Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Saga of Le Handbag

My three brothers are determined to keep our mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, living at home as long as possible.

Some days are better than others.

My youngest brother Jack has assumed the responsibility for taking Mom to the grocery store, the bank and the doctor's office. He and Mom generally get along well, and Jack enjoys their outings together . . . with one exception.

Mom has an obsession about someone stealing her purse. To prevent this dread possibility, she hides the handbag. And then, of course, she forgets where she hid it.

This means that Jack has to tack extra minutes on the front end of any excursion to provide enough time for him to locate the purse before they leave the house.

In the beginning, it was simple. He'd find it in a drawer under her sweaters, or in the linen closet beneath the towels. During our calls, Jack would chuckle about where he'd found it that week.

Then . . . almost as if she sensed she wasn't providing enough of a challenge, Mom started to rachet up the level of difficulty. Instead of merely putting the purse under the bed, she'd hide it behind the table leaf that leaned up against the wall under the bed. Or she'd build a little fort of boxes of saran wrap and aluminum foil in the pantry with the handbag hidden inside.

The search began taking longer and longer each week, and Jack's humor on our calls started to sound a little forced.

The breaking point came the day he had to abandon the search because he didn't want to be late for Mom's 10 AM appointment with her doctor. Jack paid her co-pay out of his pocket.

When they returned home, he resumed the search. As he told it, Mom followed him around the house helpfully suggesting that perhaps she had been burgled. She was wringing her hands; he wanted to wring her neck.

If memory serves, that was the day he found the purse in a jigsaw puzzle box on the top shelf of the hall closet.

Mom occasionally provides playful moments. Jack has long since abandoned checking the "easy" places, expecting far more difficult solutions. One day she led him a merry chase until--on the verge of despair--he opened the dresser drawer where she'd kept her purses for nearly thirty years and found her handbag right on top in plain view.

I don't ask about the purse search when we talk on the phone these days. Jack is no longer lighthearted about the hunt. It's serious business.

He and Mom went to the dermatologist's office today . . . sans bourse.

Mom is always agitated when she has to leave home without the bag on her arm. Today she had day surgery on a skin cancer awkwardly placed. The surgery took three hours. Jack said a steady stream of nurses, techs and lab assistants came out from the exam room to ask him if he had Mom's purse.

In the car on the way home, she panicked, thinking she'd left the handbag in the doctor's office. He reassured her "the damn thing" was at home. However, when they got to the house, he had to stand and deliver.

During our phone call, he described his increasingly frenzied search. "I even thought about getting the ladder out and checking the roof," he said. "Until it dawned on me that the neighbors would have seen her up there and come running."

I was silent, afraid to ask the outcome of this bizarre Easter egg hunt.

"I walked into the den," he said. "You know the couch in there is too low to the ground for her to slide the bag under it." He paused
--whether in reflection or defeat, I couldn't say. "I was about to go check the Florida room when I noticed a buckled place in the rug."

You'd have to know my mother to understand the significance of this augur. Mom is a compulsive housekeeper. A buckle in one of her rugs is a world-shaking event.

"I walked back over and hoisted one end of the couch to look under it," Jack continued. "I couldn't believe it. That freaking bag was squished flat, but it was under that sofa."

"But how?" I asked.

"I have no idea," he responded. "She's five-feet-nothing and weighs about 106 pounds."

"And yet she found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!" I said with reverence.

I can't wait until next week's treasure hunt.


Laura Vivanco said...

Would it be possible to attach some kind of device to it which would make it easier to find? I've seen some electronic things you can attach to keys, for example, this kind of thing which might help. Perhaps he could tell her it was a way of tracking down the bag if it's lost, and then she wouldn't mind it being in being attached to the bag? Or he could maybe find some way of attaching it so that she wouldn't notice it and remove it?

Maya Reynolds said...

Laura: Thanks for responding.

I suggested that solution as well some months ago. When he tried it, she started hiding her purse and wallet separately--because, of course, she saw him locate the purse.

Since the wallet is so much smaller, the search became infinitely harder. He decided to go back to just looking for the larger item.

The thing is, Mom has always been a wee bit paranoid. These days she shifts the blame for missing items among the four of us--despite the fact that two of us live out of state. She calls one sibling or another regularly to report that a third one of us is stealing from her (the identity of the culprit shifts acording to the weather). Consciously or subconsciously, she is hiding the bag from us, too.

Laura Vivanco said...

But he always does locate the purse eventually, so maybe he just needs to attach the thing and then pretend to look in various other places for a while before checking where it really is? It would still waste some time, but it might make things a little easier? Maybe he could attach one to the wallet as well as to the purse?

Maybe that wouldn't trick her into leaving it on, though.

The whole situation sounds very difficult, for all of you.

Maya Reynolds said...

He's there. I'm not. I have to trust him to do what he thinks best. And my mother really is pretty freaking amazing. Her short-term memory is completely gone. She and I will repeat the same conversation four times in a 30-minute conversation. But she still manages to stay one step ahead of him.

Jack and his wife are saints. He's a sports columnist so he travels a fair bit of time. He and my SIL take calls from Mom at all times of the day and night. I'm going to go stay with Mom for a week in November so they can have a break.

Thanks again.

Glynis said...

Losing my dad to this dreadful disease. He sits and guards a clock I bought my mother and he no longer knows me. It will be time for him to go into care, I live in another country so cannot help.
I hope all goes well for you.

Maya Reynolds said...

Glynis: I'm so sorry. I wrote this post because sometimes all we can do is laugh--otherwise we'd be crying all day long.

Jack brought Mom a pack of cards last week because she used to love playing Solitare. He called that night, and she was shuffling the cards. He asked if she was playing Solitare, and she said, "No, I don't remember how to play."

He said the half hour he spent trying to explain how to set up the game to her over the phone was one of the saddest times of his life.

God bless you and your father.

Kelly said...

I just spent the last ten minutes reading this out loud to my family and cackling. We're going through the exact same thing right now with my grandmother. My favorite has to be the time she hid it UNDER her mattress. I still don't know how she lifted it; my grandmother probably weighs 85 pounds. That search was almost the end of me.

Thanks for sharing :)