Part of this new journey into mid-life and flying around the empty nest has to do with my parents aging. Due to the sadness it brings, I’ve avoided sharing too much of this here. But today was one of those regular old days that changed me, or at least my outlook about this situation.
As my mother’s memory has faded, I’ve been in a place of denial. It seems like it came on quickly and then again, if I allow myself to think about it, she has been slipping away for a while. My father had some serious health issues about a year ago. He was hospitalized and although my mother didn’t stay at the hospital with him, I tried not to think much of it then. She never wanted to be away from my Dad, and especially if he was not well. Now I realize that was the beginning.
She had already quit driving. (A true blessing, and if the truth be known, she should have stopped driving when she started. But that’s just me. And I can say that, because she would laugh if she read this, which she won’t.) Next, she quit going out. She and Dad have had a very busy social life during their senior years. They seemed to be constantly having dinner with friends, attending church functions, going to shows and parties and events. I joked that I couldn’t keep up with them. More than once, I have had to call around to try to find them out of worry. But no, Mom quit going out, and even quit going to church.
Things have seemed to go downhill rapidly with Mom’s memory. She does and says things she would never have done in her right mind. And as always, the best way to handle sadness in our family seems to be to try to find a way to laugh. So, when Mom tells the same story over and over again, we just look at each other and chuckle and let her tell it one more time.
Alli is now living in the same city where my parents met. If you bring up Alli in a conversation, and that city is mentioned, then Mom tells the story of how she met Dad there. We all have it memorized. Verbatim.
It is a sweet and funny story. The short version is that Dad, when the war was over, went to photography school in this city. He lived in a boarding house and his best friend fixed him up with his fiancés work friend, who happened to be my mom. (She had moved there with her family from Nashville because of her father’s ailing health.) They had a blind date (where my mother was hit in the face by a tortilla, but that’s another story) and were married 5 months later. 10 months later, my brother was born. Within a year her father died, and they moved to Nashville. The rest is Leverett history. I love to hear Mom tell the full story, but now it’s like a broken record.
It’s interesting what is important in her mind – what really made an impact in her life. Meeting my father must have been in the #1 slot on her best things in my life list. It’s easy to see. They adore each other.
Dad says at bedtime she will tell him the same Harrington Avenue story of her early childhood. Things are jumbled in her mind and we think she sometimes gets her dreams mixed up with reality. (OH LORD I hope I don’t do that. See my post Dream State Championship from 12/8/11)
Mom never learned to swim or ride a bike. One whopper that she recently told me was how she loved visiting her cousins in West Nashville because they had great sidewalks for riding her bike. She went into great detail about this bike. Was it a dream? Or was it one of those things she wanted so badly that it has come true in her mixed up thoughts?
Once, she seemed to think that Alli was married and living away. Once, she seemed to have forgotten her first-born, my deceased brother. She often asks where her sister lives. She’s confused about her friends and neighbors and other family members.
I dread the day when she does not remember us.
I miss her. She can be right next to me, and it feels like she is gone. We do not connect. This rips my heart out, because I have always been close to Mom. We used to spend time together running errands and laughing at funny greeting cards in the drug store. We’d find most anything funny and have shared so many fun times and secrets. We especially enjoyed laughing at our clumsy or embarrassing moments. I miss this. I don’t want her to forget.
When we are alone together, I try to ask her things to see if she realizes that her mind is going. I ask, “Do you think your medication is making you forgetful?” She seems surprised and replies, “Do you think I’m getting forgetful? Tell me if I’m getting forgetful!” The way she says it, I can tell that she doesn’t know. In this, I should be glad. She is not sad. We are the ones that are sad to see her fade.
She will be in the room with us and we seem to talk around her. We don’t mean to, it’s just so obvious that she is not following the conversation. My father is such a good care taker for her, but he is tired and worn out and I worry about his stress level with his own health issues.
So many of my fellow empty nesters have their parents sliding into the space their children left. That’s just the way it is.
I go about my life and try to help my parents out when I can. I feel like I spread myself thin with work and other obligations and needing to be there for them. My brother helps them a lot. I wish I could do more.
Today, I spent the day with them. I took Mom to get her hair done so Dad could have a little break. It was the first time she’d been out of the house since Thanksgiving Day. Dad gave me directions on where to take her, whom she sees, etc. I almost felt nervous, like I was babysitting someone’s child.
I got her there just fine. She is so physically frail, that I worried she would fall. It took a while to get her from the car to the door.
My head was roaring as I was having serious caffeine withdrawal and was offered coffee, which I gratefully accepted. While sipping on my second cup, I took a good look around. I almost spewed coffee. I’m 51 and I promise you, I was the youngest person in the room. By 30 years. Every single woman getting her hair done was at least 80. One had her oxygen tank with her. One looked cadaverous. Then there was Mom. She was smiling away. At what, I don’t know. Some happy place in her mind, I guess. Mom smiles a lot. I love that about her. There were probably a dozen senior ladies. Except for Mom, who was wearing a tie dyed shirt, they all had on Christmas sweaters, and every single one of them had the same white, short, curly hair do. I got tickled to myself. I thought of a change of lyrics my Dad used to sing to Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain –
Blue Hairs driving in my lane…
The lady shampooed Mom’s hair, rolled it and sat her under the dryer. I sat across from her. When she wasn’t looking, I watched her. I saw her eyes follow a woman who had on bizarre velvet pants. I knew she was admiring them, as Mom’s taste has always been a little different. Then she caught me looking at her. She smiled. I smiled back. We stared at each other. I wondered what was going on in her mind. Was she thinking of what a perfect daughter I’ve been? (JUST JOKING.) Or was she wondering who the heck I was?
That was when the Ladies Home Journal I had been glancing at fell from my lap and slid across the floor. (HOW can I make a simple magazine drop so loudly and slide so far?) Mom cracked up. She did that thing where she almost bends over laughing, then rubs her nose with her hand and grins at me.
Oh my gosh!
It was my Mom! The one I have missed for so long. She was back, if just for a moment.
That one instance gave me hope. It made me realize that she really isn’t gone yet. I should not write her off. She still remembers much more than I think she does.
As we were leaving, an older man was helping his wife into the salon. She was pitifully bent, and looked like she’d maybe had a stroke along the way. Mom knew them (and I’m glad she remembered!) and they talked a while. When we began to walk off, she did something that was so sweet that I almost cried. Instead of hugging her friend, she gently kissed her on the head.
I took her home and visited with her, my Dad and brother.
The phone rang. Dad answered. He looked concerned. We knew it wasn’t good. Then he asked Gary, “Do you know Beef Beers?”
“OH, Bee Spears!” (Another death in the musical family – Bee was Willie Nelson’s bassist.) Dad’s mix up and the resulting laughter softened that news.
When I left, I think Mom was still confused about Beef Beers vs Bee Spears. I have a feeling she will talk about this again and repeatedly. Her perplexity and another death are indeed sad. But today I had my Mom back for about 1 minute. Her story isn’t over yet.
It makes my heart happy.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t flip through a few pages and give up.