Post Mother’s Day
It’s hard to live without the critters she says, patting the side of her hospital bed, wishing they were there. No one is their disease. They are individual. Mother’s is her life story, not her dementia, each of us is a singular narrative constructed continually, unconsciously in by and through us.
Without her clothes or things she recognises how can she feel connected to the world she sits in. She forgets who she was and whether she had or has any value. She has nothing she looks down at the pants and sweater of a dead woman, someone else’s clothes, nothing is of her. Empty shelves.
A photographer came by the house one day. She told him it was her job to amuse the neighbourhood, which she did by decorating the porch and yard. A picture of her doing this turned up on the front page of the local paper. Spring and summer and fall kept her occupied in the yard. Winter in her nighty she’d shovel, forgetting the cold. Over the years she’d brought many rocks back from the beaches, hundreds. These imported beach rocks bordered her gardens and the dogs graves. She now spent days rearranging them. These were good days. The bad days were spent inside, due to the weather, with no distraction or purpose. She’d become disconnected from the house and the dogs, she stopped cleaning except for what was right in front of her. She always had a cigarette and maybe a cup of coffee. She used gold paint to cover the burn marks on the wicker coffee table. She ended up painting the entire surface gold, mesmerised by the shine. Details absorbed her.
Shadows looked like faces, she saw beauty everywhere but in the mirror, an ancient hag lived there. The oldest woman alive, she’d say that, studying her reflection. I used to invent entertainment for seniors she’d say. I’d take her to the nursery across eighth street. We’d take Tim the dog’s wagon and fill it with plants. Sometimes I’d leave her there and she’d spend hours dead heading. The staff was grateful.
She liked candles, they were all over the living room. She’d spend hours trimming them shaving at them with a knife to keep the tops even. These were big solid pillar candles. We’d go to the candle factory where she’d get lost. She’d look at every candle in the place exclaiming their beauty, Then start all over again forgetting she’d already been there. I gave up after a few visits trying to get her to leave. It was a lesson for me how she saw beauty in everything. She taught me something new, to look closer, to slow down. I never worried about her burning the house down. She always blew the flames out before she went to bed.
She decorated the front porch with Teddy Bears for me. So I’d be greeted if she wasn’t awake. I came in the back. She came out of her room and hugged me with a sigh of relief. She went happily back to bed feeling safe I imagine. She wasn’t. I thought I could save her I thought if I kept her engaged, connected, she wouldn’t get worse. I didn’t really think she had Alzheimers. In another country she’d be revered I thought. A wise woman in a cave. If I let her down, if I don’t protect her, she’ll be thrown away like all the other forgotten old people in this country. I couldn’t save her I wasn’t capable. Is she worse or better off I don’t know, Its painful.
I’d bought her a green garden wagon from Lowes for her to tote Tim to the beach in, he was too old to walk that far, more so after he was attacked. She’d kept driving after being warned off it. This would cause me stress. Everyone’s doomsday reports on what could happen. Insurance wouldn’t cover her no license driving, and if she had an accident she could lose her house. She could lose it anyway. How you live your life dictates the outcome, maybe she had no chance but to end up as she has. I sometimes didn’t believe about the Alzheimers, she’d always been weird and was now just more-so. I wondered how long she could have kept going if they’d just left her alone. Instead of taking things away from her, me doing things for her until she forgot how. She knew no one cared about old people, so did I. She forgot how to paint. She’d always painted. She’d stay up late to watch Craig Ferguson and did a portrait of him on a toilet lid, it was good but didn’t look like him. This would be the last thing she painted.
I hated her doctor, her nazi demeanour. A few quick tests and an easy diagnosis, the insurance company will pay, toss off the old lady. The doctor never says Alzheimers but the social worker does and mother bursts into tears and runs out. I don’t know what to do with these parents. Who am I in this anyway. She’s been given a death sentence she says and I don’t know how to argue it. She will ask me over and over what’s wrong with her but I never say alz til she does.
How does a person get dead? This is the question she asks us. She doesn’t want to see her hands, her face, she wants to do evil, she wants people to shut up, she wants to die. They have her on morphine now, not for physical pain but the other kind, the all consuming one. The hideous cancer on her face was erupting with dried puss. I wanted to pick it off. She didn’t want to be touched, no hand holding, and was confused by pictures of her Dianne. Why we were showing them to her. What does that mean? She asked. I think our presence was unwanted, I could tell. She talked in a low voice, a lot. The number five seems to have significance.
She’s more lucid than she was before they took her in, before she went in, a slight alteration in dosage maybe. -I love his irreverence, she says, about me.
Her brother came, Uncle Bud, and when I visited with him she was not so connected, or maybe she was. It was hard to tell she was very quiet.
A few visits also with J. -This is too much she says, -I’ve been here too long. To be her would be hell. I had her sign the notice to quit for the squatters and she said to put it somewhere safe. That someone might steal it. She breathed in deeply then let it out, she’d been shaking. The visits are sad again. Her awareness is disturbing. I avoid calling her.
I called her today, she asked if I wanted to Talk to the say hi person I said no and laughed then I realised it wasn’t weird, someone next to her had probably said to say hi.
Joanie and I went to see her, I brought her slippers and fed her Moomers egg nog as we listened to carols, was this the last time? No the last time we wheeled her down to listen to a guy on the accordion, we parked her partly in the hall, the doorway and left. The lady who owns the place said she is sometimes annoyed by the volume, I imagine so.
I told her I wore all purple just for her and she very deliberately turned her head and stared into my face, I think she smiled.
Went to see her yesterday with J. She no longer gets out of bed, her skin tears. She makes a low groaning noise when awake, a quieter version of the angst moan she used to make in the beginning, it stops when she’s asleep. After a nurses prompt she did look at me thru a slitted eye.
I am eating ice cream with a tiny spoon and thinking of mom, she thought if she used a small spoon the enjoyment would be prolonged. So many things through the day can bring her back to me maybe I should be thankful for getting to know her the way I did over the last couple years.
Uhm the visit was okay Jenny sang a song written for her mom about being an old lady and an artist, it made me and this old lady at the table cry. I was sitting next to mother and the whole thing was sad. M was out of it but not, saying sharp things real low. When ken said something about her being 117 she said 116. Then we went to kens cottage and then house.
I kissed mom on the forehead and told her we were leaving, she said I’m going too. She knows and she always will whats been done to her.Its beautiful out or it would be if I wasn’t so really sad just fucking sad about everything, mom, my life, the nothingness I feel. But anyway yeah the snow is glittering sparkly.
Last day of 2016 Joanie and I went see her, we told her she could leave, everything was okay the dogs were fine, things the nurse said we should say, years ago, things that were safe to tell her, stuff we never really had. The next day after midnight, just into January 2nd 2017, she died.
It was about nine years from when she was diagnosed, seven spent in a home, all of it in a chair. She was labeled a runner.