Thursday, May 3, 2012, was ‘Perm day’. Mom had been looking forward to getting a perm. She had been telling me that the only day she looks good is the day she has her hair done. Her hair seems to go flat within a day or two. A few months ago when mom was feeling good, she used to curl her hair every day with a curling iron now she did not have the energy nor would they allow her to because her hands are not steady.
Mom’s appearance was always important to her. She has a beautiful complexion. In her later years, she has become particular about her moisturizer; she always wants to use whatever I am using. She is very deliberate with using her face products every morning and every night. By looking at her skin most people would think her skin is that of a 70 year old woman; mom has very few wrinkles to show for her 84 years. She has been blessed in that area of her life.
Mom wore very little makeup in her late 60s and after except for blush which she calls ‘rouge’ and lipstick. She seemed to feel she needed a lot of rouge to make herself look healthy even though many times I tried to recommend that she use a lighter touch with her blush. She would say to me, “Julienne, why wear the rouge if you cannot see color.”
Mom was always in search of the perfect shade of lipstick. Her concern was that even the lipsticks that claimed to be long lasting would not stay on her lips for very long. At least once a month, mom would return the lipstick she was using saying the lipstick did not live up to the claim. Each time I cringed as she would tell the sales clerk how disappointed she was in their product. Never did a sales person give her a hard time and she took pride in the fact that they always gave her money back.
Mom was so obsessed with finding the perfect lipstick that she often asked people when she was at a function what color and brand they were using if she thought their lipstick was staying on their lips. She would say, “Julienne, write that down.” I always humored her and agreed to look for that lipstick knowing all well that mom would not be satisfied with their lipstick either. For some reason once she used the new brand, she would say that there was something wrong with this particular tube because the product would not stay on her lips for a long time.
When I think back to the past few years, I now realize those situations could have been the beginning stages of her dementia. The episodes used to frustrate me. I used to say under my breath, “Why me, Dear Lord.” As I thought she was here to torture me from some former bad thing I had done in a previous life. Now I realize I was not seeing the whole picture.
Today I found mom by the nurses’ station. She was waiting for her medication. She knew I was coming to pick her up and she was going to make sure she received her medication before she left with me.
As I hugged mom, she said, “I hope I am having a perm today! My hair is poker straight.” She smiled when I said, “Absolutely”.
On our way over to The Community*mom said, “My roommate keeps me up all night. She is always going through all the drawers and washing her shoes constantly”. I just listened.
While I was helping to fasten mom’s seatbelt, mom looked at me and said, “I hate myself today.” Startled I asked, “Why would you say that mom?” She spoke clearly, “I am not worth a ‘blank’. I cannot do anything anymore.” I could hear the sadness and frustration in her voice. With mom’s condition, some days are more difficult for her than others. I told her that maybe she is just over-tired today from not having enough sleep last night. I let her know that I feel frustrated with myself when I have a hard time doing something that I should be able to do. I assured her that she was worth something to me.
When mom and I walked out of the elevator on the second floor towards the beauty shop, I saw that The Community Supportive Living* had two activities happening. They were having an exercise class in one room and a rosary service in another. Mom did not pay much attention to them today. I was glad because I thought those activities would be a reminder of the past. Mom used to attend both of these activities.
Seeing Joanne* perks mom up. Joanne* asked mom, “Did you get your chair in your room yet?” Mom excitedly responded, “Oh yes, I have the chair right next to my bed. Sometimes I set my alarm off because they want me to lie in bed in the morning, but I want to sit in my chair. I love my chair; it is very comfortable!”
Joanne* continued to ask questions, “How’s the food?” “Today, we had chicken. I ate the wing and the drumstick. I like to suck on chicken bones. The chicken was good, but way too much. I left the white meat. Another woman at my table had Italian sausage; she said she liked the sausage.” Mom was in good spirits now.
Mom asked me for water. I came back with a Styrofoam cup and straw with water filling up about a fourth of the cup. Mom is continually dry; they limit her intake due to her congestive heart failure. She is continually complaining that she is thirsty. I always bring her water when she asks, but caution her to take small sips.
The smell in the room became sickening. I had forgotten how bad a perm smells; my eyes were burning. Mom said the smell did not bother her. Just then another lady came in the shop. Mom said, “Do you recognize me.” She said, “Gilda, I recognize your voice. You look different with rollers in your hair.”
The lady who was now having her hair done proceeded to say that the staff made her exercise today. The activities director came to her room to make sure she joined in. She said, “I hate exercise. I hate the ‘blank” thing. I hated exercise in high school and I hate exercise 60 years later.”
While mom’s hair was processing, she fell asleep. Then as Joanne* took the perm rollers out of her hair, mom had ringlets everywhere. Joanne suggested to mom that she not let anyone get her hair wet when they are giving her a shower or her hair will turn to ringlets. Mom, of course, said, “Julienne, tell them when you take me back. Make sure they don’t wet my hair. They will listen to you.”
When Joanne* was finished styling mom’s hair, mom looked beautiful. Her hair was a lot fuller, but the style was similar to the way mom liked to wear her hair. Hopefully, mom’s hair will stay full and curly for several days’ in-between shampoos. Mom was very pleased.
When we walked back into The Community*, the wind blew mom’s hair messing up her new do. She asked me to comb her hair before walking her back to her room so I did. Mom said, “Julienne, I wish you could comb my hair every day.” I assured her that her hair is going to look much nicer with her new perm and not to worry.
I brought mom back to her room. While she sat in her comfortable chair, mom said, “Thank you, Julienne. How did this happen to me? To think I was one of the healthiest people at my other place. Pray for me.” I smiled while saying, “Mom, pray for me.” Immediately she closed her eyes and started reciting The Lord’s Prayer in entirety. After she finished she said, “How did I do?” I said, “Great! Did you just pray for me, mom?” She sighed and said, “I prayed for both of us, Julienne”. We both smiled and as I gave her a big hug mom said, “Ohhhhhhhh, Julienne, I love you. Thank you, thank you! I am going to take a nap when you leave; I am exhausted.” I said, “You did great! I am so proud of you, mom.”