Didn’t See THAT Coming

On our walk; Mom looks for 95, doesn't she?

On our walk; Mom looks great for 95, doesn’t she? (Photo by Susan Stapleton Foster of Fort Scott, KS)

When you can't find ducks, enjoy flowers.

When you can’t find ducks, focus on flowers.

Even with her advanced dementia, it’s something we still like to do together.  When the weather is good…when Mom is feeling good…when everything is Pretty Good, she and I like to take a walk and feed the ducks.

During this month’s trip to visit Mom in Kansas, I tucked her into the wheelchair, entrusted her with pieces of bread, and off we went. Down in the elevator, across the lobby, out the front door and into the sunshine.  As we took our regular trail along the sidewalk, around the corner and down the hill, we oohed and aahed over the colorful flowers…and made quacking sounds to summon the ducks in the fenced-in pond beyond the back patio.

Mom had bread pieces ready in her lap when we arrived. “Quack, quack!” we said again, prepared to greet the ducks and toss them food when they waddled up to greet us. But none of them came to be fed.

Mom squinted and murmured, “Ducks?”  I saw one huddled in the tall grass, but it wouldn’t come out. And then I saw the strewn feathers throughout the area, and my heart sank. As I learned later, a fox had killed them all except one duck, who now refused to come out of hiding.

O Magazine writer Lisa Kogan had this philosophical response for the days-when-things-really-go-wrong: “Even a bad haircut grows out.”

With that in mind, I told Mom we’d leave the bread on the grass for any ducks who got hungry later. I turned the wheelchair around and took the route that kept our backs to the feathers scattered around the pond. All the way back to the main doors at the entrance, I talked about happier things: the deer that followed me up the trail to my friend Helen’s house; the cute way Mom’s great-granddaughter Grace tried to help her brother Gannon on the climbing wall; the wild art that made an old metal chair so expensive.  By the time we wheeled back into the main lobby, it was time to fix something special for dinner, and the sad surprise of the missing ducks had lost its punch.

Bad haircuts, absent ducks at a pond, or days when things go wrong ~ sometimes the best we can do is take a deep breath, focus on happier things, cross our fingers and hope that “this, too, shall pass.”

An artist's paint on a metal chair = a price tag of $295.00   Hey, we could try doing that!

An artist’s paint on a metal chair = a price tag of $295.00 Hey, we could try doing that!

Grace gives Gannon suggestions for rock climbing.

Grace gives Gannon suggestions for rock climbing.

She walked with me up the trail in Manitou Sprngs, CO! (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

She walked with me up the trail in Manitou Sprngs, CO! (all pictures by Marylin Warner)



Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, special quotations

70 responses to “Didn’t See THAT Coming

  1. Lovely photos and a heartwarming post with a positive and lovely ending. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it; it turned out pretty well for us, too, even though the ducks haven’t done well. The administrator said they brought in two more ducks to help the one remaining one “bond,” but the fox took over again.

      • Oh! I am sad the fox took over. Well who can question nature. Ducks and foxes are part of the same habitat and one feeds on the other . Thanks for the reply and I am glad you and your mom had a lovely time together. Take care.

  2. juliabarrett

    I don’t know whether to be sad for the ducks or happy for the lucky fox. I’m glad you could talk to your mom about other things. Yes, she looks fantastic for 95 – not a day over 70! So atypical for a person with advanced dementia.
    You and me, Marylin – I’m painting myself one of those chairs – next project!

  3. Your mother looks fabulous for 95! I hope that despite the lack of ducks you had a fabulous visit with your mother! Blessings, Robyn

    • She really does look good, Robyn. She has just begun with a new, energetic caregiver who has Alzheimer’s experience and has been getting her to take little strolls down the hallways using a stroller. I think the extra movement and breathing has helped Mom.
      As always, thanks for the blessings, Robyn.

  4. What a lovely photo of the two of you. A difficult situation, but you handled it in such a positive way. I like the idea that you ‘entrusted’ the bread to Mom’s care.
    We have a mother and two young deer living in the area by our summer place. We see them quite often and they watch us. The young ones still have their spots but their legs are getting much longer now. But mum keeps her eye on things and at a signal from her (indiscernible to us) they quickly vanish into the bush.
    We have seen a fox too. But he looks pretty mangy. They feed mainly on chipmunks and squirrels which we have in abundance.
    Thanks for another thoughtful and lovely visit with your mother.

    • Thank you, Rod. I told Mom about my blogging friend–nicknamed Snowball as a child–and the story about your driving efforts. Now keep in mind that Mom and Dad built very successful automobile dealerships with much hard work and by offering excellent care and service. They both loved stories about customers finding just the right cars and loving their vehicles, and they especially enjoyed stories about children pretending to drive.
      She listened and smiled–I don’t think she “got it”–but I enjoyed telling her your story.

  5. I have a friend who is glad there’s a fox living nearby this year, hunting the critters who usually plague her garden. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, but it still makes me sad about the ducks.

    You’re definitely good at the stiff upper lip thing. Are you of English decent?

    • Combination English and German on both sides, so maybe that’s it? Seven years of my dad’s horrible Alzheimer’s and now my mother’s dementia has probably done more for the stiff upper lip thing than my ancestry, though. But the one lonely surviving duck about did me in, especially with my mom sitting in the wheelchair holding the bread.

      • I get it. It’s the unexpectedly poignant images that almost always do me in. The obvious schmaltzy Hollywood ones, those I can steel myself against because they’re so predictable or cliche. The title captures the feeling–it’s what we don’t see coming that smacks us hardest.

        And your ancestry doesn’t make you prone to outward exhibitions of grief. The British get most of the credit for pluckiness, but the Germans I know are also incredibly indefatigable in their sense of duty to the just-keep-going philosophy of life.

        (I was always told that I’m 100% German, but ancestry research dug up a Ukrainian/Russian great-great-great grandmother, married in when the Germans were colonists near Odessa for 3 generations. I’ve been using it as an excuse to indulge in a hearty Russian-style tear-bath now and again).

  6. Today was a beautiful day and I’m glad your mother got outdoors to see the flowers, the one duck hiding and enjoy the warmth of the sun on her face. She looks great for her age and what beautiful clear skin she has.

  7. That’s a great photo of you and your Mom. She does look much younger than her 95 years.

    Poor, scared little duck. But it sounds like you and your Mom did have a happy visit despite nature’s surprises. Thank heavens for your diversionary tactics.

  8. Now it looks like I’m the one having trouble posting on your blog. If you got the other, please eliminate this one.

    Your Mom does look much younger than 95. It is a beautiful photo of both of you. I’m sorry to hear about the poor, scared little duck. It sounds like you and your Mom did have an excellent visit despite nature’s surprises. Thank heavens for your diversionary tactics.

    • I’m just glad when our comments actually go through, Judy.
      The last duck was the one that was hard to watch; if I could see it hiding in the grasses, of course so could a fox. So I got Mom out of there. She was a farm girl and would have seen it as natural order if it weren’t for her dementia, but she was so confused, waiting with the bread.

  9. Wow, you turned this into a lesson on how to look on the bright side… well done! What a wonderful daughter you are to your Mom. My daughter wiped something off my cheek today. and I wondered about the future; it will be okay if she is around. 🙂

    • We’re fortunate to have daughters, aren’t we? Though my husband was gentle, helpful and patient with his mother during her long illnesses, too, so both sons and daughters are ongoing blessings.

  10. She does look great, and I love how the flowers match her clothing and beauty.

    • Some days are so much better than others, Darla. Except for the confusion about why she couldn’t give bread to the ducks, this was one of the really good days, and I was grateful for every hour of my 2-day visit.

  11. molly

    That makes me so sad about the ducks…but even if Grandma had seen the feathers, and if she would have put the pieces togethet she probably would of handled it just fine. She has always dealt with death, loss and sadness in such an enviable way! I know that I get emotional enough for everyone…but Grandma has always been a rock!

    Wonderful post mom…oh and by the way, I have two metal chairs that we can paint….

    • You’re right about Grandma, Molly. On the farm she killed many chickens to prepare for dinner, and probably along the way there might have been some ducks, too. But there she was, sitting in the wheelchair holding the bread ready to throw for them, and times had changed.
      Oh-Oh, I want one of the metal chairs, okay? We’ll get paint and create masterpieces!

  12. Your Mum looks fantastic and those are excellent photographs of the walk. I’m glad she didn’t realise what had happened at the pond. I hope they replace the ducks to give company to the traumatised one.
    Dementia or not, you’re obviously doing your Mum a power of good.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Thank you, David. Except for the scattered feathers and eerie absence of the ducks, we did have a wonderful walk. Even with high Kansas humidity, sunshine, flowers and bright green grass and trees, and conversations about random, happy things…these are all very good things.

  13. What a lovely outdoor area you have for your walks. But obviously it doesn’t offer a safe haven for ducks 😦 Actually when you began your story I thought you might finish by saying that your mother ate the bread, as children love to do when they are taken to feed the ducks!

  14. Well done for keeping yourself and your Mum looking on the brighter side of life! 🙂

    • I did it as much for me as for her, believe me. At first I almost put my hands over her eyes–like I would have done with my grandchildren when they were little–in case we came across any dead ducks along the fence.
      And that would have freaked Mom out, having me cover her eyes, so I’m glad I re-thought that option!

  15. Oh, that’s so sad about the ducks – but that’s nature. So poignant how you turned your Mum’s wheelchair around to shield her from the gory truth – just as we all have done with our children in their pushchairs – it comes to us all, doesn’t it? Your Mum looks absolutely wonderful for all her 95 years – bless her!

  16. Can’t they built a floating island in the pond to keep the ducks safe at night?
    I wondered what I would have told a toddler or your mum. Would I tell a white lie about migrating birds? I probably would go for the truth but, like you, accompanied with a hopeful prospect that there will always be (new) ducks because with a bit of human help, they will be able to outfox the fox.

    • That’s a good point, Paula. At Brown’s Park, where we hike with our dad when we’re in Abilene, Kansas, has a little island in the center of the pond and even a little duck house. Good idea!

  17. Lovely post again, Marylin. I second the idea of a floating island in the middle of the pond to keep the ducks safe – cheaper than replenishing the supply of ducks in the long run (which only reinforces the fox’s perception that people are on his side 🙂 and providing him with easy meat). Most duck ponds over here seem to have a little duck house in the middle.

  18. A very touching post Marylin, and yes, your mom looks wonderful for 95. 🙂

  19. Your mother has the sweetest face, Marylin. She looks so happy. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. The way you turned a sad situation in to something positive for your mother, it’s lovely. One day I would love to speak with you about your experience with your mother. My mother was diagnosed last year with the early stages of dementia; she’s 74 and despite the diagnosis, in perfect health. I always find comfort in your posts, Marylin..thank you.

  20. Let’s talk, Jill. Email me and we can share ideas about our mothers’ dementia. Plus, I really enjoy your writing blog and would like to connect on that, too.

  21. Dear Marylin, The photo of your mother and you is so beautiful. I enjoyed your post. Blessings, Ellen

    • Thank you, Ellen. It was a quick photo by a friend from high school who just happened by as we were taking our walk. Since I do the picture taking when I’m with Mom, it was a happy coincidence that Susan came along.

  22. Oh, Marylin. What an experience! Good save on your part though. Thanks for sharing this and reminding us to keep hold of those good memories for the times when we need them!

  23. Absolutely, Nancy. We have to hold tight to those memories ~ for many reasons!

  24. It is great that you are still able to spend these days with your mother and enjoy the moments with her.

    • It’s a long drive between Colorado and southeast Kansas, so once a month is all I can do. But it’s still something that makes a difference, probably in my life and my attitude more than hers. I’ve learned to play down expectations and wait for special moments.

  25. Oh wow, that must have been quite a disappointing encounter, or lack of. Love the deer encounter though. Very cute.

    • Your sons would have made an adventure of it, but I just wheeled Mom away. Her dementia still includes long-term memories, often from her early years growing up on a farm, so maybe she wouldn’t have been upset by the natural balance between the fox and the ducks.

  26. dianabletter

    Great post, Marylin, and wonderful photos! Yes, this too shall pass…but if we stay in the moment, we can remember that all is OK. I admire your devotion to your Mom.

  27. You are a great woman, Marylin! I’m that sad sort who actually felt crappy when I read about the missing ducks. But it isn’t really about the missing duck that I felt sad about; somehow it was the expectation and disappointment effect that got me sorrowful. I wish I could be like you, Marylin! I wish I too had been more positive and spent more time with those who mattered… I am touched by your post; I am sure your writing will remind many to think positively and treasure the moments with our loved ones. How I wish there was now a second chance to change things too. Be blessed, Marylin – both you and your mom.

  28. This story is so loving on so many levels. I am thankful to have a friend like you. You are a kind daughter and a loving person. This warmed my heart. 🙂

  29. Being positive isn’t my typical response, but it has developed through these monthly visits with my mom as the dementia has gotten worse. It’s been a good lesson for me, learning to drop expectations and just be open to whatever happens. During some visits, very little happens, but other times there are tiny, brief surprises that amaze me and remind me that sometimes you just have to wait and the little gifts will arrive for a moment.

  30. Bless you Bless you…it takes a saint to be part of the caregiver team!!! No matter how much you love them…it still takes fortitude right. I say this to myself all the time…this too shall pass….great quote.

  31. Your Mom does looks very good for 95 — I wish that she could be more in the present for you. At least you have had 95 wonderful years and your are so wise to steal every moment that you can. Not an easy drive I am sure — and I bet some of the drives home are done through the tears.Sending you some hugs of strength for those moments.

  32. I find you need to distract the elderly like we used to do with our children. I have this happen with my Mom more and more. Not to the same extent as you do with your mother, but I can relate. My mother gets teary eyed more often than she used to, sentimentality was not her usual mode of operandi! I hope that the way you are will make you feel good inside, you have been sharing a wonderful period of time with your mother, unique in its own way.

    • You’re so right about coming up with distractions, and sometimes it’s in an effort to distract myself, too. But other times it’s fun, just like with kids, and we have a good time.

  33. What a lovely photo of you and mom! I’m taking a lesson from you- when things do not go as plan in my day/life, I will talk of happier things.

  34. Your mom most definitely looks great. Funny. That’s my motto. This too shall pass. It always does. My mom is 91 and looking pretty snazzy herself. ;-). A common bond. 🙂
    Thanks, for visiting and commenting on my blog. Stay on the sunny side of the tracks.

  35. A beautiful photo of you and your mother. So good to follow you now! If you were here….we have ducks and geese by the tons. And they are not shy, either….they expect their goodies!

    Lovely post ♥ paula

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