I haven’t written a blog post in a long time. I’ve been busy — studying, reading, planning lessons, grading papers, teaching, living my life. I still visit my mom every week, or almost every week. I still sit with her and hug her. She still doesn’t want me to leave.
When I visited her a few weeks ago, she was like she generally is these days. Her head was slumped on her shoulders when I arrived, and her eyes were closed. Her hair, long since gone white, was uncombed. She was breathing the regular, measured breaths of someone in a deep sleep. And she was sitting in the lounge, on a chair in front of the TV, surrounded by other residents.
I caressed her hair and kissed her to wake her up. She was groggy, and her first words sounded like they might be left over from her dream, because they didn’t really make sense. At least not to me.
There was a time, not too long ago, when my mom cared about her appearance. She combed her hair and put on lipstick. She had clothing preferences, certain colors she liked to wear. The way a fabric fell on her mattered to her. It’s strange to recall this, because for so many years, I listened to her put herself down. She thought she was ugly, and she said it. But she took care of herself. She may or may not have really thought she was ugly, but she was at least well-groomed. Not anymore.
I woke her and coaxed her out of her chair, and as she leaned on her walker, I saw how her clothing hung on her. I’ve been noticing this a lot lately. Her clothes often don’t match or even really fit her. If I take a quick look at the name tag on the garment, I sometimes notice it reads someone else’s name. Sometimes she is wearing a nightgown for a shirt, and she doesn’t have a bra on. And under her pants I can see the bulging of a diaper.
My mom turns 91 today, and with all that I have going on in my life, I won’t get to visit her. We won’t have cake, and she won’t open a present. This will have to wait until the weekend, but it doesn’t matter, not to her. She doesn’t know it’s her birthday. She doesn’t know what a birthday is.
But she’s not doing so badly. She still gets around on her own two feet. She still eats without much assistance. She still looks for love and comfort where she can find it. She laid her head on another patient’s shoulder, a man’s shoulder. She seems to know, instinctively, that with another human being, she can find some warmth.
And she still sometimes has flashes of reality. The last time I visited her, from the moment I arrived, she was anticipating my departure and feeling sad about it. She cried on seeing me, knowing she would have to say goodbye. She hasn’t demonstrated that kind of awareness in a while. It made me sad and happy at the same time.
I don’t have hope for my mom, at least not in the conventional sense. She is in her last moments, and life is draining out of her. And I have less to say about it, which is another reason I am not writing often. There is nothing new to report, and certainly less that is hopeful. Just as Alzheimer’s and old age are turning my mom into an empty shell, they are also making me quiet, stealing my will if not my voice. But like my mom, I still have some moments.