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June 4, 2018 / sharoncopy

Visiting Mom – June 2, 2018

Her face lit up when I entered the small apartment. Her smile showed how glad she was to see me, and my hug and kiss to her showed that I felt the same way. I sat and watched her finish her noontime dinner. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and watered-down carrots. She doesn’t always eat the veggie (they are blah!) but she finished it all today – slowly. In between bites she looked at her folded newspaper which was opened to the Classifieds. She mentioned something about my needing to find a job – which means she remembered a conversation from awhile back. She folded and re-folded her paper towel napkin and her napkin. She unfolded it all the way and decided it was big enough that she could divide it in half and save half of it to use later. I watched, realizing that while I found this totally unnecessary, it seemed important to her, and it was something she could do with her hands. It reminds me of when my granddaughter Zoey went to Kensington with me 4 years ago and I went swimming with her for a really long time. She found a piece of seaweed and a stick and played with it for about half an hour – doing this, doing that, intrigued by it’s possibilities. Being with Mom is like being with a toddler in many ways, now. But not entirely. She still deserves the respect of being my mother, an adult with rights, and I struggle to balance when to swing this way and when to swing that way. I refreshed her coffee and she enjoyed a few sips of it. “Boy, is that good.”
After she finished, I suggested we go outside and eat our dessert there (I had brought McDonalds sundaes – caramel for me, hot fudge for her). I asked if she wanted to use the bathroom first, and she did. I checked the floor because if there is even a speck of paper or food, she will bend over and pick it up, and with her current frailty, I am afraid she will fall over again. I helped her up and with her walker she slowly walked the five or so feet to the bathroom. As she entered, she noticed that the bottom drawer was sticking out on the cabinet. She bent over and tried to push it shut. When it didn’t close, she lifted her right foot and tried to push it with that. I stood horrified, imagining her breaking her hip on the bathroom floor because of not remembering that she can’t do that sort of action anymore. I told her I would fix it when she was done. Before I left her, I glanced to see if her Depends was clean, because she isn’t so good at noticing, and I would call the staff if necessary. She’s gone past her intense modesty just in the past year or so, and she didn’t care that I didn’t close the door right away. I gave her a half hour – it takes her a long time, so I watched the Hallmark channel where everyone lives happily ever after. I was very pleased when I knocked and opened the door (we had the lock removed months ago) and she was standing and getting ready. I helped her pull up her Depends and pants. Helped her to the waiting wheelchair because I wasn’t sure if she could walk all the way to the outside gazebo or not. Should I have her use the walker and then push her if needed? She seems so wobbly these days. I used the wheelchair.
I pulled her backwards because I seem to handle the heavy doors better that way. Punch in the code, push the door with my backside, roll to the elevator, enter backwards, push the “1” button. Roll forward to the outside door, then turn to back out. What a gorgeous day! I took her to the “porch swing” and she wanted to sit on it. She really enjoyed being in the sun, swinging, and listening to the birds, and seeing the flower arrangements around the gazebo. We ate our McDonalds sundaes and she mentioned 3 times how good hers tasted.
We used her bottle of water to wash our hands and poured some on the dripped hot fudge on the cushions. After awhile I got uncomfortable and also hot so I went in the gazebo and she said she was happy to stay there. I looked over every few minutes to make sure she was still happy there and also not trying to get off of it by herself. She could reach with her foot to make it swing. Every time I looked, she was smiling.
When we conversed, she tried to say things, but anything even the least bit abstract seems beyond her ability to find the words. It’s as though I can see her casting about – reaching, trying to find elusive vocabulary. She can talk about the ice cream and her surroundings. She saw a man in a blue shirt and asked if that was Dad. I reminded her that Dad is in Heaven. A while later I asked if she wanted to eat downstairs instead (she never does) and I would stay and she said, “I don’t know, let me ask your Dad first,” a phrase that she said for over 65 years. I reminded her again. “Oh, that’s right.”
Mostly I talk. I say “My son Brian has a boy named Matthew that is 2 years old…” and I tell her a cute story. She laughs at the story. Or I say, “My son Tim has a baby named Melody,”
(“He does?” she smiles in joyful surprise) and then I tell her the cute story and she laughs. She doesn’t remember any of them, exactly, but she knows a cute story when she hears one. I talk about how much Dad liked birds and flowers. Sometimes she can reminisce about him or about something in our family history. She can pull accurate facts out about her home in Gladwin or a cottage we had at Portage Lake. I avoid subjects that always spur anger (her mother-in-law and a myriad of words that always lead back to her mother-in-law – you’d never know what they were unless you had been through the conversational paradigm a few times. Subjects like lemonade, miscarriage, the restaurants they owned, – you’d have to know the context and have seen how each button connects to a long winding wire that goes back to a certain place in order to know which ones to avoid).
We stay for about 90 minutes and I’m surprised that she wants to stay longer, but I need to get home and it’s time for her next meal. That’s a good time to leave because it’s good to settle her with something to do when i want to go. She’s always surprised that I’m leaving.
And when I get her upstairs and into her dining room chair – well, it seems that whenever I take her out of her apartment – whether to the hospital, or just outside – she doesn’t think she lives there and wonders why I’m leaving her. She starts to talk about what she wants to take with her when she leaves. I point to the walls and show her pictures of Dad and her and the family and say, “Mom – see those pictures? THIS is where you live.” Sometimes she comes around, but sometimes she is still confused. LAST time I was there, she was angry that I was leaving her there, and I felt down and depressed as I drove home – wishing I could care for her in our home, but knowing that I can’t manage it – but if it was the only option – I suppose I would, by God’s miraculous grace, somehow handle it. I go back and forth. She needs a lot of care now. But Dad hoped one of us would take her into our home after he died – he told me so and seemed surprised to think that she would have to live there all alone. Guilt. But also – she gets good care where she is, and probably I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I’ll never know, will I? We have always butted heads, doing things differently. Loving, but having a certain amount of distance too. I lived so far away for more than 30 years.
She is settled with a dessert that was in her fridge, and she’s waiting for her evening supper to arrive. I have put her new newspaper on the loveseat in the living room so that she doesn’t read it during the meal thus stretching it out to 3-4 hours (no exaggeration). I heat her some leftover coffee. I hug her and she kisses me and I remember that when I was little I always had to have HER hug and kiss last (after Dad). Once she asked why I never came to her first – maybe I was about 8 or 9? I told her that I had to have hers last because it was the last thing to remember when I went to bed – and because my brother Dennis Osborne had taught me when we ate our pancakes with bacon pieces in them to always eat the best piece last (that was also why we gobbled our canned green beans first – to get them out of the way so we could enjoy our meal). 🙂
There’s a certain – comfort – that always comes with a mother’s hug and kiss. There is with Dad’s too – nothing can match the hugs he gave me, and I miss them. But Mom’s – it’s just so – necessary, wonderful. They aren’t the same as they used to be. Now its’ more that I’m hugging HER, not the other way around. I scratch her back and she loves that. Dad used to scratch her back all the time. She sighs in happiness, “Ohhh, that feels good.” I kiss her and either she kisses me or I ask her to kiss me and she does. It’s like – I don’t know – leftovers – still good but not quite what it used to be. Or maybe just 20% of what it used to be. Is it for her benefit or mine? Both?
I tell her goodbye and she reminds me to drive carefully. I promise that I will. She always used to ask me to call her to tell her I got home safely, but I always said No, because I knew I wouldn’t remember, and I thought it silly. She doesn’t ask anymore – but then – she doesn’t really make phone calls anymore and one can’t rely on her picking up one of her 4 phones, either. 3 are cordless and I tend to find them in drawers or in her purse (she doesn’t have a cell phone anymore – kept losing it). One is not cordless and it has big buttons with our names on them that she can push if she remembers to and thinks to call someone. Last call I remember hearing about, she called my brother in the middle of the night thinking that she was calling Dad – wanting a ride home from her job at Cody High School (retired 26 years ago) and also a ride for her twin sister Esther who was also working the night shift there (never happened). More recently, staff called me because Mom was freaking out about not being able to find my brother Mark Osborne. We got Mark on the line too, but Mom thought Mark was about 10 or 11 years old and she had taken him shopping and couldn’t find him. She made me promise to go outside and look for him and then call her back, so, since Mark’s comments to her weren’t succeeding (even when he tried to sound 10 – which was comical to me) – I promised. I called the staff and asked them to give her some kind of pill to calm her down (it had been going on for hours – she even walked into other apartments searching for him). Sigh. She’s a mixed bag. She can be so sweet, the staff say, but she has also tried to bite someone giving her a shower and tried to stab someone with a fork who tried to take her plate away recently. She takes a lot of meds but doesn’t have diabetes or cancer or stroke or a number of other things.
I often wonder if we took her off ALL the meds if she would actually be better off, but everytime I approach the subject, I am told she needs this for that and that for this so it ends up she’s on the meds, and happy for the most part. Tired, though. Weak. Physically, and now mentally.
I can sum it up in a way that is humorous to me though very sad at the same time: in the past six months she quit washing her dishes and doing her hair – if that was me, nobody would think anything of it. 🙂 But for her – a woman who has ALWAYS looked nice – hair, makeup, clothing, jewelry, and never leaving a dish in the sink (a habit we disagreed on) – this is a sign that she is sliding downward.
I know that she looks forward to going to Heaven, and I know she will be happier there. I keep expecting the phone call. But as she slides mentally, she doesn’t tell me how much she wishes she could go to Heaven anymore. She’s just kind of – here, a lot of the time.
So, while she is HERE, I will go there as often as I can manage and see her face brighten when I walk in. I will encourage other family members to go often as well. I will hope that she will always know who I am.
I have been tired – real tired of this 4-year long episode of life. But days like Saturday really help. God give me strength to be there for her like she has always been there for me.

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