Gone 18 days. Not yet forgotten.

I let 18 days pass between visits with Mom. I think that’s the most days that have passed between visits since she became sick. It wasn’t planned. But it became deliberate. I washed her cold-weather clothes and packed them in her little portable hamper and carried them around in my car for more than a week. And continued to not visit. One day I had planned to see her during lunch on a work day. But it rained like crazy that day and I didn’t want to go out in that while carting around clean clothes. I was away for a short retreat and thought I’d go on the day I returned, when I had a little open afternoon time. But I got back later than planned and instead Patrick and I went out to get our Christmas tree. Finally, today, I went to see her, and to swap out her lighter clothes for some warmer tops and pants.

When I got there, I put the hamper by Mom’s door and went looking for her. She was walking around across the program area. I went up to her and said, “I’m Emily.” She looked at me with a little bit of doubt, but said, “Really?” And she reached out to me and we had a nice hug. She took my hand and we started walking. I said I wanted to go to her room to hang up her clothes, and she agreed to come along. She sat on her bed and immediately started handling the hangers I had put there. They got all tangled up, and she held them up to me and said, “Can you do this?” I took them and sorted them out and hung them up. Mr. R appeared at the door. Mom got up to greet him and I heard him say, “Shame on you.” He seemed mad. I decided not to let it get to me and said, “[Mr. R], why don’t you come in here and sit with Mom?” He came in and sat next to her. I hung up Mom’s clothes and took out T-shirts and light pants and put them in the hamper to bring home with me. Mr. R decided to leave the room, but Mom stayed.

And I stayed for a bit. Mom’s roommate is dying. She is “on her journey,” her daughter said. Her daughter is a regular at support group and mentioned last week that her Mom had seemed to take a bad turn. On Monday of last week, she was up and about and very active. Tuesday, she was very sick, had terribly low blood pressure and refused to eat. By Wednesday, at support group, her daughter had spent two days with her mother, not sure what to expect. She had received calls at home both mornings at 6 a.m. from the nursing staff expressing concern. “I’m ready to let my mom go,” she said at support group. Her mother lived with her for about seven years and has been at the Alz center for four years. I talked to her for awhile about what’s going on. She talked constantly to her mother. I talked a little bit to her mother, and patted her on the shoulder. She is in a wheelchair. Her face looks very relaxed, but also tired. “I always hoped it wouldn’t happen in the winter,” her daughter said. “But we don’t have a say in how or when this happens.” I told her that I might see her again because I’d like to visit more frequently. She said, “It’s really OK if you don’t because your Mom is OK.” I appreciate that about her – her mother had a boyfriend years ago and she visited less frequently during that time, too. I gave her a hug.

I feel choked up about this loss. I don’t really know the patient well, even though she is Mom’s roommate. But I have befriended the daughter and have sympathy for all she has been through. I left her alone with her mom and encouraged Mom to go out in the program area and sit with Mr. R. We joined him on a couch for a bit, with Mom in the middle. I had to hold back some tears. I cut Mom’s fingernails. I accidentally clipped a little bit of her skin and she jumped, but mostly didn’t seem upset or in any lingering pain. I sat quietly and asked Mom a few questions. She answered in a vague way. At one point, she looked at her belly and said, “I’m not pregnant.” Her disposable underwear were a little bunchy so her gut was protruding a little bit. I said, “Of course you’re not. And that’s a good thing.” Mostly she didn’t really look in my direction or acknowledge me. She held Mr. R’s hand or placed her hand on his leg. His other hand had very dry skin, and he scratched at it from time to time.

So despite the long gap between visits, I think Mom still recognized that I am her person. I THINK. It’s hard to know for sure, though she at least felt connected enough to me to hug me hello and goodbye and to cheerfully hold my hand for a little while. And I liked that.

7 comments so far

  1. Andrea Carlisle on

    Of course not forgotten. Even if she forgot you in her mind, her body remembers you, even remembered you as you were sitting close and she made that reference to pregnancy. Some might think the remark was random based on the bunchiness of the Depends or whatever they were, but I believe she knew deep within that you are and always will be part of one another.

    You write so touchingly about her, and about others. Thank you for sharing her experience, your experience.

  2. Cameron Smith on

    Thanks for all you do Emily Caldwell.

  3. Karin S. on

    “I am her person”–that phrase really touched me, Emily. Alzheimer’s is such a long process of becoming untethered from the things that have grounded us, isn’t it? You are a good daughter.

  4. Sherri on

    So sorry to hear about what your mom’s roommate’s family is going through – knowing that they will lose her soon. I can relate in a different way; my dad, as you know had cancer. It is hard any way you look at it.

    You do write so sweetly and directly about your mom. I think this is such a valuable thing that you do here – let people in, share experiences, recount your mom in this time in her life – remember the old Bonnie :-), etc.

    Hope you guys are doing well this holiday season.

  5. momsbrain on

    Andrea: Thank you for your kind comments. I think you describe it nicely, that she knows that somehow I am a part of her, and she is a part of me.

    Cam: Thank you for visiting the blog!! I hope you are well.

    Karin: That is actually how Mom has described me at times, as her person. And yes, it is a long process of letting go of many things.

    Sherri: Yes, the roommate’s experience is as close as I have come to witnessing the process of dying. And of course, I got only a glimpse. Our former neighbor also just lost his mother to cancer, and he and his siblings and wife were with her for her last days. His wife updated us on Facebook. It sounded beautiful and horrible at the same time. We are good; hope your family is having fun!

  6. Jeff on

    I’m glad I can be there in a little over a week.

  7. momsbrain on

    Jeff: Me, too!

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