For so many reasons, I haven’t written this blog in a long time. For one thing, I’m writing a book about my mom and me, and when I have time to write, I write that. For another thing, as my mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses, there seems to be so little to say that I haven’t already said. But today, I visited my mom, and I realized I had a lot to share.
One night a few weeks ago, I got a call from the Hebrew Home telling me my mom fell and hit her head badly. The nurse asked if they should send her to Montefiore Hospital or to Allen Hospital, a community hospital close to her facility. They were afraid something might really be wrong after such a bad fall, like maybe she was bleeding into her head, and so they wanted her to get a CAT scan. I thought right away that this was going to be the end. Even if it didn’t kill her immediately, this head injury would keep her in the hospital, and once there, she would go downhill fast.
I felt sad and scared and also maybe a little relieved. Maybe “relieved” isn’t the right word. Of course I don’t really want her to go downhill. It’s just that this has gone on for too long, this Alzheimer’s Disease of hers, and she is tired. She’s old. She just turned 92. She doesn’t have a life anymore. And it’s so hard.
But it wasn’t the beginning of the end because she didn’t have to stay in the hospital. After they did the CAT scan, the doctors found nothing wrong with her, so they sent her back to the Hebrew Home.
“She’s right here, next to me,” said the nurse who took my call when I checked on her the next day. “She’s okay. But we can’t trust her to be alone anymore. She keeps getting up, and she’s not steady on her feet.”
When I went to visit her the next week, the traces of the fall were plastered all over her face. A huge bump on her left temple, and dark shadows of blue and purple and yellow all over her face. I was pretty much staring at a bruise with a nose and eyes and a mouth. It scared me.
Today, most of the colors on her face were gone, thank God, and the bump had almost disappeared. She was in a wheelchair at a table, watching an old movie. Except she wasn’t really watching it. She was looking down at the table, touching its smooth surface with her hands, muttering to herself.
I laid my hands gently on her shoulders. She put her hand on my hand. I stroked her hair, and then I leaned down to show her my face. She smiled, and I kissed her cheek.
“Oh, oh,” she said.
“Hi, Mom,” I said. “I love you.”
She smiled, touched my cheek. I smiled because she seemed happy in that moment. But I don’t think she really knew who I was.
And then we started that thing we’ve been doing for a while now, for many months at least, where she talks and I pretend to know what she is saying.
I may recognize one of her words, possibly two or even three, but they’re mixed in with a whole series of sounds I’ve never heard.
“Well? Well?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Of course.”
“Oooh, I don’t know,” she said.
She kept talking and looking at me, a questioning look on her face, searching for the answer to a question I couldn’t begin to understand.
“It’s all taken care of,” I said.
“Oh, you’re so cute,” she said. And for a minute, I thought she might have mistaken me for a boyfriend she wishes she had. It was the kind of “you’re so cute” reserved for a boyfriend, not a daughter.
But whatever it was, it passed almost as quickly as it came, so I didn’t let it worry me. Then, she started another conversation I couldn’t hear, and when I asked her to repeat herself, she barked at me. She got angry, and her face looked mean. After that, she promptly closed her eyes and went to sleep.
I looked up at the movie she was watching. Spencer Tracy was talking to Ingrid Bergman, saying he wasn’t going to let Mr. Hyde come back again. We were watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. How perfect, I thought. Dr. Jekyll thought he could control Mr. Hyde, but he was wrong, because Hyde came back and took over his body, and visited Ingrid Bergman again. And then I looked down at my own Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, who was cooing at me one minute and barking at me the next. And she had no control over what she was doing, either.
When she woke up, she was smiling again, and calling me mama. She looked very happy. But then she started talking about poo poo and pee pee, words I haven’t heard come out of her mouth in a very long time, not since her grandchildren were babies.
She is fully incontinent now, but she sometimes knows when she needs to go, and so when she talked about it, I took her. The details don’t matter. It’s enough to say that she did what she needed to do, and I didn’t want to do what I had to do, but I did it anyway.
When we went back to the dining room, I wheeled her to her table, and she started muttering again. She said something about little kids being very cute. She asked me if I was going to get a baby, and I told her I wasn’t.
“But they’re so cute,” she said.
“Yes, they are.”
The aides brought her lunch, some spaghetti with meatballs and a few cauliflower florets. She would eat only a few very small bites, which I fed to her. Unlike in the past, I didn’t try to get her to eat more than she wanted to eat. Today, I just wanted her to have exactly what she wanted, and if that meant eating almost nothing, then I was okay with it.
She pointed at one of the cauliflower florets and started cooing.
“Ooh, look!” she said. “He’s so, so cute.”
I think she thought it was a little child, sitting on her plate.
She was eating dessert when I had to leave; it was a little cardboard container of Tofutti ice cream.
I didn’t want her to cry, so I didn’t say anything about leaving. I just kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Away for a little while,” I said. “I’ll be back soon.”
I didn’t look back as I walked away.