Sometimes I dread going to see Mom. Never knowing if I will see that light of recognition in her eyes or will I be a stranger? Will she ignore me or hug me? On the days that she does not know me, I don't stay long. It's not that I want to, but she looses interest and ignores me. I usually end up talking to the CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) or watching whatever TV show is on at the moment.
That day, she was sitting at a table, clutching a cup that held the droplets of a Mighty Shake. She has long since forgotten how to use utensils and her appetite is dropping, but there are these wonderful little high calorie shakes that she loves. In fact, the nurses that give meds keep an extra one on hand when they go down my mom's section because she likes to sneak one from the med cart. As I sat down, she was resting her head in her free hand. I touched her hand, and she opened her eyes, peering at me. "Hey Momma! I'm your daughter." Usually that's how I start and sometimes, after 10-15 minutes she may seem to know I'm someone she should know.
"Oh, it's you! You're the first," she said referring to birth order, but I'm actually the second. She looked beautiful in her floral blouse and purple dress pants and it caught me off guard. She physically reminded me of the old Momma, before this disease took over and I had to fight the tears. Lindsey, the CNA, had curled her hair and painted her nails a beautiful deep pink earlier.
She tried to make conversation, but the words are just not there. Her brain, jumbled, only allowed a few words before she got that worried look on her face, and then she saw me. Her hand lifted, brushing my hair back from my face. There was a light of recognition in her eyes.
"Where is your husband?"
"He's at home mowing the yard." She frowns as she tries to process this as she slurped her shake. She watches as I take a drink of mine.
"What is that" she ask with interest, licking her lips.
"Oh it's a chocolate shake. Why don't you take a drink of yours?"
A female resident sidles up next to Mom. "She danced with me today. She likes Elvis you know."
Do you have a man? Momma questioned.
Yes, I have a husband and kids," I answered pulling out my phone to show her pictures. Somehow she knows that strange little device holds pictures and ask for it from time to time. I took the opportunity to take a picture of her, selfie style.
"Ew, who is that?", she asked pointing to herself on the screen.
"That's you, Momma. Don't you look beautiful?" She frowns. "Can you smile for me?" She pauses, working her mouth, as if trying to remember how to smile. Turning her face to me, she smiles and I snap the shot. I never could get one of her looking straight at the camera. She kept sticking her tongue out at it.
"I should do something..." she started.
"Oh, you already are! See, you got this card for him!"
Dinner arrived and I moved her into the kitchen area where she eats, as a fellow resident passed out silverware and drinks. She has a hard time concentrating when she sits out with the other residents and often, the CNA will feed her and her roommate in there. Veggie Soup and a tuna sandwich! I couldn't believe it. The kitchen is supposed to prepare only finger foods for her. Picking up the spoon, I drain as much liquid off and begin feeding her. This isn't something I ever thought I would do and it wasn't the first time. It's not something I'm comfortable with. I can feed little kids with no problem, but my brain balks at my momma being so incapacitated that she can't feed herself, nor recognize how to use utensils. She pokes her finger in her soup and puts it in her mouth. I push the soup a little further away from her and she eyes my chocolate shake as I spoon some carrots into her mouth. She eats most of it and I try to feed her roommate siting next to me. She eats some and spits it out, which does this at every meal. Finally she finishes most of the soup and she spies the sandwich, poking her finger in it and tasting it. We sit for a while as I feed her bite size pieces of her sandwich. My phone lights up with a message from Honey, and I know I need to head out. Her night time meds are kicking in and she will be too sleepy to care soon. I pour the rest of my shake into her cup and she grabs it immediately.
"Mmmm, that good," closing her eyes in pleasure. It's the simple things really.
My chair scrapes the floor noisily as I get up and she looks at me with a panic. "Momma, I have to go."
"Do you want to sleep in my room?" she ask.
"No, I have to get home and get ready for work tomorrow, but I will come back. I always come back." She sighs and kisses me with soupy, chocolate lips. I leave the room and she has already forgotten I was there. I walk to the locked doors with tears pooling in my eyes, forcing myself to not look back....
Please don't get me wrong and say I'm such a good daughter. I don't see it like that. I struggle greatly with this disease and all it brings, what it does to the individual and their families. There are days I know I should go see her and I piddle around, mentally making excuses. I think of my friend back in KS who has moved in with her mom to care for her, leaving her family home. I know the struggle she is going through. It is real, raw, frustrating, heartbreaking, and exhausting. I know the struggle of another friend whom is Driving hundreds of miles each weekend to be with his mom, as she journeys through this. I see their devotion, heartbreak, and dread. I think of my cousin, who lost her mom, my aunt to this over seven years ago. I hear the kindness and wisdom in her voice and messages. I no longer look around the corner to anticipate what is coming next - I can't. It's one day, one visit, one tear at a time, holding on to any light that may come to her eyes.