The Question Behind the Question

mailpileFor two weeks, my Mom has been relentless on the topic of mail. Some days, she will call more than 5 times in an hour to discuss the topic. “Kay, I’m not getting any mail. Are you getting all of my mail now?” Nothing has changed, so I’m a little confused about her question.

I’ve been in her apartment when the mail is delivered. The remnants of the mail can be found on her bed, the entry hall table, next to her favorite chair, why does she not recognize that she is getting mail? Some days she gets as many as 9 pieces of mail. After a few days of her calls, I ask my Mom what was she expecting and not getting in the mail?

“I’m not getting any condolence notes, where are they going?” Ah-ha! I now understood the question she was really trying to ask, but was unable to verbalize. I start by telling her that Dad died over a month ago, so the letters are going to slow down. “It’s been a month? I didn’t realize it had been that long.” On my next visit, we stack up the letters and cards so I can direct her to the pile to review when she calls. Discovered. 

Follow-up strategies:

  1. Ask family and friends that send letters and notes to date the mailed items.
  2. When friends ask what they can do to help – suggest they send notes. My Mom loves jokes as well as getting pictures. When sending a picture, tell a story about the event surrounding the picture and make sure to label the back of the picture with the event, date and names of those in the photograph.
  3. Stack received mail in a prominent place near a favorite seating area (and direct them back to the stack of mail if they call you).

Do you have any strategies that have worked?

9 comments on “The Question Behind the Question

  1. Reblogged this on Mom & Dad Care and commented:
    Great Post from a fellow blogger.
    My mom calls weekly to read me mail–word for word. It’s usually an offer from someone trying to take advantage of her. An extended car warranty (she no longer has a car), a health insurance company, a company sure they can find my dad’s hidden dollars (um..declared bankruptcy for them).

    The bottom line is that she’s lonely.

  2. Photos worked wonders with my Mom. Really put a twinkle back in her eye when she saw them, especially ones of her when she was young. We spent lots of visits looking at photo albums while I could get her to sit with me and do it.

  3. Agree with the loneliness factor, with or without dementia. I took my mom’s photo on her birthday and had some copies made because she wanted to send some to her family/friends. When they didn’t all respond immediately her feelings were hurt and then she assumed they were deathly ill and couldn’t respond.

    And yes with dementia, you have to learn how to ask the “right” question. Great example here with the mail situation.

  4. Earlier on, when my Mum’s AD wasn’t so severe, I would pop a card in the mail to her. It was always a love note. It would delight her to no end. It was a short-lived pleasure, but I’m happy I did it now that she no longer understands the concept of mail.

  5. Reblogged this on The Memories Project and commented:
    Great post! It is important for those of us who are caregivers to learn that if we are not getting the answer we expect or want from our loved one, perhaps we are asking the wrong question (or the right question but the wrong way.)

  6. […] My Mom is calling me up to six times daily now and we have a varied conversation about the mail. On one call she will say in a disgusted voice “I’ve only gotten two letters about Dad’s passing” and then a half-hour later she’s adamant that “I’m not getting ANY mail.” Each time I direct her back to where I stacked all the letters I found dispersed throughout her apartment. Sometimes, it takes several attempts for her to find the drawer where we put the stacked the letters together. On each call, as patient as I can be, I work on finding out what specifically is troubling her as I previously discussed in the Question Behind the Question. […]

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