Since my mom arrived in Pittsburgh from Florida at the beginning of December we needed to get new, warm clothes for her. So every time we went to the mall, which she enjoyed, we typically bought a new outfit for her. Besides needing some new duds for warmth there was the problem of the extreme weight loss, the 25 pounds she still insisted she had lost overnight. Sometimes if I was shopping without her I’d pick up a new outfit for her, too. She was excited with her new wardrobe and loved adding new sweaters, slacks, and so on.
My mom was a very pretty woman and her new clothes were beautiful. She looked lovely when she wore them. And therein lies the problem. She’d be all excited about the new outfits and when I would go to see her, day after day she would have on the same clothes she’d worn the day before. I’m not talking about wearing the same outfit for two or three days in a row. No, I’m talking about the same outfit everyday for maybe two weeks. Clean underwear, yes. Clean outer clothes, no.
We started to pick out her clothes for the next day together and lay them out at night before I left. She’d tell me how excited she was to wear something so nice. The other “girls” at the Willows were going to be jealous, she’d say. The next day that outfit would still be in the same spot we’d put it the night before and she’d have on some outfit she’d brought from Florida that was way too big for her. She wanted me to get her a belt to hold up her pants.
After several weeks of this same outfit deal she had going on I asked her why she wasn’t wearing the clothes we had laid out for her. I showed her all the lovely things in her closet and the outfit that we had picked out several days before. And she asked me if they were her clothes. She didn’t want to wear them because she wasn’t sure whose they were or where they came from. She couldn’t figure out why other people’s clothes were in her closet but it also didn’t seem terribly upsetting, unusual or odd to her either.
The only solution I could come up with was to get her into her night clothes before I left each evening and take the outfit she had worn that day home with me to launder. Sometimes she found something that was familiar – and way too big – and wear that instead. I had to stop bringing those clothes back to her with the rest of her clean laundry. I was afraid she’d notice and I’d get in trouble, just like a little kid who was afraid her mommy would somehow root out trouble and dole out some kind of punishment, but she never noticed. I was certain I’d know I was in trouble if our photos were moved back to Family Photoland Exile and yet they seemed safe and still in good graces, still front and center comfortably residing in Family Photoland and Chaplain Cindy and Family are still in Other People Not Related to Me Photoland. So there is no crisis yet.
I had better success when I put her bra on top of the clothes we’d picked for the next day. For some reason she had no problem with the bras which were also new after the whole thing of the missing bras a while back. If my attention wandered, and I forgot to put out fresh clothes with her bra sitting on top of them, she’d have the same outfit on day after day.
She had always loved to wear a necklace or brooch and earrings every day. My mom could be wearing a sweatshirt and jeans but she’d most likely have on some kind of necklace or jeweled pin. She golfed in golf shorts, a golf shirt, golf socks and shoes, and a pearl necklace. One night when I went over to see her she had all her jewelry displayed on her bedspread piece by piece. It was costume jewelry - necklaces, pins and earrings - nothing of much value but pretty things that she loved. Now, she told me to take all the jewelry home with me because she's not going to wear it anymore. She said it’s too much trouble, the clasps are too hard for her to manage, and she doesn’t want to keep it around for someone to steal.
I picked out a few of her favorite necklaces and suggested she might want to keep them, knowing she could slip them over her head and wouldn't have to worry about fastening the clasps, and I took the rest home. I told her when we went out together, or if she went somewhere special, she could tell me if she wanted to wear some of the jewelry I was taking with me. She thought that was a great idea.
By the time I got home she called crying and telling us that someone had stolen all her jewelry. She was very upset at the thievery and that someone would have come into her room which was locked when she wasn’t there and had taken her things. I explained that she’d given some of it to me and some of it was still in her drawer. It took a while but she finally settled down and seemed to understand what had happened.
And the next day she had everyone at the Willows, including the director and the nurses and the rest of the staff, on a quest to find her stolen jewelry. The director called me to report the theft hoping I’d not be angry and to tell me that my mother wanted the thief expelled from assisted living and that wasn’t possible. He explained, condescendingly I felt, that maybe I didn’t realize that most of the residents at the Willows had some memory and/or physical problem – more often both.
Really? My family was well aware of what was going on with my mother. Painfully aware.