Quickly, two steps at time up the back staircase, then down the long hall I secretly entered the unlocked suite. The smell of urine and unflushed "business" met me head on. I wasted no time, flushed the toilet and opened every window.
No one could have ever prepared me for my new role as caregiver to dear Miss Kitty, my 89 year old mother in law!
The best way to get the job done was to sneak into her suite while she sipped on beef barley soup in the dining room two floors below. This was my little window of opportunity for what had now become a familiar routine. I have learned in order to maintain Miss Kitty's dignity, and our good relationship I have needed to become the "wardrobe fairy".
I gathered the garbage from the bathroom and kitchen which mostly contained soiled urinary incontinence products. Oops, a cloth pair of cloth panties in there by mistake. In fact today there was an assortment of panties strewn, some with soiled pads attached by the sticky adhesive, not only in the garbage, but in the bottom of the clothes closet, under the sink, in the bathroom drawer and by her bedside.
Sadly, Miss Kitty has become more incontinent, a weakness, yes, but also a symptom of Alzheimer's. Panties, liners, pads, briefs, cranberry juice, frequent bathroom visits, not drinking enough water, and much discussion around these entities have become a source of frustration and disdain for Miss Kitty, the ever feisty, independent senior, and me the controlling, busy and 'bossy" daughter in law. She has resisted appropriate protection because of comfort's sake (Oh and a little denial I think)) but slowly we are making progress.
My next job, sorting through her clothes, of which there is abundance and readying them for the laundry. Miss Kitty's source of enjoyment and pride has long been her attire and fashion sense. She still resides over 1 double bedroom closet, 1 hall closet, 2 dressers, one cedar chest and 2 sets of under the bed drawers ALL brimming over with CLOTHES! Recently I even found some more clothes in the entertainment unit drawers under her TV. Over the last 23 years I have never seen my husband's mother without a new coordinating outfit with matching jewelry, scarf, shoes, purse, and even reading glasses. The word 'mall' is still music to her ears.
Unbeknownst to her in the past several months I have discarded at least four large green garbage bags of clothes and one of shoes. Sadly that hardly made a dent.
Old age has taken Miss Kitty's sense of smell away, so she doesn't recognize when her clothes are soiled from perspiration. Macular degeneration has been taking her eye sight so she can't see when she has spilled soup or gravy on her blouse or pants. Alzheimer’s has been stealing parts of her memory and her ability to reason so she no longer has the sense that her dirty clothes don't go back in the drawer and that maybe she just ought to be wearing the more absorbent thicker urinary incontinence product.
I rush like a mad woman, sorting, folding, hanging, sniffing. No pee, yes pee, no pee, a little pee. Too much pee, minor odour, strong odour. I have to act quickly before she makes it back to her room and discovers me invading her closets and sniffing the crotch of her pants. Yikes!!
I love Miss Kitty with all my heart. I will admit,this new role has been extremely difficult, humbling and frustrating. It has tried my patience like never before. Some days it brings out the worst in me and I want to scream and yell and kick things. Other days I want to run away and "quit" my new job. Then I feel guilty for having such feelings and go to bed early because I have totally been drained of all energy. This role has given me a new understanding for the word Alzheimer's and empathy for the elderly and their caregivers. I now have a much better appreciation and respect for the professionals who nurse and care for the elderly, especially those with Alzheimer's and dementia.
And so I have made it my job, as I must, to secretly organize and maintain my mother in law's wardrobe. Who knew some of my most important assets in managing Miss Kitty's litter would be a sensitive nose, good eyesight and the mind of a sleuth.