Messy Thanksgiving

Last year, I remember that I arrived a little late for the Alz center Thanksgiving dinner, and Mom had gotten agitated, and it was hard for her to shake that emotion. What a difference this year has made. I was alone last year because Patrick had a class. This year, he joined me and we got to the center later than most people, but before the food had arrived for anyone. When we got there, staff members pointed us to our table. “Good luck rounding up Bonnie to sit here,” someone said. Patrick and I went to find Mom and Mr. R sitting in a distant corner, on chairs against a wall because their couches had been moved to make room for all the extra people. Mom saw me and stood up and came to me and hugged me. I asked her if she wanted to come sit with me and Patrick at a table for dinner, and she said yes. And we asked Mr. R to join us. Mom and Mr. R sat together with Patrick next to him and me next to Mom.

I asked Patrick to take a picture of me with Mom. Her hair had been recently cut, and it is shorter than usual. I should also note that she has had this shirt on just about every time I have visited her lately. I imagine they might be letting her pick out her clothes. She had just a bit of body odor. And her pink pants were spotty, too, but that could have been from today’s breakfast and lunch.

Mom and me, before dinner arrived.

Mr. R’s food arrived first. I can’t help mentioning that he had no family there; I’ve only ever heard that he has a son. Then my plate arrived. And a short while later, Mom’s and Patrick’s plates were served. It’s an all-hands-on-deck event for the center staff, and they do their best with the serving of more than double the number of people they usually feed. Mom had been holding a comb when we first arrived, and it was lying on the table. She picked it up and started to use it as a utensil. I didn’t even notice at first. I took the comb and wrapped it in a napkin and put a fork and spoon on Mom’s plate as a guide. And she picked up a knife and started to use it as her main utensil of choice. She would stab her sweet potatoes and lift them to her mouth. Sometimes she would make it and sometimes food ended up on her shirt. Same with turkey and a few bites of mashed potatoes. She drank plenty of water. She pointed to the stuffing on my plate and said it was ugly. She really didn’t eat very much. She has an unfortunate habit of sort of poking at her food in a way that stirs it up. She eventually reached across the table and took one of Patrick’s sweet potatoes, which prompted him to dump the rest of his yams onto her plate. And she placed a napkin over her food. “Rest in peace, food,” Patrick joked. “Is he talking about his pants?” Mom asked. She later retrieved the napkin and took another bite or two. She went through several utensils, as well, and I went through about four napkins cleaning off her shirt and her face. Because she was using her knife, she sometimes scooped big bites into her mouth, and left a lot on her lips and cheeks in the process.

Mom made a mess of the table, and dropped a lot of food on herself.

I ordered her a piece of pumpkin pie. She ate all of that, mostly with a knife, and in this order: whipped cream, pumpkin filling, crust. Mr. R ate about half of his pecan pie, and then his fork broke. We offered him a clean spoon, but he declined. Mom picked up his pie and considered eating it, too, but perhaps because the broken fork was still on the plate, she put it down.

We didn’t talk a whole lot. I asked her if she liked the food. If she’s been sleeping OK. If she has any aches or itchy parts. Patrick admired her haircut. When it was clear we were done eating, she looked at me and said, “Wanna go?” Mr. R had been sullen through most of the meal. Mom would touch his leg or rub his arm. At one point she touched him and said, “I love you.” She told me he is a good husband. I knew when dinner was over that he was ready to go. And truth be told, Patrick and I were ready, too. So we all got up, excused ourselves to the two other families at our table, and followed Mom and Mr. R down the hall. “We’ve been banished from the building,” I joked to staff members having their own dinner in the hallway after serving us ours. In the lobby, which was crowded, Mom turned to us and waved in a way as if she were asking us to follow her. We caught up a little bit. And then she turned, and they kept walking away, toward the other wing. “Should we say goodbye?” Patrick asked. “There’s really no need to,” I replied.

8 comments so far

  1. patwhite67 on


    I am sorry to hear of your mom’s recent loss in her ability to use eating utensils. My mom’s, as you know, began a year ago.

    You were strong to let your mom be and not insist on the fork. My mom puts unusual things together. For instance she will spread her toast in the morning with her moistened cereal! Her aide says she eats, so I guess that’s what matters.

    Thank you so very much for your note. I look forward to seeing you at support group after Thanksgiving. Pat

  2. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    Not gonna lie this is pretty depressing. For whatever reason the whole utensil thing never crossed my mind. I started reading your blog when you were still taking your Mom out to Bob Evan’s for lunch.

    It is really tough to see your parents change in such a short amount of time. Take care and hope you have a better Thanksgiving next week.

  3. Gemma on

    Emily, I love the picture of you with Bonnie. There is something about her expression that is touching. Thanks for sharing. Gemma

  4. momsbrain on

    Pat: I guess Mom’s utensil use is evolving (or devolving). Maybe having so many people around discouraged her from using her hands, or, maybe not. Always hard to know what might be in her mind. Thank you for commenting, and I look forward to seeing you again at group.

    Jennifer: I appreciate what you said. It is depressing. And then again, sometimes funny, depending on my mood. Mom certainly knows how to get the sweets into her mouth so she hasn’t given up on food, that’s for sure.

    Gemma: I like her expression, too. Patrick had to get her attention a few times. She kept looking at me. I found myself looking at her face a lot. No signs of strain there, and that’s a good thing.

  5. Megan on

    Have to second the comment on the wonderful picture. It’s great! It’s also nice to have a face to attach to the stories of your mom now.

  6. momsbrain on

    Megan, thanks! And I know what you mean about the face helping with the reading. I like that, too.

  7. mirroredImages on

    It is a good picture. Sorry to read about some of the challenges you faced at the meal. Sounds like me trying to feed my kids when they were younger — or when they don’t want to eat what I put in front of them. You’re a good daughter. And this is good writing.

  8. momsbrain on

    Thanks, mirroredimages. I do think I’m experiencing something resembling parenting sometimes.

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