Monthly Archives: December 2010

“I want to live here for the rest of my life.”

Last night, in the dining room at of the “Legacy Village” memory-care facility, where my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, moved in on Monday, I sat with her at the dining table.  She gave me a big smile.  “I love it here.  Can I live here for the rest of my life?”

Two weeks before, we’d visited the place. “I’m going away on sabbatical, Mom.  I want you to look at this place as a possibility for you to stay while I’m away.  It’s near Allison, who can visit you.” (Allison is my ex-wife and dear friend who continues to love my mother.) Mom yelled and screamed at me in the car as we drove, demanding I turn around.  It was the nightmare scenario I had feared.  But I stayed calm, and we kept going.  When we arrived, she wouldn’t get out of the car.  The director, a wonderfully caring, patient, and empathetic woman came out and talked to her, and within five or ten minutes Mom was touring the place with her.  She liked it.  They discussed where Mom’s Steinway grand might go.

On the trip home, and over the next week, Mom was adamant that she wasn’t going to move there.  “I’m staying in my house.”  She just needed me to get her five months of food and someone to visit her once in a while.  Meanwhile, Mom had been hiding eggs and mayonnaise and lunch meat in her bathroom, so that her live-in caretaker wouldn’t “steal” it.  She didn’t believe those things needed refrigeration.  She’d go through her caretaker’s things, lock her in the basement, tell her she had to move out immediately, then later that she could stay for ever.  They were “sisters” one day, enemies the next.  The caretaker got another job and moved out.  I’d moved back in.

Something had to give.  The time had come.  I’ll stay with her through Christmas, I decided after some agonizing, and then we’ll make the move.

Tuesday last week, Mom was obsessed with the idea that furniture that had belonged to the caretaker was actually Mom’s, and that the caretaker’s “new husband” (a male friend who helped her move), had robbed Mom.  She kept demanding that I call the police.  I had to go out for a while, so I called the police to let them know that my mother might be calling them herself and explained the situation.  And sure enough, she did.

Wednesday (a week ago), Mom had an appointment with her neurologist, who told her that with me going away, it was time for her to live somewhere safer than alone in her house.  Mom became incensed, stormed out, and tried to get me to go with her.  She went to the waiting room, came back to get me after a couple of minutes, then went back to the waiting room when I wouldn’t budge.  The doctor and I agreed that given her emotional state and other behaviors, it wasn’t really safe (for her or me) to take her home.  So the doctor arranged for her to be hospitalized in a senior adult mental health inpatient unit at a nearby hospital.

Mom went ballistic when she realized we weren’t visiting a friend in the hospital but she was staying.  But by the next day, she’d relaxed, and over the weekend had decided she loved it there.  She loved the staff, the other patients, and the activities.  The food was great, and the bed “delicious to sleep in” (she laughed at calling the bed “delicious”).  Her neurologist was astounded by the shift.

Monday she was transferred to the memory-care place, the best I could find.  A lovely place with a caring staff, excellent activities, and a room where Mom’s piano–which means so much to her–can go.  I’d set up her room with some photos, toiletries, and clothes before she arrived (they didn’t want me there when she got there).  Then I went over to Allison’s and cried.

Last night I visited.  So far, she loves it.  We rearranged the furniture in her room (I’m sure she’ll rearrange it many times).  We visited the room where the piano will go four or five times.

We sat on the couch in her room.  “I want to live here the rest of my life.”  She was relaxed and happy.  “Is there enough money?”

“Yes, Mom.  And even if there wasn’t, Christine [my sister] and I would belp.”

“Oh, good.”

“You know, Mom, I’m kind of surprised.  When we visited here before, you didn’t want to move here.”

“I know, honey.  I was afraid.”  (And so was I.)  “But I love it here. And I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t arranged it.  Thank you so much.”

Well, there’s my Christmas miracle right there.

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How personal to get in a public blog?

My first blog, which I didn’t even know was a blog, was a series of essays that I sent to a list of friends and others who ended up on the list.  I started posting them on a website, putting the newest on the front page by hand, then creating an archive page for the previous one, with a link to it in a sidebar.  That enterprise came to an end when I started writing about my complicated relationship with my father.  A family friend, on the list, who was unaware of my father’s drinking problems and dark side, became quite upset with something I had posted about my feelings about him (which she had misinterpreted, anyway, in my view).  My father never figured out how to do email or surf the web, despite being extraordinarily intelligent, so I wasn’t worried he’d read it.  My mother wasn’t reading the essays, either.  Some people found the essays touching and inspiring (at least at times);  one wrote me that she thought I was too personally revelatory.  In any event, this lady, who only knew my father’s best, social, self, was upset, and worried that he would be upset if he read it.

While I was sure he’d never read it, the issue of the privacy of people in my life became a big one for me.  I started self-censoring and the creative flow was blocked, and that project came to an end.

Privacy–one’s own and those of others–is an issue for those who do personal blogging.  This site is a bit complicated, since it is both a personal blog and a professional website.  For a while, I had a blog and a separate Eric-the-cellist website.  How personal to be here is a question, especially when it comes to writing about experiences, including professional experiences, involving others.

Once I wrote a post about an incident that had happened in a class, where I’d chastised some students for using “that’s so gay” as a derogatory term, in front of a student I assumed was gay.  It had been unsettling to me.  I wondered how the student I thought was gay had felt about my handling of the situation, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask him (some students who are obviously gay aren’t out to themselves yet, and many years ago I learned the hard way not to make any assumptions).  In the post, I put the whole thing in the past tense, as if it had happened years before.

But the mother of another student read the post, called her child, best friend of the guy (whom I had neither named nor described in the post) I assumed was gay, and asked, “Is ____ gay?”  And then it became a big thing for some of the students.  The student whose mother had called wrote me to say that ____ (whom I hadn’t named) wasn’t gay, and was upset when people presumed he was.  But he didn’t want me to talk about it with him, at least according to his friend.  I felt awful that I triggered any pain or embarrassment for him, and took the post down. I regretted not being able to apologize.  (Now that it really is some years since that happened I feel safe in describing the incident.)

The answer, I suppose, is to put the most personal stuff, and stuff involving others, in an anonymous blog.  But there’s something about anonymous blogging that feels like hiding.  And after all those years in the closet, I hate hiding. I like being open.  I like sharing, including my inner life.  When we share our inner lives with each other, it can, sometimes, be of great help, to the writer, a reader, or both.

All this is a preamble to my next post, about my mother, who has dementia, and some recent experiences with her.  In a way, it will violate her privacy.  But it’s a story worth sharing, and I really think that my pre-dementia Mom would have given her blessing to me writing about post-dementia Mom.

[Edited slightly a few times, hopefully for clarity, perhaps just making the thing wordier.]

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Making a living making music: how Allison does it

I think I feel a bust of blogging energy coming on, so we’ll see.

Right now (I started writing this on Saturday December 11), I’m sitting in the “Boardroom” of the West Lafayette, Indiana, Public Library.  (What a wonderful thing it is that libraries offer free wireless access these days.)  Why,you ask, is a guy from Greencastle sitting in the West Lafayette library, over an hour from his cozy home?  I’m listening to a violin recital, performed by an array of well-dressed children (most of the boys wearing ties, some of the girls in amazing Christmas/party dresses) playing selections from the Suzuki violin repertoire.  Each is one of the thirty private violin (well, there’s at least one studying viola) students of my ex-wife, Allison Guest Edberg.

And how many guys, even cellists, voluntarily attend and help set up their ex-wife’s student violin recital?  I really don’t know.  But we have that kind of post-divorce loving friendship.  Why we got married, both of us knowing I was more attracted to men than women, over twenty-five years ago is a long story.  When we divorced, though, it was a loving gift to each other more than anything else.  Sure, it was wrenching and there were tensions, but by and large it went smoothly and there’s no question we are not only friends but also love each other.

Allison and her boyfriend put me up last night.  My mother is going to be moving into a memory-care facility in Lafayette (just, um, east of West Lafayette) early next week.   Right now she’s in the hospital in Indianapolis.   I visited Mom there last night, came up to Allison’s, and after the recital this morning I’ll take her to lunch and then we’ll pick out a room for Mom and figure how much stuff I can bring up for her from her house I Greencastle.

The wrenching, horrible experience of deciding that it’s time to move Mom from her home to an institution, no matter how great it is, is something I won’t dwell on now.  When I mentioned what was going on to Janos Starker the other day, he said, “That is the most excruciating thing a family can go through,” and he was right.

We’re all doing a lot of hand wringing these days about the future, or seeming lack of it, for professional classical musicians.  Allison, meanwhile is someone doing quite well with a multi-faceted career.  She has a growing reputation and expanding amount of performances as a Baroque violinist (we’ll call that career 1), does some freelancing (recordings, weddings, church services, pick-up orchestras, occasional chamber music concerts) on “modern” violin (career 2), has a class of thirty private students (career 3), and is the part-time education director for the Lafayette Symphony (career 4).

So four simultaneous careers, or, put in another way, income streams.  I think she has a slight positive cash flow from the house she owns in Greencastle (once our marital home), which she now rents out, so that’s actually five income streams.

It is not a huge living.  But it’s enough that she and her boyfriend live together comfortably, if not luxuriously.  They have good friends they embrace as family, including me. She loves what she does. Sometimes she’s too busy for comfort.  There are occasional professional, artistic, and personal frustrations and tensions. As there are in every life.

Overall, I’d say she’s one of the happiest people I know.

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