“You sound down.”
My mother. I’m calling her.
You sound down.
She has always been able to hear when there is sadness in my voice.
“What is it, Sandy?”
And then I start to cry. I cry on the phone to my mom who is suddenly fully my mom; she is oriented. She knows where she is. She knows she’s in her bedroom of the house she’s lived in for 30 years. She recognizes the desk opposite her bed. Maybe even the painting above her bureau. Her own painting. An abstract, of the ocean. One that resonates. Of her. Of my mom:
The day before when I had visited, she had been sitting up in her bed. Now a hospital one. Staring blankly.
She had turned to look at me. To stare. Unblinking.
“It’s me, Mom.” I laughed taking off my glasses. New ones. “See? It’s me.”
Her stare, unwavering. Steady. “I know it’s you,” she said, though I wondered about the “me.”
Her aide had raised the head of her hospital bed because she must remain sitting upright after meals due to swallowing issues.
After 20 minutes, she was tired, and her aide lowered back down the bed. Donning vinyl gloves, we changed her bandages on tailbone bed sores, and on her left hip where artificial replacement is beginning to protrude. Rolling her to one side so that she clung to the bed rail. Afraid of falling.
We settled her. A pillow between her legs to support her bandaged left leg – the one slowly dying of gangrene.
But that railing. She wouldn’t, couldn’t let go.
“It’s ok, Mom,” I soothed. “You’re not going to fall.”
“Let her be,” her aide whispered. “It makes her feel safer.”
My mother clung. Shaky hands, a tangle of tiny veins, pale shell nails.
Then I put on a CD. Opera. Pavarotti. She always has loved opera. She would blast it in her studio while painting. On large canvasses she stretched herself. Expansive brush strokes.
“Louder. Turn it up,” she said.
I like to believe the volume cleared her room of all mental confusion. Of her torment in the relentless attempt to piece together thoughts increasingly too jagged to assemble into the…logical. Into the well-reasoned.
And that her room was cleared of the unsafe – the chronic panic of trying to get back home because you no longer recognize the familiar. That truly perilous insecurity so acutely ingrained in the gritty of dementia.
And so her room was aired out, allowing only for the listening. And perhaps the sensory; she loosened the grip on the railing. To delicately run her frail fingers back and forth along the cold metal.
She reached a hand out toward me.
I reached to her. “Oh, she said, not having realized I was there. “I thought you were the cat.”
And so this next night, on this phone call I cry and cry to her. Because in her own reorientation, I lose my own.
And because, unlike in the past, I cannot tell her what is wrong. What has been going on all around her in her house of 30 years. Beginning with a leaking expansion tank whose steam mushroomed mold through, not only her basement, but upper levels; the environmentalist found very high mold counts even in attic. I could not tell her about the men in white hazmat suits trekking through her house. Clearing out all closets to find more mold. Tearing down walls. Emptying out her own closet which she would not remember, but at the time oddly she didn’t seem to think odd. And now I can’t cry to her about my battles as her POA with her insurance company.
And I can’t tell her the reason I finally can’t stop crying. Because having, if only for a moment, her back, so fully as my mom, is utterly wrenching. Truly devastating.
As if we were still what we’d always been.
Which we are not.
I cry and cry.
“Oh Honey, please don’t,” as only a mother can plead, when her own child is hurting and she doesn’t know how to help. “ This too will pass,” she says. “There’s the good then the bad, then the good…”
I’m staring at the wall. “I’m okay.”
And then she is expressing some discomfort and I know she needs rotating. “I’m going to have to go,” she says, and I hear her aide coming in to rearrange her as she is too weak to rearrange herself.
“I love you so, so, so much.” Oriented or not, we chant this phrase to each other now regularly, like a prayer.
We hang up.
And I take a long bath. I submerge my head enough so that I can hear the water. The way I imagine dolphins can hear; intelligent creatures, but perhaps better than us in communicating through the sensory. And I listen.