On my way to the Hebrew Home, walking up Palisade Avenue from the Metro-North train station, rain puddles trickling down the hill, I thought, inextricably, “I’m really going to miss this.” I mean, I’m going to miss these days, more than five years of them, traveling the two hours from Brooklyn to Riverdale by public transportation to visit my mom. The trips haven’t been easy, have taken a huge chunk out of a couple hundred weekends at least, and often the reward is a couple of hours in a drab room feeding candy to an old woman who increasingly doesn’t know who I am.
But when it’s over . . . I will miss it.
Victoria, my girlfriend, is selling her Washington, DC home, where she felt so happy and comfortable, and she is missing it terribly. We talked last night as she prepared to see it one last time before the first open house today. Maybe that’s why I have nostalgia on the brain.
There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. But some homes are so much better than others. And there aren’t any ruby slippers that can take you back to them.
The Hebrew Home, where my mom has lived for more than five years, is not one of those better homes.
Today, for the first time in a long time, I visited her in the morning. It was 11 AM when I arrived, and she was sitting in the TV room, alert and happy to see me.
“I love you so much,” she said. It was the first thing out of her mouth.
Then she started to cry.
When I got her to her room, she sat herself down on her bed and then stretched out.
“You’re my son, right?”
“No, Mom, I’m your daughter.”
“But what about my son?”
“You don’t have a son.”
She was smiling, and we were being playful.
“Oh, sure I do!”
“No . . .”
We both laughed.
When we called Kathy, my mom was following along with the conversation. She didn’t understand everything, but she asked. She still didn’t understand, but she knew it.
I haven’t seen her like this in months, many months. Self-awareness, more humor than sadness, less gibberish and more sentences that make sense. She doesn’t really know to ask about me, to find out what I’m doing these days, but it’s been a long time since she’s done that. Years, even.
Is there anything I could do to bring it all back? No. Some things are gone for good.
She fell on New Year’s Day and got a huge bump on her head, then started getting belligerent. She threw something at a nurse’s aide. She stopped eating. I was certain she was dying.
“2019 is going to be a rough year,” I thought.
The grief and sadness that descended surprised me. I have been saying goodbye for almost 9 years, but I’m still not ready for the final one. I didn’t like imagining that she would no longer occupy that tiny space on the earth’s surface that she is taking up at any given moment in time. Space and time would change completely without my mom in the world.
But then, strangely enough, she bounced back, a little worse for wear, but still there. The bump went down. She started eating a little again. She got herself another boyfriend. I noticed this a few weeks ago when she was sitting next to a man in a wheelchair, putting her head on his shoulder. She doesn’t remember him when he’s not there, but that’s okay. And today, there she was asking questions. Trying to understand. Wondering where her son was. And not wanting me to go home.
Alzheimer’s is a trip. I can’t make sense out of it. It’s constantly moving and changing, speeding up and slowing down, crushing everything in its path, and then sometimes, leaving intact a tiny flower that buds and blooms. For a moment, at least.