She wonders the house, shuffling. Sometimes lucid, most times in a fog. She opens the front door and struggles to unlock the screen.
“What do you need, Mom?”
“Mind your own business. Why do you want to know?”
I get up and watch from behind. She knows the door opens, but the catch is tight. I have to push it myself to get it free of the jam. Silently, I thank God that it doesn’t open easily for her. Maybe next time she won’t try. If she were to find it easy, she could just walk out anytime and I’d have to wonder where she went. I’m here. But I can’t keep an eye on her at every turn.
She turns to shuffle back to her room and I close the main door and lock it.
“Don’t do that,” she hollers from behind me.
“Why?” I ask.
“I’m coming back. I want to get them outside.”
“Get who outside?”
My mom sighs in exasperation, as though I must be blind or a fool not to know, “I don’t want them here.”
It occurs to me that she is seeing people, people that I don’t see. I’ve heard hallucinations are common with this condition.
“There’s no one else here, mom. It’s just me, little boy, and you. And the dog, I suppose.”
She looks at me and scowls.
“What do you see? Who do you see?” I ask.
The scowl softens and she looks at me, dejected and fatigued, “I don’t know. Maybe I’m confused.”
I lead her back to bed, “Don’t worry, mom. You’re safe. No one is here but us and all the doors are locked.”
She groans as I help her swing her legs back onto the bed.
“I don’t know…anymore…”
“You just need to rest, mom. Close your eyes, now. In a few hours it’ll be morning.”
Every day it gets a bit worse. She remembers less. Hallucinates more. I didn’t see it coming. Or I rationalized it away. Everyone forgets things when they get old. Gets tired, easily fatigued. Will this happen to me? I am her daughter. For me the chances are high. The disorientation is the hardest. Each time she naps, I wonder who I will find when she wakes up. Will she be my mom? Will she be the 9 year old orphan she once was? Will she be looping through a question cycle?
“What day is it today?”
“Does little boy go to school?”
“Yes, at 11:30 I will bring him to his school.”
Then after a few minutes.
“What day is it today?”
I purchased a small white board and put the answers to her most common questions on it. At the top I wrote, ‘Red button on remote turns tv off and on.’ I used a red marker for ‘Red.’ Beneath that I listed the names of her daughters, each followed by a single digit speed dial number she could use to call that one. There is a white space beneath that for me to write messages like, ‘l’m taking little boy to school,’ or ‘I’m out back working in the yard,’ etc. On the bottom left edge of the board I write the whatever day it is today.
She’s trained now to look at the board, but when she’s not in the room, she asks several times what day it is. I used to get frustrated and tell her, “Ok, now I’m not telling you again. Try to remember this time. I’ve told you several times already.”
She would fall silent. Now I understand though that she really can’t help it. I wish I could rewind my mean words. I wish I could tell her how sorry I am and know that she understands it and forgives me. But the time for sorry has passed. Now we travel only in moments. It just feels as though it has been so fast. How cleverly she covered it up before. This has been the most heart breaking experience of my life. In some ways I feel like I am losing her daily. As though she is dangling off a precipice. Initially I had her arm in my grip, but gravity and time have pulled her further from my grasp. I have her wrist now but what will I do when fingers frantically cling to fingers? I don’t want to let go. Who will she be then? Where has my mother gone? And out of the deep love I hold for her, I continue to minister her body, alive but empty.