I first met “Kenneth” a month ago in the Hebrew Home dining room, where my mom was eating lunch. Between the moaning woman two tables away and the old lady screeching out a broken-record rendition of the Alphabet song (never getting past “p”), he fit right in. As he stood over our table, he began dispensing what was probably meant to be financial advice.
“I want us to go over your options,” he said. “Because I think that will be a good possibility.”
“Oh?” I said.
“Yes, I think we could really … do you know what I mean?” he responded. “That could work for you.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll give that some consideration.”
I felt bad, but I eventually had to ask him to leave just to get a little time with my mom.
A couple weeks later, I saw my mom sitting next to Kenneth when I arrived during the Saturday afternoon Bingo game. I bent over to greet my mom with a kiss, and I got the distinct feeling I was interrupting something.
“Oh, hi, Beth,” my mom said, less enthusiastically than usual.
“Your mom has a boyfriend!” the Bingo caller, a private aide, called out. Throughout the game the two looked at each other and touched each other lightly.
When the game was over, Kenneth took my mom’s hand and suggested they go for a walk. Then they took off down the hall.
I have to admit, I felt a little displaced. But more than that, I felt surprised. My mom flirts with everyone (male and female), but I never, ever thought she’d find herself a boyfriend. It’s not who she is, I thought.
After sitting in the activities room for a few minutes, I went in search of them and when I found them started walking with them.
“There’s a tall fellow behind us,” Kenneth said to my mom. “He’s … he’s trying to control us.”
“That’s Beth,” my mom said. “Beth, what are you doing?”
“Oh, sorry Mom,” I said. I stopped, lowered myself into a chair, and let them walk.
I passed the time having a nice conversation with one of the aides. I also talked to another resident for a while, wrote in my journal, and checked my email on my phone. And I felt a little dejected.
When I decided my mom and Kenneth had had enough time to themselves, I went looking for them. I found them in the TV room, with a large group of residents who were watching Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda in Mr. Roberts. But my mom and Kenneth couldn’t see the movie. They were sitting under the screen, facing the audience and whispering. I waved at them, and they were surprised to see me, as if they hadn’t realized I was even there. Then they went back to talking to each other.
I didn’t break in. Instead, I took a seat among the residents and watched the movie. But I alternated my gaze between the onscreen story and the old couple sitting under the screen, lightly and affectionately touching each other. At one point, the old lady kissed the old man’s hand. And I thought, “I’ve known for some time that my mom would reach a point where she wouldn’t recognize me. I never thought there would come a day when I didn’t recognize her.”
When I left that day, I realized that I could gradually, but easily, become an observer in my mom’s life, passively watching the disease take her away from me. But I don’t want to let that happen. So what if my mom is changing. I don’t need to hold onto who she was. I can accept who she’s becoming, and spend time with the “new” person, even if she doesn’t care as much whether or not I’m around.
Plus, she’s happy.
When I arrived for our visit yesterday, my mom and Kenneth were playing Bingo again. They were holding hands. She was laughing and smiling. She had a new haircut and was wearing a string of teal-colored beads around her neck. Kenneth was wearing gold-colored beads. And he had on her sweater.
After the Bingo game, I invited them both for a walk. The three of us. They happily agreed.