When I arrived at the Hebrew Home for a visit on Mother’s Day, my mom was sitting alone at her table, hunched over and staring downward, like she was reading a book perched in her lap. She looked up as I walked in, and I caught her attention.
“I didn’t know you were coming today,” she said, not as excited as she usually is when she sees me.
“Is something wrong, Mom?” I asked, kissing her on the cheek.
“He’s mad at me,” she said, gesturing toward Kenneth, who was kneeling next to their table working on a knot in his shoelace.
“Hello there!” he said to me. “Do you think you can fix this?”
“Sure,” I said, stepping away from my mom, but not before taking another look at her. She looked crestfallen. I stopped and touched her face.
“Excuse me!” he said, pointing his finger at me.
“I’m coming,” I said. I approached him, bent down, and loosened his shoelace easily.
“Thank you very much,” he said. “I’ll take it from here,” and he tied his sneaker and circled a few times and finally walked away.
I sat next to my mom and put my arm around her. She was close to tears. We sat like that for a few minutes. And then we got up to take a walk.
Kenneth came back and started to walk with us, or more accurately, around us. And then one of the aides approached him because it seemed he needed some bathroom help. While he was being shepherded to his room for changing, I took my mom’s hand, and we escaped from the unit.
“Don’t worry; we’ll be back in a few minutes,” I said to her, punching in the code and steering her onto the elevator. We rode it to the main floor.
“I’ve never been here before,” she said with something like awe or wonder when we stepped off the elevator.
She stopped to see the tiny birds in a cage and then walked toward the fish tank.
“Look at them!” she said. “Are they real? I’ve never seen them before!”
We stopped by the auditorium where a performer alternated between singing and playing the saxophone. We listened for a little while.
“This is really nice,” my mom said.
“Yes, it is,” I agreed, and took her by the arm toward the door to the outside.
“I don’t want to go out,” she said, and I responded, “Okay.” But the weather was beautiful, and I wanted her to experience it, so I walked her around the lobby for a few minutes and then led her out the door and onto the patio.
“It’s so nice out here,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
We sat on a white wicker couch with bright yellow cushions.
“Give me your hand,” I said.
And when she gave it to me, I started to trim her nails, which had grown overly long.
“I bet we’re the only people out here doing this,” she said.
“That’s probably true,” I agreed, filing away the rough edges.
“So tell me how everyone in the family is doing,” she said.
By family, she didn’t mean her children or her grandchildren, who she often forgets. She meant her family of origin — her mother, father, brothers and sisters. She’s the youngest of ten. Except for her, they’re all dead.
But I don’t need to remind her of that anymore. Now, I take the phrase, “Tell me how everyone in the family is doing,” to mean, “Tell me a story.” It’s the kind of comforting story you tell to a young child at bedtime to lull her to sleep.
“Everyone is doing great,” I said.
“I’m so glad!” she said. “How about Fred and Eleanor?”
“They’re good, Mom. Still in Niagara Falls.” (Fred, her oldest brother, was like a father to her. He died in 1998 at age 89, and his wife died a few years later.)
“And Laurie — is she alone?”
“Oh no, mom. She has her husband, Les, and the three kids.” (Les died tragically of a sudden heart attack at age 37 in 1959; Aunt Laurie never remarried. She lived til age 90 and died in 2011, just as my mom was entering assisted living.)
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” she said. “I’m so happy she’s not alone! Who else is there?”
“Dory and Earl,” I said, referring to the very lively and gregarious sister who found any excuse to entertain and who put herself through college (the only one to go) in her 40s.
“Oh yeah; are they still together?”
“Of course; he’s crazy about her.” (But he lost her in 1978, when she was in her early sixties. I still remember the day Aunt Dory died; it was my mom’s birthday and she got the news by telephone because we lived 400 miles away. She put the receiver down and cried.)
“And Bill and Bob — they still live in Mom’s house, right?”
“Well, just Bill, Mom.” (That house hasn’t been in the family for almost 25 years; it was sold after Bill died in 1990.)
“What about Bob?”
“He lives with his wife,” I said.
“I didn’t know he was married. Do they have children?”
“No, he and Diane married a little too late in life for children.” (And they weren’t married for very long before he died in 1983 in his 50s.) “But they’re very happy together.”
“I’m so glad everyone is doing so well!” she said. “For a while, I didn’t think things were going to turn out so well, but everything is pretty good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Mom. Everything is great,” I said.
I took her hand and we looked into the sun.
I can’t save my mom from Alzheimer’s, but I can write her a happy ending every now and then.
“Who’s Kenneth?” she asked, as we made our way back to the unit. I was explaining who I was taking her to see.
“He’s your boyfriend, Mom.”
“What?!” she said. “That is so crazy!” She had been so consumed with “visiting” her family that she had completely forgotten he existed, much less that they had been in conflict an hour before.
But then when she saw him, she knew him instantly.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “I know him.” A smile spread over her face. They walked toward each other, hugged, and kissed.
Two happy endings in one day. Now that’s what I call a good Mother’s Day.