We saw my mom recently.
I mean we really saw her. She was there. With all her personality shining through.
You see, I usually visit her twice a week when we are not traveling. Most of the time, she is there. But not really. You may know what I mean should you have or have had an elderly relative. My mom is 99.
Normally, when I arrive, she’ll greet me by name. Which I think is actually pretty good. I arrive in time to help her with her lunch, the big meal of the day. I coordinate my visits with two of my siblings, so we try to cover most of her lunches. She can eat on her own, but she does better with help.
After lunch, I can usually get her to answer my questions, but most of the time, I can’t get her to engage in conversation. She does talk though. She will repeat certain phrases – over and over. Things like, “I’ll take a salad. Ranch.” At times, she will randomly call out, “Come in!” And sometimes she will say, “Close the door, Maggie. Close the door.” We have only ever known one Maggie, and to my knowledge, she didn’t leave any doors open.
Another often repeated phrase is, “How much I care.” I take this as a sign of the deep seated love in her heart for her family.
Even so, sometimes, the repeating can kind of get to you.
So, I started bringing books for her to read aloud. Sometimes she reads in an almost robotic voice. But other times, she self-corrects and even has a hint of expression. I take these as good signs.
Sometimes when I visit my mom, I will video chat with my daughter, Talia. On a recent video call, on a day my mom was not lucid, Talia suggested the three of us sing a song. We sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “God Bless America”, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” My mom sang along every word, and the three of us had a wonderful connection at a time when such moments seem a far reach.
I try to think of the good things. She is comfortable. She gets good care. She is safe. I do what I can for her, and my hope when I visit is that I’ve made her day better – even if just in some small way. It isn’t easy seeing your mother fading away, becoming more and more frail.
Every once in a while, though, my mom appears. On these days, we say she is “lucid.” She may not get everything right when she talks, but, make no mistake, it’s my mom!
On these days, she wants to get her hair done – meaning she wants to go to Connie for a “cut and color” as she is quite unhappy with the grey she sees in the mirror. She’ll ask us to get her a lipstick the next time we stop in at Walgreens. She’ll mention she is not joining Indian Hills this year, a swim club she belonged to for years, as she no longer has a car and can’t get there.
And invariably, she’ll become a bit sad about her brother, my Uncle Henry, who passed away at 94 in 2018. On the other hand, she will always express happiness and gratitude that she has company. One time, she said she was praying someone would visit, and there I was! How’s that for an ego booster!
The last time my mom had been lucid was back in early December. On this day, she was really excited about the family birthday party we would be having later that month to celebrate her 99th birthday. We had reserved the community room at her facility, and many of the grandkids were coming for the party.
On that lucid day, she talked about getting her hair done for the party. I went through her closet, so she could pick out what she wanted to wear. She picked out a top that was red and sparkly. She told me she wanted to look good that day. She was really looking forward to her party.
We were so hoping she would be lucid that day. I prayed and prayed, and so did my sister, for one of those glorious days. But, it was not to be. She was okay, but not great. I don’t know how much she really knew this party was all about her. We don’t really know what goes on in someone’s mind and heart when that person is frail with age. I like to think she knew and felt the love.
After December, she didn’t have any more lucid days for more than five months. We thought her lucid days were over. But lo and behold, when Dan and I visited this past Tuesday, there she was!
Dan knew as soon as he walked in. He could tell by her eyes and the fact that she was sitting straight up, not leaning over. The first thing she said to him was, “Where’s my lunch?”
After lunch, we went to the community room where we played not one, but two games of Scrabble. While we played, we enjoyed conversation about all kinds of things.
For example, she asked me who was having Thanksgiving this year. I told her it was my sister’s turn. The truth is we haven’t taken her out for several years, but if I’m signing someone up for the big holiday meal, why not pick my sister?
We sure don’t know the rhyme nor the reason why these days appear. It’s a mystery. But the fact that she had a day like this, gives us hope – that there will be more. It’s such a joy to be with my mom again. And you know, even though it’s not November, and my sister isn’t hosting the big dinner, we really did have Thanksgiving after all.