Nothing to talk about

My husband and I took Mom to lunch today – sort of a Valentine’s weekend treat, though she isn’t really aware of the holiday at all. Christmas didn’t even have a whole lot of meaning this (or, really, last) year so something like Valentine’s Day doesn’t really stick. But I wanted to take her out, and I wanted my husband to go because he and Mom have a funny little relationship built on a love of teasing each other. Before we were seated, my husband presented Mom with an enormous box of chocolates. She loves sweets. He loves to give gifts. Of course, we went to Bob Evans. I don’t foresee ever taking Mom to any other restaurant. She likes Bob Evans and it’s a friendly place to take her.

As usual, Mom had pot roast hash – eggs, potatoes and cheese with pot roast scattered about. She looks at the menu, but doesn’t really ever try to make a choice anymore. I just order for her, and she always likes it. The last few times we’ve eaten there, she has filled up on this meal and even occasionally can’t finish. Today, she ate it all and wanted more. We ordered french fries with gravy for the table, and she ate a decent helping of fries before finally declaring herself full. One funny little thing happened – she said she wanted more coffee, so I put her cup on the edge of the table, but it didn’t attract a server. My husband eventually got up and took the cup to the counter to get a refill so Mom wouldn’t have to wait. When we put it back in front of her, she said, “I’m so full. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to drink this coffee.” On a bad day, that would be maddening. My husband and I just smiled at each other.

Next, we went to shop at Kohl’s. It was Mom’s favorite store, along with KMart, before she got sick. She wanted a new pair of gloves. I tell you, gloves are the most difficult thing to keep track of for my mom’s particular brand of Alzheimer’s. She always had an obsession about her gloves as an adult – she was constantly checking to make sure they were in her pockets, in her purse, wherever. Since she moved into assisted living, she hasn’t needed gloves all that often. But the ones she moved in with have disappeared. I got her a pair for Christmas, and they were lost before my brother and sister arrived a few days after the holiday. My sister bought her a pair, too. They’ve all gone missing in her small apartment. So today, we found a cute pair with hearts on them. They were $1, a nice clearance price at this time of year. When we were leaving the store, Mom paused and said, “Oh, shoot, we forgot to get gloves.” I reminded her we did find a pair. I put them in her new purse when I left her apartment. I frankly don’t expect to ever see them again. Thankfully, spring will arrive somewhat soon.

My husband made an interesting observation when I got back to the house. He said Mom is much quieter than she used to be. It’s true, earlier in her illness, she was a chatterbox. Perhaps the thoughts that wouldn’t stick were still floating around in her head, prompting her to talk. This time, she sat fairly quietly during lunch. My husband would ask questions, and she’d answer, or try to answer, and he’d usually make some sarcastic comment in response, and she would laugh. She still laughs at his jokes. She said a waitress at the restaurant reminded her of me – she said that twice. She said, several times, that I didn’t eat much. This was after my plate was cleared, giving her enough time to forget I had eaten a big omelet. In response to my husband’s question about what her mother used to cook for breakfast, Mom recalled that her mother was drunk a lot. But when I dug a little bit to see if she had any memories of her sister, she didn’t. That still surprises me, that she cannot remember her sister but can remember her drunk parents.

I have noticed she’s quieter, too, but over time I have stopped worrying about whether we’ll have anything to talk about when we’re alone together. Just going on an outing or having company is pleasurable for her, so if we’re short on conversation, it’s not a big deal. But it does make me wonder about the disease. When patients withdraw, are they just blank inside? Are the plaques and tangles erasing things altogether, and not just from short-term memory? Mom still has basic language, even though she can’t often find the exact word she wants – that has been a problem for her from the beginning. But I hate to think she can’t even be occupied by thoughts. Unless, of course, she doesn’t notice, and isn’t bored. If it’s just emptiness but with this disease the emptiness has no negative connotation, then perhaps there’s nothing to worry about.

Mom’s still got a sense of humor, too. She asked my husband a question about something that had happened in the past, and he answered right away. “You’ve got a good memory,” she said. “And you know, I don’t.”

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