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.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Fingers and toes

Full on Oyomesan duties this holiday weekend.
Well, not 100% true...cos I did escape to a friend's art show in a gallery, drink some beers, eat a curry and go skiing...but apart from THAT ....I was on duty at home.

Fingers and toes.
I feel bad about this - family neglect of an old lady...

Finally I focused in on Okaasan's hands and realized her gnarly yellow talons were about to scrape the carpet from a standing position, and her toe nails were forming human-cell clogs.

I didn't know why: but she has stopped cutting her nails. Always used to do it herself after baths. Has nail cutting scissors on the trash pile on the table in front of her.

How long? Oh.....months probably. 4 months? Five?

On Saturday I got her to have a bath. Then after went into her room and gave her my nail cutting kit - a great assortment of clippers, scissors, scrapers etc - 
"You said you wanted to cut your nails, didn't you! Better after a bath, isn't it!" I cued her in cheerfully to the task at foot.

SO necessary. She got out an old newspaper and sat on the floor for 45 minutes bent over in deep concentration as she did battle with the yellowy growths, which were very tough to cut and shape.....looked SO much better afterwards.

Yup. I know. That's probably one good reason why her walking wasn't so great recently - toe nails fighting for room in her shoes!

Why did she stop cutting her own nails?
Just forgot and forgot until the nails were so hard that her little scissors wouldn't cut? And then she never remembered to say anything about it. So they just grew and grew?

I feel bad actually that we...well me really...let it get this bad. Have to step up and take responsibility for the body care of this old lady.

And today: mental and physical care.

I took her downtown in the car and for a long walk all over the underground walking areas. Looked at shops, looked at old photograph displays, craft market, drank coffee, bought a magazine, left her in her favorite coffee shop to read for 45 mins, brought the car round and drove her home again.
Three hours of Okaasan and Me bonding time.

Just now served her dinner in the kitchen.
"TV said there was 30 cm of new snowfall since Friday..." I mentioned.
"Really, I haven't been out, I don't know".....

"Haven't been out????!!! WE went out today! Together! Downtown in the car! Walking!. The coffee shop....the....."

And you know: she remembered none of it. None of it.
Even when I described what we'd done...she shook her head, looked around the kitchen in case a stray memory was skipping around somewhere...
We both had a giggle about it - bad memory - going senile etc etc.

Because there really is nothing else to do but laugh.....

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Snow storm

Hokkaido disappeared in a snow storm this week.
Typhoon speed winds, snow, rain, snow again.....days of it.
Flights and trains cancelled and roads all over a white out.
Luckily I didn't have to go very far to anywhere: the 9th floor of my Japanese teacher's apartment was shaking and the supermarkets were deserted.
Quite a week of Back to Work really.

Okaasan, of course, was stuck at home.
The day service helper came on Wednesday at the height of the storm, but couldn't/didn't take Okaasan out - just stayed an hour and chatted.
But it meant that Okaasan hadn't got out of the house for 7 days....since I'd taken her to the shrine.
So, on Thursday Dear Son and I both got home from work about 6 pm, fed the cats, and turned right round and went out again with Okaasan in the car to a local big shopping mall.
Walked all over the supermarket and shops, and had dinner at a ramen place on the way home.
Exhausting, but necessary.

DS was home quite a bit recently. "Home" as in into the house around 6 pm, and out again at 6 am. Going to bed by 9 pm, so "home" for 3 hours a day, minus the long time he can spend in the toilet looking at his iphone, in the shower and packing ski stuff into and out of the car. Actual "home and talking time" is probably about one hour. But he was around.

Okaasan was ok. Sort of. Watched Tv and slept her way thru the week. Occasional looked through the bags she has on the carpet around her. Stuffed them with rolled up newspaper. Took the stuffing out. Put it back in again. Giving her some of the bags and removing the rest from sight was a good idea.
But even Okaasan kind of felt she hadn't been out for ages and had cabin fever a-growing. So the shopping mall was a relief.

Big news! I shared this with close Facebook friends now, and I think you blog readers are pretty close too - so here's sharing with you:

I'm going to organise a film screening, plus director Q and A session in Sapporo in May this year!
The film is 毎日がアルツハイマー/Everyday is Alzheimer’s

This is a Japanese documentary by director Yuka Sekiguchi. EIA1 was released a few years ago - and shows the everyday life of Sekiguchi-san's mother Hiroko. EIA2 was made last year, and is about the director's trip to the UK to talk to care givers and managers about Alzheimer's.
If you look on YouTube, you'll find many excerpts from the films. Some with English subtitles.
EIA1 was shown in Sapporo a few years ago at a small theater for a week. I went and was so moved. All around me in the theater darkness were other people being moved too. You could FEEL it in the air. Other, mainly middleaged watchers, seeing their own family situations up there on the screen and realizing they were not alone.
Sekiguchi-san is a wonderful, positive person - I haven't met her yet - but throughout the film you feel her energy and humour. It gave us all renewed energy to go back to our own kitchens and living rooms and be positive with our family members again. The kind of film experience that speaks to your heart.

When I heard EIA2 was made I looked forward to seeing it. Went and asked at local plans....I could see showings in Tokyo and Kobe etc..nothing up here in the northern wilds of Japan's 5th biggest city.


Best way to deal with frustration is to do something yourself.


** Hire a movie theater! Yes!
** Contact the film distribution company! Arrange screening rental!
And by huge, wonderful luck - discover that director Sekiguchi will be in Sapporo in May on other business, and thru Facebook she kindly offers to drop by to my screening event and say "hello and thankyou" to the audience.

I got myself a Film Screening and Director Appearance event.
Everyday is Alzheimer's ONE and TWO are coming to Sapporo!

Very excited. Can't explain how much. Had to sit on this a bit while I was setting it up with the movie theater, the distributor and Sekiguchi-san.
But now everything is officially in place and I can let the lid off my excitement.


That's how I feel!
The movie theater seats over 300 and is right in the center of the city. Comfortable seats. Last year I organised screenings of HAFU at a community center, big success with over 200 people...but the chairs were painfully hard.

This time will be better.

Many things to think about. But the main pleasure for me is knowing that 300 people in Sapporo who live with, or work with, or worry about Alzheimer's can come and share with eachother.

It's a strange, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, often frustrating disease: but the message of these films is that with humor, openheartedness and acceptance it doesn't need to be a grim, daily struggle for carers or sufferers.

It is possible to hunt thru kotatsu garbage and smile. :-)

So. I'm pretty chuffed. (That's British for happy..)

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


Kagami mochi...+ ..Okaasan... + microwave....=     baaaaaaaaaaad.

Kagami mochi is rice cake. It is sold all over Japan at New Year, and this version is in supermarkets in a hard plastic case. You use it as a decoration until January 7th, and then January 10th you can open it and cook and eat it.
It's heavily condensed rice - probably equal to two bowls of normal fluffy rice. Usually you break it into pieces, grill it to make it expand and then drop it in soup. Or eat it with soy sauce.

We've had it on the kitchen table over the holidays, with Okaasan telling me every day the appointed schedule for what to do with it.

Came home yesterday.

The microwave and the kitchen table and counter looked like a plastic packing and mochi battle ground...
And the whole mochi was gone....

One happy old lady looked pretty full....

And then ate another bowl of rice at dinner time...

Friday, 2 January 2015

Start the year, as you mean to go on...

Start the year by being a perfect daughter-in-law to a lonely old lady who doesn't have any family to celebrate New Year with...

Honestly, I don't know if anyone even telephoned Okaasan...there are some brothers, a sister, a useless son...somewhere in the Tokyo area.
I didn't hear her get a phone call at all. There was no call on the house phone.
She got one New Year card. One. From the son of her brother, who got married a few years back - so she is on that couple's computer list of wedding invites/thankyou cards/New Year cards.

So I did my best.
Opened her room curtains with a cheerful "Happy New Year" in the morning and delivered her one and only card.
At lunchtime got all the things she'd bought a few days back out of the fridge. Heated up the soup, made salad, cut the fish paste, heated up the chicken and vegetables stew and arranged it all on the table...

Sat down and welcomed in 2015 with Okaasan.
It was ok - she was chatty enough - telling me many many times that all the foods have meanings. And what the name of everything is. Talked a little about cooking all of this kind of food from scratch many years ago. Ate her way through lots of it.

At 2 pm I got her dressed up and decided which of the four possible bag choices were necessary... and took her on foot 5 minutes away to the tiny shrine in the park. The weather was warm and sunny, but quite a lot of ice on the roads.
We walked carefully, and hand in hand...
At the shrine various local people from the residents' association recognised me and said hello...Okaasan trotted along at my side.
We prayed at the first shrine at the bottom of the slope, and then she gamely said she was going to climb the steep slope to the main we did that too.

I helped her on and off with her gloves and gave her money to throw in the offering box. Helped her ring the bell. All of that.

Wonder what she prayed for? More bags and a different daughter-in-law?!!

After 30 mins with the local families, the dogs and the cars - we came back down the slope and carefully home again.
Where I served up hot coffee and a sheep shape sweetbean cake. Settled Okaasan back down with the TV.
And that was New Year.

Later I went out to have dinner with a friend. Left the New Year food and rice for Okaasan to pick at if she was hungry.

I can't keep this level of daughter-in-law duty up at all.
But for January 1st it was a good effort.