It’s our usual day. She dozes on the couch most of the morning. I dress her for our outing. She’s as fragile as cracked glass, gasping and moaning at the putting on of socks, befuddled at the pulling up of pants, completely lost at the pulling over of a shirt. She can still tie her shoes.
We go out for lunch. It’s what we do on the Tuesdays when I visit her. It’s also become one of the ways I most see her decline: the inability to choose a utensil, know what a straw is, cut her own food anymore. She jabs at what’s on the plate and then opens her mouth, and it is a gamble that the food gets there. She has no preferences about what to eat, though she won’t eat what she doesn’t like. She couldn’t tell me if she did have a preference. It’s been a year or more since she’s collected enough words together to make meaning.
She still laughs. She still smiles. She is still more beautiful than any woman her age. She is willing to do what I ask if she understands it. That’s where I fall down so often, thinking she’ll understand. I’m always exhausted by my lack of acceptance as to what has happened and is happening to her and by my expectations, always too high.
Later, I make dinner, keep an eye on her as she does her rounds, from hall to dining room to den and around again. She walks carefully, so carefully, often reaching out to the wall or a chair. She runs her foot along the creases of the joined tiles. She doesn’t step, she shuffles.
I put her in pjs early, sit in a rocking chair, emotionally battered by our day, by what I see. I always try to prepare myself. I remind myself of her decline, but I am never, never ready for it. And so my mood dips in the afternoon. I hate myself for its dipping.
Are you tired, I say, more to make conversation than anything else. So often there is silence between us. She can’t talk, and I seldom chatter, but chatter is what is needed these days, a light ongoing constant from the only one of us who can do so, but I’m bad at it. She looks at me. She answers with stunning clarity: You’ll never know how tired I am.
It’s the first sentence I’ve heard in over a year. And before I can even respond, she’s back to her shuffle through the hall, the dining room, the den.
I sit where I am in shock. Yes, everything is hard for her, isn’t it? Moving, dressing, eating, getting up and down from a chair, walking, recalling, associating, living. All hard now.
I must remember this, I tell myself. But I won’t. I’ll be as surprised and upset next week as I am this week. Later, I think of the poet Mary Oliver:
The family of things….her place in it and mine, her despair and mine, her love and mine…………….
Mothers and daughters, there is no other relationship more complex. Duty, love, loss… it is so difficult being the caregiving to the one who brought us into the world. So difficult to witness their fading away. Selfishly we wonder, when it’s my turn, how will I go into the dark night and who will witness my leaving?
I’m full of longing to see my mom–how I miss her somedays! AND, I’m full of gratitude that I don’t see her anymore–in that diminished state that finally consumed her! She’s been gone for almost eleven years now, and there isn’t a week that I don’t have some fleeting thought that ‘I wish I could share this with Mother.’
Such primal roots live in my heart: roots of love and appreciation for all she gave, and sadness for all I needed that she didn’t know about. Had she known, she would have given me every morsle…of this I am certain.
Beautiful in sadness. My heart goes out to you.
Thank you for sharing your day. I totally understand. God bless.
My heart goes out to you in this difficult time. My mom and I are super-close, and when I read your blog I put myself in your shoes and cried buckets. At work! You are a good soul and while I can’t find the powerful words of enlightenment I wish I could offer, I can say this: your mom feels the love, and it makes a difference in her life. My mom thinks that hell is right here on earth. Sometimes I think she’s right.
I hope you find serenity in these difficult times. Will be thinking of you & praying for you and your mom.
How touching… poetic.. utter profound sadness! Your Tuesdays will be missed in the years to come, best to embrace it. And her. Hugs.
That was wonderful writing–heartbreaking yet beautiful. I know this struggle well, having been a caregiver for nine years.
I’m afraid I can’t read the poem–the color of the font is too pale. I can hardly see it. 😦
Keep writing. The best art comes from times of struggle.
Just… thank you. I forget there are other people going through this too and tend to get lost in my own sorrow. I know of shock of watching my mother struggle through a meal and those unexpected flashes of “I’m still here.” I also know the quiet, and I’ve heard or said anyone else say anything about it… I wish I could chatter to fill up the dead air.