Grasping for Candelabra

G (2)July 3, 2011: Emma parks her walker in the usual spot for breakfast, in the dining room to the left of the credenza behind her dining chair at the head of the table, and instead of turning to her chair, overshoots the dining table and heads for the corner. After much coaxing, I redirect her. On her way back, grasping the credenza, she grabs the candelabra and then the candlestick holders. At least she doesn’t bean me with one. She’s so afraid she’ll fall, she grabs onto everything in reach – bed quilts, candelabra, doorjambs…. Kind of like building your house on sand – nothing that will hold.

“No. No! NO!” I’m saying, trying to get her to put down the candelabra and hold onto the credenza until she makes it back to her chair. I look up. The windows are open. Oh. What will my next-door neighbors 25 feet away think?

Emma is hard of hearing and belligerent. She thinks she knows best. And, true, sometimes she does, but she has reached the dementia stage of aphasia: she can’t communicate her reasons: I learn the reason later. But, most of the time, she only thinks she knows best – and she tells me about it, vis-à-vis, “I’ll have you fired!” One could only hope. “Keep your fingers off me.” “You leave my walker alone!” She can talk when she wants to. Thank goodness that kind of talk doesn’t happen often. Although, now, she’s become combative at times. I’ve learned to stand back so when she swings, she won’t hit me. She sits in her chair next to the bed and grasps her bedpost with that firm grip only women of her generation can (accustomed to kneading dough, flattening it out with a rolling pin, rubbing laundry against a washboard, wielding a laundry iron made of iron, scrubbing the kitchen floor on hands and knees with a scrub brush, to name a few routine activities), so that her healthcare aides and I cannot get her arm into or out of her shirt. I try to pry her hand off the post and she swings at me. She is kinder to the aides.

She shreds her napkins at each meal, a phenomenon common to dementia patients, I’ve been told. At least she eats. I’ve been told that many dementia patients are more combative than Emma and ultimately, they stop eating as their bodies shut down. In the end that is what happened to Emma.

However, around this time of the candelabra incident, a nurse told me not to force her to eat. Don’t worry about it, she told me kindly; she’ll eat what she needs. She doesn’t need to eat any more than that. And, in the last few months of Emma’s life, when she ate very little, her hospice doctor told me that it’s the body’s natural protection not to eat much when it is shutting down, as Emma’s was; that if she ate too much, the body would be overwhelmed.

Samantha Mozart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *