Bad day yesterday.
I entered the nursing home to find Mom parked outside the dining room. She had repeatedly refused to eat, so they honored that and moved her outside. The foot-pads of her wheelchair were cocked high in the air in an attempt to keep her from climbing out (she is a severe fall risk now), but she was struggling mightily to overcome the constriction. She looked at me with panicked relief when I said hello, her words rushing from her lips as she told me she had to get out, she had to get home, she wanted to go home, and a slew of other words that made no sense in my universe. I tried to explain that she had to stay in the chair, that she was sick and we had to get her better, but her confusion would not allow her to comprehend my words. She began to cry, curling against my chest like an abandoned child.
There is nothing that undoes me more. I can accept that her ability to feed herself, bathe and toilet herself, and dress herself are gone. But when she cries, it feels like the world is ending. For her is it – only not quickly enough to suit her.
I finally got her calmed down and asked if she’d be willing to eat for me. She said she would try, but then eyed the offering of chicken with suspicion. “What is that?” she said with disgust. She tried a piece, but her heart wasn’t in it and I refused to press her. This is her choice, one of the few she can still make. (And, truthfully, there comes a point when Alzheimer’s patients stop eating.) I took her back to her room, wrapped her up in blankets because she said she was cold, got her a cup of fresh cold water and found, in the dining room, packets of 2 cookies – among them her favorite, oatmeal raisin. As long as I was willing to break it up into tiny pieces and feed it to her, she managed to down one of them. Please note: I am not attempting to keep my mother alive by feeding her in this way. The deal is that food and water will be offered, but she has the choice to decline. She will not be forced.
But oh those tears! And the confusion, the fear I see in her eyes. Because, you see, she doesn’t understand but she’s still cognizant enough to KNOW she doesn’t understand, to KNOW that her own words don’t make sense, that she is no longer mistress of her own mind and her body has betrayed her. She knows what’s coming and she wants this over before she gets there. And who can blame her?
As is often the case with Alzheimer’s, there was a moment of blessing amid the madness. We were talking quietly, her saying whatever came into her mind and me responding the best that I could, when she said something about her misbehavior causing everyone trouble. (You see? Even now she blames herself, as if she has a choice in this.) I reminded her that she once took care of me and now it was my turn to take care of her and that she was no trouble. (Not true, but she doesn’t need to know that.)
“I hope I was a good mother,” she said. “I tried to be.”
I took her by the chin and turned her face towards me, asked her to look at me. (Yes, she needs help with this.) Her eyes were like a child’s – open and trusting. “You did fine,” I told her.
I nodded. “You did the best you could, Mom.” And then….I felt pressure within my mind, behind it if that makes any sense, the presence of words crowded at the crest of a wave ready to fall but only if I would let them. And I said, “And for those times when you made mistakes, I forgive you.”
And in that moment, all the crap I’d carried around for years – the resentment for the times she let me down, the thoughtless words and gestures that made me feel unloved, the passive-aggressive bullshit that littered my growing up – drained away. She’s my mom, pure and simple, and I’ll fight like hell to give her what she needs.