Friday, April 13

shower day

In the many years that Mom lived on her own when she was well, an afternoon or early evening shower was her joy. If she had been out that day, she couldn't wait to get home and take her warm, warm shower and change into a muumuu. It is very different now, as a fear of showers and baths is a very common part of the Alz./dementia experience. 

I help Mom with her shower once a week. When she spent a few months in assisted-living before coming to us, the aides there said that once-a-week was all they required, so I have held to that, too. No need to put her through what she perceives as an ordeal more often than necessary.

Friday is shower day for her. I find myself thinking earlier in the week, "Oh good, five days until Shower Day."  On Wednesday I will think "Phew, two more days until Shower Day." And on Thursdays it is "Ok, tomorrow is the Day, may it go well."

It is Friday afternoon now. This late morning, when Mom woke up, I gave her a hearty breakfast of two scrambled eggs and a piece of sprouted wheat toast. She ate most of it, with lots of prodding and encouragement. I ran outside while she was eating and fed the hens outside her window so she could see the "little women", as I like to call them, who give us our eggs. Mom's usual breakfast is a bowl of Honey O's with sliced bananas and almonds, but I like her to have lots of protein on Shower Day to give her strength. Like most things I do, I don't know if it actually makes a difference.

I don't tell her it's Shower Day until her breakfast is finished and we've done something pleasant. Today my husband looked through an old photo album with Mom while I hung out some wash in the sunshine and breezes (shoring up my own mental strength for the coming hour or so). When I came inside, Mom wanted to show me a few photos of our sons when they were tiny and herself when she was with them. After exclaiming over the photos, I took her hand and matter-of-fact-ly told her it was time to brush teeth and have her shower. 

The next words out of Mom's mouth, after a few long moments of silence were "I don't feel well." It is so much like handling a child sometimes. I told her I was sorry she didn't feel well, but that I would help her with her shower anyway and that it would take but a few minutes. And that is the truth, she is only five minutes or so in the shower, and I make sure that the rest of the process is as warm and pleasant as possible.

On a scale of 1-5, I would say this Shower Day was a 4. She told me she wasn't well a few more times and also that she "didn't like this at all"...which is a usual comment. To make her feel safer and happier I helped her off with her clothes more than I usually do...I don't want her to forget how to do it herself, which she will if I take it over sooner than necessary, and honestly, I am grateful for even the little bit of exercise she gets pulling and tugging to get dressed and undressed...but I know it is a challenge for her. She surprised me by thanking me for the help today, which showed me what I knew already, that she would welcome the help more often. Little blows...believing I am doing the best thing for her when I know she sometimes thinks I am being unhelpful. But she is so generous with her thanks throughout each day and I am very fortunate in that, I know.

She was more confused in the shower than usual today. For a few months we have been using simple instruction cards that I made to help her through the process. Since she is hard of hearing, it has really helped for me to show her the signs while I stand outside the shower curtain...

"Rinse your hair, I will give you shampoo"

"Scrub the shampoo in all over your scalp"

"Rinse the shampoo out of your hair"

"Wash all over with soap, focusing on private parts"

Sometimes she laughs at the last one, more often she makes a face or rolls her eyes. Today, she needed a lot of help with the shampoo part and she made it clear she didn't want to wash herself. In the past, she hasn't wanted me to wash her, especially the "private parts", but today she told me she would like me to...and I told her I would be happy to do so. It took just a few seconds and I ended with soaping up her back, which she liked. Then it was time to bundle her up in towels, a few short steps to the cosy chair where I rub lotion all over her, and trim her chin hairs and floss her teeth. Then its into a fresh pair of of our Shower Day treats, so she won't have to go through the tedious process of dressing and undressing again that day, nor will I. Then on to the sunny sitting room where I blow-dry her beautiful hair. Then nap-time.

The moments when I can totally pamper her and answer her needs and desires, my heart opens up and I am glad. Then come the moments, like when I was blow-drying her hair today and thinking about how its white/silver color is so beautiful...then thinking about when she was my age and it was salt-and-pepper...then, inevitably, thinking about how wonderful it would be if she could still revel in her long, hot showers and blow-dry her own hair and not be afraid when she had to change clothes. Then the tears start and I blink them back and try to shut my heart enough to stop those sorts of thoughts from entering in too often.

And I think about how I need to keep putting aside the dread and fear that so often crop up in these days...the dread that a shower day will go really badly...the fear that I won't be able to find the right thing to say or do to comfort her and ease her own fears. This whole fear thing deserves a whole post...truly it does.

But Mom is napping again, after she woke up and I sent her back to bed with reassurances that there was nothing else she needed to be doing right now...and I am going to get out in the sunshine for bit, with monitor nearby and store up some fear-banishing sunshine and moments with the earth and the weeds...

P.S. Mom has been sleeping better the last several nights, with the last two nights with no waking at restful...


Dori said...

This post is so sweet and tender. I wish your mom could understand how blessed she is to be under your loving wing. We know. Love to you!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post, Lesley, and how rare and wonderful to hear someone talking about the beauty of grey/white hair. I agree!

melissa said...

I agree. This is such a sweet post, and written with such love. Your words are so carefully chosen.

When my mom broke her arm last year, I had the job of helping her shower, and even though her physical ailment was the only issue, it was hard for me to be that intimate with her.

I admire your affection for your mom and your ability to do for her even when it's hard, and I realize it's hard most times.

You seem to make her days very special, though, and I hope someone cares for you at the same time. :) Caregivers need lots of love as well.

Cathy said...

Oh Lesley,

How I remember those days! I never thought of it as her being afraid of the shower itself though- see I still have so much to learn. I thought it was the fear of not knowing how to take off her clothes or what was to be done first... it was all overwhelming to her. But her greatest fear by far, and this I know for sure, was us knowing she could not do it. She fought that every step of the way...and I mean literally!

I love your shower day story. I love it as one that knows.

Chris said...


So glad the shower went well this past Friday. I do remember, too, how Mom loved her showers and then into loose, colorful clothes.

Love, Chris