Sunday, March 6, 2011

That voice we all use~

 As I walk down the carpeted hall of the assisted living facility to visit my mother, I notice several new “welcome” signs hanging on the doors to other rooms. Residents have died and left a vacant room. There is always a waiting list.

My mother’s door is ajar and I peek in.  She’s on her couch watching TV. How small she looks, and how alone!

I tap several times before finally walking in saying, “Hello--oo!” in that cheery voice we all use in such situations—the ones the nurses use upon entering to give her her pills.

She turns to look. No expression.  And then, like an iron that has been plugged in and slowly warming up, I see a puzzled look in her eyes, then a glimmer, a spark of recognition, and then she smiles.

“So good to see you,” she says.

She’s good at this game, my mother is. The one where she’s lost in time and place, but manages to fall back on social niceties, the right words, the right expressions, so that no one suspects she has no idea who she’s speaking to.

And because this might be the case, I say, “It’s Ruthie, Mom.” I add “mom” for additional information to help her place me. Just in case.

“I know who you are,” she says firmly.  “How could I forget?” And I believe her because I need to, although once she told me that her memory of my father had slipped away.

She flips off the TV, a politeness she’s retained from a time when people never entertained visitors with the TV on. Then it is up to me to fill the silence. Conversation that is mostly questions asked while I water her withering plants and read the cards she’s received: Have you been playing Bingo? Have you been exercising? Have you met your new neighbors?

“No,” she replies to all.

But, I think, she must still play Bingo. I see new prizes --stuffed animals-- on the back of her couch.  And I hope someone makes her exercise, other than the walk to the dining room three times a day. And surely she would have been introduced to the new residents at dinner. 

But she doesn’t remember so the answer is no.

I see on her daily schedule that there is a man who will entertain on the piano soon. I think she’d like the music, the time away from the TV.

But, no, she tells me. She doesn’t want to go listen to the man play the piano. 

“I’ve heard him,” she says dismissively, making piano playing motions with her fingers.

“I used to have friends here,” she tells me, “but they’ve all moved.” A pause, “Or they may have died.”

“I guess it’s not as fun doing things without them,” I say.

“No, it isn’t.  But I have my TV,” she hastens to add, “and I can choose any channel I want.” My mother so seldom complains and when she does, she finds a silver lining…even if it is lead grey.

“You know, Mom, I’m sure that the new people want to make friends.  They must be lonely, too. You can do things with them.”

“They’re younger,” she tells me.  So she has met them.

As the conversation limps on, she tells me four more times that she used to have friends here. 

It makes me sad that she doesn’t remember that’s she’s said this, but that she remembers the loss.

Soon she says in that voice we all use when we want to bring a visit to a polite close, “So good to see you. Do come again.”

“I will,” I say, giving her a kiss goodbye.

I cannot forget my mother. She is my bridge. ~ Renita Weems


Linda Myers said...

So, so familiar to me. My mom passed away in 2008, but I flew from Seattle to her residence home every three months for the last four years of her life. We had conversations just like this.

Breathe in, breathe out. Your mom is in your heart.

Al said...

A very powerful post. One of my biggest fears in life is this happening - I work with my mind, and dread the thought of it failing, and then becoming a burden on my children.

Pauline said...

Ah Ruth - the love is still there even if it's visible only in a rare fleeting moment. I think that makes it heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. I can only imagine how you must feel. My own mother knew she was dying and she knew who we all were and had to say goodbye. There is no easy way to lose those we love, whether in stages or all at once. Keeping you in my happy thoughts.

Karna said...

Nice. Nice. Nice. And this is one tough subject to write about. Thanks for sharing.

Janice Thomson said...

I can't possibly imagine what either one of you are going through and yet again by your simple expressive writing I can feel each and every emotion. How deeply you touch a chord within each one of us Ruth. A very poignant post that at this age makes me wonder what is in store at a future date and how will it affect those around me...

deanna said...

Thanks, Ruth, for this post and for all your beautiful pictures. I feel as if I were there with you and your mother, and I learn from your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post!! As I was reading, I could picture you having those conversations..

Cara said...

Ohh.. You're so sweet and so thoughtful! Moms will always be our moms no matter what. Whether they get old and weary, we will still be there for them and they will never be our burden. No, not at all!

Leigh said...

As others who have commented above, your precious story of one of your many visits with your mother has also touched me with familiarity.

My mother developed a very short term memory but was otherwise alert and healthy... When my dad died we had to place mom in a similar 'home' as your mother is in. Your story sure does let readers have a little insight with this from our perspective.

My mother passed peacefully new years day a year ago.