.
Eventually he worked for an engineering company - rising to be the vice-president. The couple married and moved to different places for his work - living near Osaka and Kyoto, then finally buying land and building a house in a newly developing suburb of Tokyo.
Okaasan stopped work after marriage and supported her husband's business life. She had two sons and was active in their education. She cooked big meals for the company staff at New Year, helped her husband get out of the house for the work-related golf trips. There was enough money in the family eventually for Okaasan to attend cooking and flower arranging classes at high class schools. She could shop in famous department stores and buy good quality clothes and household goods. In her 30s she was introduced to the teachings of a natural-health/exercise advocate.
After her husband's death when she was about 70 years old she traveled all over the world with a religious studies group, and enjoyed English and Hawaiian dancing as hobbies. She liked cooking and pickling, and sewing.

The essential Okaasan?
I think she is: polite, well-mannered, appreciative of quality in life. Believes that housework should be done correctly. Has a good sense of humor. Has an interest in people and what they do. Cares deeply about children and flowers. Loves pretty things. Respects hard work. Believes strongly in natural health, diet and exercise routines. Does not have much respect for hospitals and doctors.

And now she has dementia.
But the essential Okaasan is here: the politeness, the manners, humor, the "correct" way to do something, the interest in health, attitude to doctors.

She is very polite. Usually. Thanks me profusely for doing things, expresses concern about work, sometimes helps by washing dishes and tries to offer her prickly foreign daughter in law advice about food......
Often funny. 
Loves arranging flowers and admiring a bloom.
Enjoys TV shows about music and food, children and health.
Fiercely independent.

All of that. Still here.

I whinge a lot about Okaasan on this blog. It's one reason I started this blog. 
But, if I put aside the whingeing..... I can see the essential Okaasan. And I am grateful for who she is. I'm grateful for this story she has told me of her life, over countless dinners...endlessly repeating many facets of this story. It helps me understand her.

* Normal whingeing service will resume in the next post. :-)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Bugger bugger bugger...


Just noticed the front of the car. Front bumper badly broken.
I didn't drive on Sunday. So this happened on Saturday in that hair salon storm drive.
And I don't think the insurance will cover damage by a stupid-driver-who-crashed-into-a huge-pothole.
That was an expensive hair cut and perm....

* apologies to anyone who is offended by "bugger". It's a very common, soft British swearword. hey - even charming Hugh Grant used it in various films :]

Sunday, 18 January 2015


That's my upstairs window - always open a tiny crack for the Xmas lights electric cord....and last night an entry point for the blizzard that swept over this city.
Seeing a blizzard in an urban area is kind of unreal. Buildings and cars and people - fading in and out of vision.
At one point, as I was shoveling snow in our parking area I looked back...and couldn't actually SEE the front door 4 meters away.....
Trains, planes, highways shutdown. Scary stuff.

So I took my 84 year old mother-in-law to the hair salon.
Because stay at home old ladies need high adrenaline excitement....

Wasn't planned that way. Really!
At 2 pm I was on my way home from the city, had been to see an amazing documentary called "Personal Song" (Alive Inside), about the work with iPods and music and the elderly, especially the demented. On YouTube, it is the film and project behind that video of an elderly man coming alive to the sound of jazz. 

Great film. I cried my way through it. Hope someone will do this for me. And when Okaasan gets beyond TV watching and understanding - we'll give her big band music, Latin dance music and hula.
Vowed to come home and be nice to Okaasan.
Bought her favorite sushi box set.
Made her a hair appointment at 2 pm...for 4.30 pm.

At 4 pm the blizzard had arrived. Had to clear a way from the front door to the car for Okaasan. She was cutely so kind - kept fretting about the snow falling off my coat onto the car seat. Kept brushing it off  for me. As there was about a bucket of snow on the car floor anyway it didn't matter. But she cute - trying to help in some way.

Outside the hair salon a meter high drift. I grabbed Okaasan's hand and steered her along the road to the next possible slope....and delivered her to the salon for a cut and perm. Glad that she likes this salon. One male stylist who seems to have a knack with an old lady.
Showed Okaasan - and the stylist - how to call me on her cell phone for a return lift.

I came home to clean Okaasan's room. Bought some more knickers for her. Threw away trash. Carefully placed eight bags of various shapes and sizes back where she had left them - some stuffed with old newspapers. The bag sorting is her current obsessive job.

Went outside and cleared more snow. Parking area. Street. Occasionally in the whirling storm I glimpsed my neighbors doing their best to fight the elements.

At 6 pm got the phone call from Okaasan.
Took me 25 mins to drive the usual 8 mins to the salon.
By now the snow had buggered up the electrics in the salon door. Okaasan was all ready to take my hand and start the struggle home. Back out to the car, shielding her with my body...
Took another 25 minutes to get home. Trying to find side streets that were clear enough to drive through.
A night of madness.

But it was a shared adversity experience for Okaasan and me. That is probably good, isn't it?!!! We bonded in an extreme situation :-)

Home to dry multiple clothes and shoes. And eat the sushi. It comes from where her father was born, so she told me again and again about her family and their histories.

Her hair looks great.  So, that's good.

* A friend asked me recently about: what happened to your plans to put an exercise DVD on Okaasan's TV?
Ah. That. Plans fell by the wayside. Didn't do it. Getting the DVD player, getting the expensive Nishi-guru DVD. Didn't happen. Pre-winter rush, then end of year and xmas preparations, now snow.....
She is getting out twice a week for some kind of physical exercise. That will have to be enough for now.

Could I get her an iPod and put Nishi-guru exercises on that? Yes, I could.
It's a whole series of actions - go to shop, buy Ipod, learn how to use it, find Nishi-guru stuff to put on it, do that, explain to Okaasan etc - that I can't be bothered to do at the moment.

I think another 10 inches of snow has fallen while I've written this posting.
Gotta go.