When I walk into the TV room where my mom sits with the other residents, they are all motionless in wheelchairs and arm chairs. While they’re facing the TV set, their eyes are wandering or down, or to the side, or looking inward, or closed. TV is a waiting game for the next meal.
But this time, a Friday afternoon, it’s not TV at all that they’re “watching,” but a young woman distributing bread and grape juice, with songs in Hebrew playing in the background.
“It’s the Shabbos ritual, I think,” I tell Kathy on the phone later that day.
“Sounds like communion to me,” she says.
“Yeah, the Jewish communion,” I say, “only there’s no body or blood, just bread and juice.” I don’t know what it means.
“Do you want some, Mariann?” the young lady asks.
“Oh … I don’t … okay,” my mom says.
The young woman tears her off a very small piece of bread, and gives her about an inch-and-a-half of juice in a cup.
“Oh, you have to help me finish this,” my mom says to me.
“No, Mom. You have it. It’s for you.”
It’s unnecessary to say she doesn’t know what this ritual means, either. There is bread, and there is juice. And that is all.
There is no place for my mom to sleep and no clothing but what she has on her back, and not even that, unless she rolls up her sleeve and realizes she is wearing a shirt. And there’s no disposable diaper under her pants unless she notices it when pulling it down to go to the bathroom. And there are no sugar packets or spoons or creamers that she has sneaked into her pockets, because she mostly fails to remember she has pockets.
“Where are we going?” she asks.
“To your room.”
“What?! I don’t have a room,” she says.
“Just follow me,” I say.
“See Mom? Your room,” I say, pointing to the photograph of her that’s hanging outside her door.
“Who put that there?” she asks.
“I did.” I say.
“Oh, you did?” She is smiling playfully.
But her room is lost as soon as we enter it because the picture of her is gone from her mind.
We lay on her bed.
“Whose bed is this?” she asks.
“It’s yours,” I say.
“Yes. See those pictures?” I point to Debbie’s needlepoints. Photos of the grandkids. “They’re yours.”
“Hmmm,” she says, but then closes her eyes. The pictures, the needlepoint, are gone.
On the bed, lying next to my mom, I call Kathy.
“Hi Mom!” Kathy says.
“Hi Mom!” my mom says.
“What did she say?” Kathy asks.
“Now wait,” I say. “Let’s try something. Kathy, say, ‘Hi Kathy!’”
“Hi Kathy!” Kathy says.
“Hi Kathy!” my mom says.
“See,” I say, smiling. “You just have to let her be a parrot.”
My mom chuckles.
We talk for a little while, and then we have the Jewish communion conversation. But it’s only Kathy and me talking about it, because the bread and the grape juice, out of sight, are long gone. As if they never existed.
After Kathy hangs up, my iPhone transforms from communication device to photo album.
“Look at this cute cat,” I say, pointing to a cat I’m looking after.
“Soooo cute,” my mom says, and coos a little.
“That’s Victoria,” I say, pointing to a woman with her arms around me, her face pressed to mine.
“Who’s that?” my mom asks.
“She’s my girlfriend.”
“Oh,” she says and looks away. Victoria disappears.
In the last 15 years I have brought no more than two or three girlfriends to her attention. This is a big deal.
We go back to the photo library, to more cats and small children. And then back to Victoria and me.
“Who’s that?” she asks.
“That’s Victoria,” I say.
“Who is she?”
“Oh,” she says. But it means no more than it meant the first time.
I love the picture I’m showing her, because we both look so happy.
“That’s Victoria,” I say again. “She’s my girlfriend.”
My mom says nothing.
One day, not all that long ago, she would have been very happy for us.