Editor: This is the fourth part of a book written by my close friend about her mother’s journey with old age and dementia. To read all of it, click here. Barbara was a delight to visit the day before. This is Sophie’s second day in a row visiting her.
Today our Mommy is so remarkably different. I assumed she would be the same as yesterday. After all, it was only one day ago.
How is it that such a radical transformation took place from one day to the next?
It feels like routine to be sitting here before her.
Yet it was only yesterday at this time that I had been here.
Her whole demeanour has changed.
Change is inevitable but this is so about face that it took my breath away and made me more consciously aware and feeling so protective of her. At the same time I am feeling fascinated more than ever before at this particular, vulnerable, profound change in her.
After searching various areas in the facility I finally find her in the facilities dining room, sitting at her designated spot at the table, eating a bowl full of corn flakes filled with milk at three forty five in the afternoon, all alone.
I walked in, pulled out a chair, fully expecting her to look up at me with her bright eyes. It did not happen.
I sat down, facing her, feeling excited to see her. I pleasantly said, “Hello Mommy.”
It took her awhile to realize that someone was there. She finally looked up at me, not the least bit concerned, no recognition in her eyes as she said, seemingly a bit annoyed, “This milk is so cold.”
She does not acknowledge me at all. I’m a little taken aback.
She carefully stirs the mixture a few times, slowly scooping a mouthful of cereal and gently places the spoon in her mouth then draws the spoon out slowly.
Her head nor her eyes do not lift at all as she focuses on the next spoonful. When she spills a few drops on the edge of the table, she ignores it at first then eventually wipes it off with her fingertips, cautiously looking around for a napkin to tenderly press her fingers to it to soak up the milk that is on them.
I calmly say, “Are you enjoying your cereal Mom?” But I get no reply.
She’s quieter than usual. Oh, so very quiet and ever so calm.
Some of the staff enter and call out to her in a loud voice, “How is your snack Barbie?” using a loving nickname as they laugh sweetly. Their expressions clearly show how much they enjoy her.
Mom looks up when they laughed as she is drawn to laughter. She just as quickly looks back down to her bowl full of cereal.
She says in a distant voice, head bent, I don’t know what they said to me because I am hard of hearing.”
I said gently, “Mom you are not hard of hearing, you have impeccable hearing.”
“I do? Oh, I guess I do.” she said somewhat distant.
She refocuses on her cereal, spoonful after spoonful after spoonful. Still not lifting her head or her eyes at all. She gave the impression of mental absence.
I am impressed with her power of concentration. No wonder she did not hear what they said to her. Especially in the face of some distractions that were beginning to occur, as the staff started setting the tables for dinner.
One of the workers came to Mom’s table, to set it. I took the opportunity to question her. “Has my Mom eaten her cereal like this before at this time of day?”
She smiled, a little chuckle escaped as she replied, “She does this at least two or three times a day lately.”
“Oh!” I replied surprised.
“It’s not a problem, really.” she said a little hesitantly as she moves away to another table.
I looked back at Mom to see if she heard. She is neither withdrawn nor open, she just is, in the moment. It was obvious to me she is still concentrating intently.
My instincts told me to wait, watch, be quiet and still. So I ate my apple quietly as though joining her at snack time as I gazed at her, a bit mesmerized.
Ten minutes later she is finished with her cereal.
She gently lifts her head, her eyes blank as she looks at me, a small smile appears around the corners of her mouth seeing that there is someone sitting with her. I smile back.
She says calmly, “I have to go to the bathroom. Where do I go?”
I reply just as calmly, “Let’s go back to your room so you can use your own bathroom.”
“Well okay, where is it? Is it this way?” as she gets up carefully and links her limp arm at my elbow.
“Yes, it is.” I reply encouragingly.
She shuffles very, very slowly down the corridor, every so often looking up at me. Still no recognition of who I really am. Yet I get the feeling she is trying to figure it out.
She says in a tiny dull voice, “You are so pretty.”
I proudly said, “Thanks to you! I get it from you.”
“You do, how come?” she questions me softly, absolutely no twinkle in her eyes.
“Well, I’m Sophia, you gave birth to me, so I mostly look like you.”
“I was never as pretty as you.” she says with a bit more feeling.
I said, “When we get back to your room I’ll show you a picture of yourself when you were younger and how beautiful you were and how cute you are now.”
She half smiled her toothless grin, looking straight ahead.
Once in her room she asks, “What am I doing in here?”
“You said you needed to use the bathroom.” I said carefully.
“Oh yes, I guess I do.” as she lets go of my arm and shuffles into the bathroom.
When she comes back again she sits down on her bed and asks gently, “Can I lie down?”
“Of course Mom, you can do whatever you want.” I reply softly.
I get out some pictures of her to show her how beautiful she was but she is not interested, just glances away.
It seems apparent she does not want to talk, only rest. So I remained quiet and still as she lay her head on her pillow, eyes still open, her knees slightly drawn up in a loose fetal position. Her hands limply tucked into her chest.
I tried following her eyes to see what she might be focusing on. Her movements are slow and natural with no real interest in her surroundings.
I noticed her tongue roaming around in her open toothless mouth. I’ve never seen her do that before.
Drool began to leek out, a few bubbles forming as she slowly swipes at her drool, then looking around for a place to wipe her hand as she discovers a place satisfactory, her pants, all the while her tongue continuing the toss, turn and flipping motions over her gums seemingly oblivious to my presence again. I pass her a kleenex. She tucks it under her pillow, soon to be forgotten.
Her body language appears restless yet relaxed. I wondered how it can be both at the same time.
She looks up at me then down again, takes a double look at me and calmly says, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
She slowly gets up, almost losing her balance backwards as she flaps her arms to steady herself and regain her balance with just a tiny bit of fear in her eyes. I automatically reach out to help her but she doesn’t need my help, she did just fine on her own.
I gaze into her eyes, still I see no recognition in them, only the urgent need to get to the bathroom now.
She shuffles off to the bathroom and is gone for about ten minutes.
During those ten minutes I decided to clean out her night table. I came across an unusual one inch width, about two and half to three foot long, light weight type of strap with velcro at each end in a circle, as though wrists could fit nicely into them, the strap circling someones back. This would keep arms and hands gently to the sides. Possibly a type of restraint device?
To be continued…
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