Sunday, January 27, 2008

If a tree falls . . .


She's my mother, but since she's moved to River Court assisted living two years ago, she doesn't look like the mother I remember. She's gained weight, probably too much, but after the lean days when my father died and she stopped eating regularly, she looks pleasingly plump. Just not familiar.

She still remembers me. She knows my voice on the phone-- usually-- but I've taken to identifying myself just in case. "Hi, Mom. It's me. Ruthie." She knows me when I walk into her room, but if I passed her on the street, unexpectedly out of context, would she?

Her short-term memory is shot. She knows this, admits it with a rueful shake of her head, a slight chuckle. "I let others do the talking," she says. "I can't get in trouble that way."

It makes for a tough hour on my part when I visit. Keeping a conversation going is my forte, but I do need a return volley now and then. She responds and waits for my next comment.

I write cards for her. I take them home to stamp and mail. I ask her what she wants me to write.

"Oh, that I miss them. I'd love to see them," she says. "Tell them I'm fine. I'm happy. I'm content." She absently strokes Susie, her cat and constant companion. She's looking off into the distance. She can't get into trouble with these comments.

If you don't remember what you had for lunch an hour ago did you enjoy it? If you don't remember that you play bingo every afternoon, did you have fun? She has a new stash of stuffed animals that share the couch with Susie and her. I think they're her bingo winnings, but she doesn't know where they came from.

I leave when an aide pops the door open and says, "Bingo's starting! You don't want to miss it. There are some good prizes."

"You go, Mom," I say. "I'll just use the bathroom and make sure I shut the door when I leave." I don't mention that I'm sure I'll catch up to her even with her head start.

"I'm in no hurry," she says. "We'll walk down together." And we do. I can't walk slowly enough. I repeatedly move ahead, stop, turn, and wait as she pushes her walker slowly. If she exercised, I know she wouldn't need it, but she depends on it now.

I hug and kiss her good-bye, watch her get settled at the gaming table, then wave and leave.

If you don't remember your daughter came to visit . . .

She won't. This I know from experience. But I wrote "Ruthie came" on her calendar, when she asked me to. Its the way she "remembers" things.

"Put a smiley face, too," she'd said. So I did. A big one like I put on my student's papers when I want them to know they matter to me.
~~~~~
"Esse est percipi" ("To be is to be perceived")~George Berkeley

9 comments:

sc morgan said...

Oh, Ruthie. You gotta send this one out for publication. It's that good! The last line is just perfect. I have no idea if you cried when you wrote it, but it had to have come hard. Beautiful, really beautiful.

Tere said...

This is so beautiful The heartbreak of watching our parents become old is unbearable. But you visit even though it hurts. You are a good daughter.

Ruth D~ said...

Sarah~ I got emotional, yes, choked up. Those who've been through it understand the feelings. Thanks.

Tere~ I love my mother, and she'd say I'm a good daughter. But I could be so much better. Guilt!

Wanda said...

Tears are running down my cheeks. I think of your mother, and my Aunt Cassie. Women who in there younger days would have dazzled anyone. You have given us a most beautiful and honest post. I loved and hung on every word. I wonder, will I some day be in that position, will I recognize my daughters...Oh Ruth. Thank you for sharing something so personal, I will treasure it in my heart.

Barbara said...

It's stories like this that remind me of Bette Davis's saying "Growing old is not for sissies." I hope these days are well into my future...

Lisa said...

Wow, this post brought tears to my eyes, too. I'm sure your visits to your dear Mom make a difference, even if she doesn't remember.

Ross Eldridge said...

Hi Ruth:

This is quite lovely, and I agree with Sarah that it should be "out there".

My mother died so young that her memory was very much intact, and my long-lived grandmother (104) was sharp as a tack. But two dear family friends are "hardly there" now ... though it sure is nice when they DO remember me after a bit of prompting. Rich, handsome, talented and brilliant Ross ... surely you recall me well? No, dear.

As Wanda says ... will WE remember? And it makes sense that we NOW, while we can, make arrangements in case a day comes when the world does begin to fade. Not all of us have daughters as dutiful and caring as Ruth ...

Bless you for writing this!

rain said...

Thank you for this..I'm weepy now...but in a good way.

Josie said...

Aw, Ruth, I got a lump in my throat reading that. But you know, you are so lucky. I lost my mom when I was only 39. I still miss her. I'm sure you cherish every moment with your mom, even if she doesn't always remember. She looks very sweet.