Adventures in Caregiving: Taking Mom and Dad to the Movies


Due to Mom and Dad's health issues, it's been a very long time since I've attempted taking them to a movie. Nevertheless, fortified by Danielle, our live-in caregiver, and my boyfriend, Bill, I recently decided to try taking them to see, "Lincoln." Here's how we pulled it off ... and the emotional roller coaster that ensued for me.

We chose an early Tuesday evening when there wouldn't be crowds (matinees are great too.) We arrived at the movie theater late, so we decided to get tickets for the next showing an hour later - why stress out finding a wheelchair slot and seats for all of us in a darkened theater?! We got coffee and popcorn, visited restrooms (love the private "Family" restrooms where I can easily help them) and found seats without rushing. (Hint: arrive at the theater 45 minutes to an hour early.)

Mom sat on the end in her wheelchair and enjoyed the entire movie without falling asleep or needing a restroom run!  Danielle and I sat on either side of Mom and Dad. We planned for Danielle to leave with Dad, who has Alzheimer's disease, if he couldn't sit through the whole movie. We thought we had all bases covered.

But then it began: the rustling of paper towels ...

Dad has developed a habit of "drying" his paper towels and tissues after he uses them. He fusses with them - waves them in the air and folds them repeatedly. We find them around the house and yard where he has gently laid them to "dry." He stacks them up and organizes them with rubber bands. This seems to be a curious symptom of his dementia, or perhaps a medication side effect.

So there Dad was with a paper towel from the bathroom which made a loud (by movie theater standards) rustling sound. I tensed, sure that our fellow moviegoers would soon be annoyed.

Rustle, rustle, fold, unfold, wave in the air ... repeat. My spirits fell. I whispered a plea for him to put the towels away. A bit irritated, he said, "I'll take care of it, just relax." OK, Daddy.

Rustle, rustle, fold, unfold, wave ... repeat.

The movie began. "Daddy," I murmured soothingly, "I can put your towels over here to dry while you watch the movie." He assured me he had it under control. In other words, bug off. More rustling. He watched the screen but was clearly not engaged.

My eyes welled up with tears. Apparently this wasn't working. I grieved the loss of my Dad's ability to enjoy a trip to the movie theater.

Rustle, rustle, fold, unfold, wave ... repeat. Oy - it was time to get more creative.  I took two clean tissues from my purse and gently pulled the paper towels from Dad's fingers, replacing them immediately with the dry tissues. At least tissues would be quieter than paper towels. Mad at first, he quickly settled down with the tissues.

It worked! He stopped fiddling with the tissues and began following the action on the screen. He focused and laughed at appropriate times. I relaxed as I saw him start to enjoy the experience.

In the end, he sat through the entire movie - and loved it. Aside from clapping in time with the beat when the Union band was playing and commenting out loud once, he did really well!  At one point, I was squirming around in my seat because my back was hurting, and he reached over and squeezed my hand and patted my arm, as if to say, 'Are you OK, sweets? Sit still.' That's my Dad.

After the movie, Dad was contagiously enthusiastic. He wondered repeatedly how much of the film was based on fact. I was thrilled he understood it had an historical theme. I told him I thought he'd like it because he'd always been an Abe Lincoln fan. He paused and said, "Now why do you say that?" My high spirits dashed, I said, "Because the film was about him and the Civil War." He responded with a puzzled look and silence.

Oh well. Perhaps he didn't follow it as much as I thought. But the bottom line is that he enjoyed it. He was a part of a group activity outside the home and got a nice hot cup of coffee and some popcorn. He liked the action on the big screen. He got to go on a date with his beloved wife and had some good moments. These are the things that really matter.

As we left the theater, we were stopped by the manager. I braced myself for a complaint about Dad's rustling of paper towels. I was wrong.

"Excuse me, sir," he said to my Dad. "I want to thank you for your military service." Dad stopped in his tracks. Clearly surprised, he stood taller and, as tears welled up in his (and my) eyes, he shook the manager's hand.

"I thank you very much for saying that," said Dad, a veteran of WWII and Korea. "It's awfully nice of you to say so." As we walked away, Dad said, "He didn't have to do that - what do you supposed caused him to say that?" I pointed out that he was wearing his 10th Mountain Division Veterans hat.

"Ah," he said. "That was especially nice - considering the film we just saw."

I grinned from the inside out ... maybe Dad understood more of the movie than I thought.

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