I was talking with my friend Nancy about my mom.
“She asked me again about her brothers and sisters,” I said. “I told her they all died. That made her cry.”
“Maybe you should just tell her they’re fine, but they’re unable to visit. They send their love.”
As you may have guessed from previous posts, I’ve so far been resistant to taking this approach. Maybe I wanted to believe my mom’s disease wasn’t advanced enough to warrant it. Or maybe I thought our relationship was so special that I’d be able to tell her the painful truth without upsetting her, as if it wouldn’t hurt so much coming from me.
But I realize Nancy is right. As she said, there’s no reason for my mom to be traumatized again and again. It’s not like she can process the grief and move on; it’s brand new every time.
To cement her message, Nancy reminded me of a story I had told her about another friend who took the same gentle approach with her father that Nancy was suggesting I take with my mom.
That friend is Jennie, whose father had Alzheimer’s. Though he lived in New York (the city where Jennie lives), he would often travel to California to stay with her sister Shirley. Jennie and Shirley shared responsibility for his care.
One day while their father was in California, Shirley called Jennie. She said he was very worried about his cow, an animal he’d cared for decades before when he was a young child in Puerto Rico.
“What are we going to do about the damn cow?” Shirley asked.
After thinking about it and doing some research, Jennie found a solution.
“Put him on the phone,” Jennie told Shirley when they next spoke. Then she started talking to her father.
“Papi, I know you’re worried about the cow,” she said. “I want you to know the cow is okay.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Listen.”
At that moment, she put the telephone mike next to her computer speakers and hit a button. The most beautiful sound, to her father, issued forth from the speakers.
Jennie had found a whole collection of farm animal sounds online, and she played him the crucial one.
“I’m so glad my cow is okay,” he said. “I feel so much better. Thank you.”
Yes, thank you, Jennie. And thank you, Nancy. It’s good to have friends. (And electronic animal sounds!)