“Mom, can you hear me?” This is usually how the conversation goes when it is clear my mother has either not caught what I said on the phone, or is otherwise distracted by something more interesting than my voice. “I said I’d be by to pick you up in 20 minutes. Do you think you could wait for me in the lobby?”
My mother, who moved from her longtime hometown about 200 miles away and into an assisted living, needed to be closer to me. Health and safety concerns determined that she required additional care and this was a really big change for her. I recently took an early retirement for several reasons—but, mostly, so I could give her more time and attention. Although there is a whole team of folks helping to care for her, well, let’s face it; there are things only a daughter can do.
With the phone call completed, I put my attention back to the road. I could probably do this drive with my eyes closed; well, figuratively speaking. There are two traffic lights on this familiar route, both of which are inevitably red and, when stopped at them, ridiculously long. I try not to look at my watch. It’s not going to make the light change and will only make me anxious about the time. So, I take in a long breath and stretch my neck slowly to the left. Then to the right.
It’s definitely summer in Florida—hot and humid. From my perspective inside the air-conditioned car, and because I have turned my head in different directions with my stretching, I am suddenly taken with the vibrant colors around me. There is something about the green of the trees against the blue sky that I find particularly beautiful. This is good, I think to myself. Take in the moment. Yes, that’s it; breathe. You are going to be so much more relaxed before you pick up Mom. Ummm.
The horn blasts behind me, reminding me not only to move forward, but to also welcome me back to the world of the stressed and hurried.
My mother is not in the lobby. I go to her room, knock as I enter, and say, “Hi, Mom. Are you ready to go?” Her smile shows a genuine happiness to see me but, when she takes in my words, her brow goes into a worried frown. She has forgotten that I was going to pick her up. I remind her that we have a doctor’s appointment, make sure she has her purse, a crossword puzzle book and a bottle of water, and try to steer her out the door. There are numerous stops along the way to the door. Lately, she seems concerned that she is forgetting something, so she pauses and asks if she should bring a spoon that is sitting on the counter, a coffee cup,then the TV’s remote control…the list would go on if I were not such a good “steerer.” Such are my days these days!
It’s difficult to watch your parent change so much. My mom was always such a busy and happy woman. She was involved in a myriad of activities. Most recently, before she moved here, she had joined a poetry group and was actually a very good writer. She has always loved words. Once a terrific Scrabble player, now we can only play when we’re teammates rather than competitors because she just can’t stay focused. And how is it that her vocabulary can be so good but, from time to time, she forgets to complete a sentence? Guess she gets sidetracked inside and out. Experts say you cannot control anyone else’s behavior, only your reaction to it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. And I am trying; I really am. For me, it helps to focus on what she can do rather that what she can’t do. And although I have to remind myself to do that, I have learned that the ability to do so is like a life preserver.
She loves getting out and is enjoying the ride. She gives me a play-by-play description of everything we are passing on our drive. She reads every road sign and guesses at what the letters on a license plate might mean. I remind myself to be grateful she is still so verbal, but wonder why she has to fill every one of the spaces in my brain that I had just quieted before I picked her up.
When we get to the doctor’s office, she is greeted like a rock star! She really is a sweet person—and she’s incredibly funny. It is truly amazing that she can be so “on” for others and so “off” for me! It’s what she does when she has an audience! She has forgotten why we’re at this appointment. I get things back on track. That’s what I do, with or without the audience.
I suggest we also grab a little lunch nearby. An idea she loves since she always complains about the meals at “the home,” as she calls it. We sit over lunch and I try to engage her in conversation. Even the age-old stories she has always told are getting mixed up with other stories, but I nod my head and encourage her to continue. When she loses her train of thought altogether, I realize she has focused on the person sitting across from us and she is far away from the story she was telling and, apparently, from me. I look across at her looking at someone else, her lunch untouched in front of her. I put a straw in her drink and push it closer, asking her if she would like a sip.
What am I supposed to say? Or do? I want her back the way she used to be. I miss having conversations with her. I glance outside the window and the sky is still a vibrant blue and now it is the white clouds that make the contrasting colors. This is good. I remember to take in the moment. “Breathe,” I say to myself. “Breathe in; breathe out.” She’s in her happy place and I’m in mine.
And then, I feel her reach out and touch my hand. “You’re crying,” she says, and I’m surprised to realize that my eyes are a little moist. “Are you okay? Has something made you sad?”
“No, Mom. I’m fine,” I tell her. It’s just such a beautiful day and I’m so glad we’re together. It’s nice, isn’t it?”
By: Helen Hill
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