“My brain is just mush right now!”
“It’s all just a blur. I don’t know why I can’t remember.”
“You can put it in that…thing over there that is meant to have food in it. That big, white thing. Right there.”
Mom is struggling. Whether it is due to her poorly controlled diabetes or the onset of dementia, or her family’s gene pool playing out its hand and dealing her the early-onset Alzheimer’s her mother had, I don’t know. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. The reality is, she can’t be alone these days for long without consequences. And since her husband recently spent a few days in the hospital for surgery, my brother and spent a few days tag-teaming her. I got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning and headed down I-5, a little over four hours in the car chasing NPR stations as I went without one stop to pee or eat. It’s been six months since I saw her, although I speak to her on the phone every few days, and I’ve been increasingly worried about her.
I wasn’t quite sure what I would find, but I was on edge. Her husband went in early Thursday morning for surgery and she sat vigil at the hospital, calling me every few hours to report, and getting increasingly panicky. By the fourth call, she had lost the thread that he was there for surgery and wondered why the doctors were giving him antibiotics and wouldn’t let him come home. At 7:30, she called to report that she was at home, but it took her more than an hour to find her car in the parking lot at their small, local hospital, and she was annoyed. When I checked on her Friday morning, she wasn’t sure whether she would go visit him, but she still couldn’t remember that he’d had surgery. She said he was at the hospital with a “bad cold.” My brother spent the afternoon and evening with her on Friday and texted me updates that scared us both. He considered hiding her car keys, but couldn’t get her out of the room long enough to dig in her purse and find them.
The hurricane of emotions picked me up and threw me side-to-side. I agonized over the four-hour distance between us, the kids I have at home that still need me a great deal, and thoughts of where do we go from here. Occasionally, I railed at the genetic sequence that put this destination squarely within my own sights and called Bubba to remind him that I’ve ordered him to push me off the edge of the Grand Canyon as soon as I forget the names of my friends and family. Time and time again I was sucked back into the ruts that demanded I “fix it,” find a solution, put some plan in place to deal with all of this.
And on my way home today, I remembered; it’s not about me. It just isn’t. This is about her. Occasionally, I saw glimpses of fear before she masked them. I felt tenderness when she followed me into the kitchen to see what I was cooking for dinner and lamented my eventual departure. I watched as she doted on her two cats, continually seeking them out to be sure they were warm and dry and fed. And when I have the presence of mind to recall that this is about Mom, I can relax and listen. I can sit with her and listen to the same stories over and over and reflect on what her touchstones are, think about the moments in her day that she holds on to. If I listen closely enough, she will tell me what she wants, and for now, that is the most important thing.