Emptying the Bucket (List)

By Eilene Lyon

My brother and I, along with our spouses, were visiting Mom in Oregon last week. Because she has rapidly progressing dementia, she lives in memory care at the retirement community she moved into 12 years ago.

She’s doing pretty well physically, for now. I took her to see her regular physician so we (including my aunt) could update her medical directives and resuscitation order. Though you can generally carry on an intelligible conversation with Mom, the doctor had no luck getting her to understand what CPR and electric shock were for, if she happened to be found without a pulse and not breathing.

Some time back, I had given the caregivers at the retirement home instructions to let me know if Mom ever expressed a desire to fulfill any bucket-list items. Nothing has ever come up. But I know Mom got rather upset with my aunt when she realized aunt had gone to the coast and not taken her along.

According to the staff, Mom gets anxious when she leaves the memory care unit (this, despite the fact that she snuck out recently and got everyone into a tizzy – she just wanted to exercise by going up and down the stairwell, like she used to do). So the idea of taking her very far seemed impractical. She’d probably just ask to be taken back to memory care.

Then my brother reported to me that Mom told him she wanted to “see the ocean before I die.” He had other plans, so this was the chance for me to take care of Mom’s “Bucket List,” even if it only had one item on it.

I asked Mom, “Would you like me to take you to the ocean tomorrow?”

She lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.

“Oh, yes!”

I arranged for the facility to provide a box lunch for her, since she has a limited diet and I didn’t want to try finding anything suitable in a restaurant.

Mom was raring to go when hubby and I picked her up the next morning. She bundled up (it was a cool, off-and-on rainy day). I tried not to get anxious about the hour-and-a-half drive to the beach. We got about 15 minutes into the drive before she spoke up.

“I had no idea it was such a long way to the ocean!” (She would repeat this a number of times)

I reassured her that I didn’t mind the drive as long as she was okay. Did she still want to see the ocean? Yes, she did.

“Mom, do you remember going to the beach to fly kites?” (Something she used to do frequently)

“No, I don’t remember that.”

In fact, I was getting the impression that she really thought she’d never been to the ocean in her entire life. Oh my. It turned out that the probable reason she had wanted to see the ocean was because of a photo of her father, standing in water, that she’d come across.

“I think that photo of Dad must have been taken at Priest Lake,” she said, recalling the place her family had vacationed regularly when she was a child.

She remarked on how many trees Oregon seems to have (repeatedly), and generally seemed to enjoy the passing scenery, calling mobile home parks “retirement communities.”

Well, we did make it to the beach and walked in the wind and light sprinkles for about 10 minutes, then she’d had enough. She said she really appreciated the trip and would do whatever we wanted. She was unusually patient – really!

So hubby and I enjoyed some super yummy, fresh fish-n-chips at a little hole-in-the-wall (“food with attitude” we decided, after reading some of the signs – e.g. “To Go means TO GO – take your trash with you!” – and some lip from the server).

Mom dined on her boxed lunch (cookie first – she has her priorities straight!).

The trip back went smoothly, too, and we left Mom at memory care where she could brag to the other residents about her visit to the beach.

Feature image: Eilene and Mom on the beach, March 18, 2018.

6 thoughts on “Emptying the Bucket (List)

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      1. All I could be to my mom was dutiful, too. Our happiest moments were when she was out of her mind and thought I was someone else. With my aunt Martha, though, yeah, that was another thing completely. Every minute I could spend with her — even as she slid into dementia — was precious. And somehow, she always knew me ❤

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    1. It’s a religious-group-based facility. Mom has gone from independent living (where the majority of people are) to assisted living, to memory care. They guarantee to care for her for life. Mom planned it all out that way herself. In fact, she served on the board of directors many years ago (though of course she doesn’t remember that).

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