Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Update on My Mother, and Some Sad News

My mother—93 years old and suffering from dementia—is being much nicer to me these days.  I think that’s because she has finally forgotten that I took her car away two years ago this month.  She looks forward to my weekly visit, and to our drives through neighborhoods in which she used to live and which she no longer remembers.  She enjoys the stories I tell her about her own life. 

Here are some other things I noticed last Friday:

--When I escort my mother from her apartment to my car and back, we hold hands.  I always extend my hand to her and say, “Can we hold hands?” (I know, I know, “May we hold hands?”, but who says that?), and she always takes it and tells me how she holds hands with my ex-husband when he visits her.  I do it because she is very unsteady on her feet—last week she fell in her apartment—but I don’t think she knows that.  I don’t ever remember holding hands with her, not even when I was a child.  Her hands are slim, with long fingers and beautifully manicured nails.  (The caregivers take her to the salon, where someone named Henry does them for her.  “I love that Henry,” Mom always says.)  She does not have arthritic knuckles, a fact that amazes me.

--She is almost unable to articulate a complete sentence.  When we drive past houses she likes, she whispers, “Lordy” or “Vey iz mir.”  “Vey iz mir” is one of my mother’s traditional expressions; she said it all the time when I was growing up.  “Lordy” is something new.  I have no idea why she says it.  I’ve asked her caregivers, and it’s not something either of them says.  Every time she says it, I have the same thought: that the woman I am driving around isn’t really my mother but someone who is simulating her and doing a bad job of it.

--She loves trees.  She can be brought to near-ecstatic exclamations at the sight of a tall redwood or a robust, spreading oak.  Sometimes she calls them her “friends,” which is weird and lovely and sad all at the same time. “They must be so old!” she says in wonder. 

--When we look at nice houses, she often says, “So much money!”  Since she married my father in 1950, she has enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but her Depression-era roots (daughter of non-English-speaking Hungarian immigrants who died when she was five, a childhood spent in a [wonderful] Jewish orphanage) are in there somewhere.  Her tone when she talks about people with money is admiring and derisive at the same time.  She is not aware of how much money it is costing to keep her in her home with ‘round-the-clock care.  She is also not aware that her credit card can’t be used anymore.  “Can I fill up your tank?” she always asks, and I always smile and say, “No.  But thank you.”

--Another thing about looking at houses:  At least five or six times on any given drive, she will say about a particular house, “That one’s empty.  No one lives there.”  I always laugh and say, “Yes, they do, Mom.”  But she is adamant.  “Why do you think no one lives there?” I ask sometimes.  She peers out the window.  “No one’s in there,” she says, certain.

--Twice, she said, “I love my grandsons.”  And I (who seemingly cannot-CANNOT-stop trying to make her see the world as it really is) said, “One grandson and one granddaughter, Mom.”  “No,” she said stubbornly.  “Two grandsons.” 

--For the first time in two years, my mother said "I love you" without my having to say it first.  Also: she seems to know who I am, but she can't bring my name to mind.  A year ago, I would have wondered if she was saying "I love you" reflexively, without really knowing--knowing--who I am.  Now I don't wonder.  I just accept her statement with love and gratitude. 

I have more to write, but I just received a phone call from my daughter: her grandfather—my ex-father-in-law—just passed away, after a few months of illness.  He and my mother were great friends, despite her insistence on calling him “Fonzie.”  (His real name was Gonzalo, but he went by Gonzy, a name my mother just could not remember, even before she became ill.)  His illness was abrupt and immediately devastating, as opposed to my mother’s, which is incremental and slow.  I wonder, Which way would I prefer to go?  And honestly, I do not know.

What I do know is that he went with supreme grace and dignity.  And that I will have to tell my mother tonight, and the news will make her sad. 

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post, Gina. You should know that your writing about this has made me a better daughter to my own mother. L.