Face time

It was Sunday, and a week and a half had passed since I last visited with Mom when Laura was here. I thought it was high time that I pay Mom a visit. But I have to admit, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for it. I don’t know why – I didn’t have any specific feeling of dread. My heart just wasn’t in it. And I didn’t stay very long.

On the way to the program area, I ran into the son of a resident, someone I had seen at a few support group meetings. His mom is young, only in her early 60s, I believe. She has had some kind of dementia-type disease for some time. Her mother is still alive and does not really approve of having her daughter in the Alz center. So there is tension in the family. The son and I paused to chat. I said I always try to greet his mother, who is often lying on a couch in the sunny hallway between the lobby and the program area. She never seems to notice but I say hi and call her by name anyway. He thanked me for doing that. He asked about Mom, and I said, “She has a boyfriend, and that keeps her busy.” Many people who hear about the boyfriend seem to first think it’s weird, then funny, then a really nice thing. All true.

I found Mom and Mr. R on their usual couch in the program area. It was just after lunch, and some residents were still eating. As I approached, Mom waved at me. I sat next to her on the couch. She was dirty again, with food stains on her shirt and her white pants. She had socks on but no shoes. She was as pleasant as ever. I asked her a few routine questions – how she’s feeling, is she sleeping well, does anything hurt. Has she seen the little kids lately. We didn’t talk a whole lot. Mr. R was pretty quiet, but not unpleasant.

We just sort of sat and appreciated each other’s company. One resident walked by, a tall man, and because he didn’t pick up his feet, his shoes made loud squeaking noises. Mom and I had a chuckle about that. A man sitting on a nearby chair introduced himself to me: “I’m John,” he said. He is actually Mr. R’s roommate. I have seen him before – he sometimes comes out of his room with a robe on and carrying a cup of coffee and a book. He seems fairly young and with it. I told him I am Emily, Bonnie’s daughter, and we both said, “Nice to meet you.” An activities staff member came around to ask if residents wanted to work on a craft. She didn’t bother to ask Mom and Mr. R, who I believe are known not to participate much. She asked John if he was interested, and he said no. But not in an unkind way. He got up and sat elsewhere in the program area. I am curious about him, I must admit.

A nursing aide approached us and said to me, “Your sister?” She was asking me if I was Mom’s sister. “She’s my mother,” I said. And she said how much she enjoys looking at the poster of family and friends in Mom’s room, and repeatedly said that Mom is beautiful. And I agreed. And Mom smiled. And the aide went on her way. And I felt a little stunned, wondering if I could look old enough to be Mom’s sister. I don’t mind looking my age. I am 44, close to 45. I am lucky enough to have good skin. I do have gray hair framing my face, but most of my hair is brown. And I refuse to cover the gray. But still, I would prefer not to be mistaken for a significantly older woman. I can’t deny it. I told Patrick about this, about my chagrin at the suggestion that Mom and I could be sisters. And he said it’s because Mom looks young. And that is true. And I thought about this – I do have a tendency to set my face into a frown, or a look of discontent, something like that. With a knitted brow and a slack mouth. And I am sure that expression ages me quite a bit. But with neurosis comes such expressions, I think, and I am a fretful person. Meanwhile, Mom is at complete peace. For so much of her adult life, she worried. She had anxiety and depression. And I imagine it showed on her face, too. But now, she is worry-free, and doesn’t have a care in the world. And it shows on her face. I think there is probably a lesson in that.

7 comments so far

  1. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    I have to laugh at your post. I am totally showing my age. It is startling to look in the mirror and see myself. I am the youngest of my siblings. They are all looking “middle aged” as am I. It’s a disturbing revelation:)

    You look great! Your Mom looks very young.

    I am not photogenic and I hate having my picture taken. I also have the gifted gene of closing my eyes when someone takes a picture.

    I took my Mom to get her hair done today. My brother, who is a photographer, stopped by. My mom has been asking him to take a picture of her for her obituary. We went to Loose Park in KC. It was actually quite fun. She was posing for pictures and completely enjoyed the outing. Something that could have been depressing was actually quite fun. It was a beautiful day and the Rose Garden that my Mom helped to start many years ago was in full bloom.

  2. Gemma on

    Like Jennifer, I had to laugh too. In sympathy! They moved my office and I go to a different bathroom, one with a window next to the mirror. Imagine my shock when I glimpsed my crow’s feet in natural light for the first time! I secretly (or not) pride myself on no gray hairs but that sight sure brought me down.

    As for the comparison to Bonnie. I think you’re right in some sense — both your appearances are marked by stress (and lack of it). But I love your face. Not frowny or discontent. I think of you as sunny with a dash of pragmatism.

  3. Tom on

    I assure you that you do NOT look like your mom’s sister! I can relate however, to the insecurity of middle age. I’ll occasionally see my reflection in a store window and think “who’s that guy?”.

  4. momsbrain on

    I guess I (not so inadvertently) fished for compliments on this one… thanks, all.

    Jennifer: I’m glad that photo shoot turned out so well.

    Gemma: Your description (sunny + pragmatism) sounds good to me.

    Tom: I have a new computer with a big monitor, and every morning I see a giant reflection of my face before I turn it on. It can be startling!

  5. Sherri on

    I think you look rather young in your photos – your mom too. I would not say that I would guess you anywhere close to being your mom’s sister, though. Maybe it was the way you were interacting with her too. Anyway, I don’t think of you as “frowny” either. People often think I’m younger than I am, but.. lately, I seem my face close up or in some photos and think, “oh no – I DO look my age” :-).

  6. Andrea Carlisle on

    So…how old was this aide? I think there’s a certain age bracket, say 1-29, who look at anyone over 30 and think they’re all approximately the same age. I once did this myself.
    But, more to the point, your reluctance to visit your mother on this day, your curiosity about her life and her friends, your devotion to tracking her experience (and yours) through this blog are all interesting to me, and I plan to continue reading. You’re a good writer, a rare find among bloggers who so often want to just dash something off.
    My mother, who just turned 95, does not have this disease, but as a daughter/caregiver there is a lot for me to identify with here. Thanks.

  7. momsbrain on

    Hi, Sherri! I don’t know – I think you look really similar to how you looked at OU in the 80s. Aging very gracefully, I’d say.

    Andrea – the aide probably was fairly young, maybe mid 30s? It’s hard for me to tell, too. It just sort of took me by surprise.

    Thanks for your comments about my blog. I have enjoyed writing it, and have benefited from the feedback and the reflection that it offers. I will have to check yours out. And you make a good point: I think just about anyone with aging parents can relate to lots of this stuff. There is so much common ground…

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