‘Who’s that girl?’

I visited Mom a few days ago. I had gone to the doctor and ended up with a prescription for antibiotics after all. My doctor’s office is pretty close to the Alz center, so it was very convenient to stop in for a visit. And though I was still sick, my symptoms were under control and I didn’t think I’d be too contagious to stop in. I looked around the program area. Several residents were watching a movie in a darkened corner of the room. I looked around, specifically checking all the couches, and couldn’t locate Mom. An aide started walking with me back toward the lobby, thinking Mom might be on the other side. As I crossed the lobby, I spotted Mom and Mr. R coming in from the other side. When she saw me, she approached me and hugged me, and put her hands on both sides of my face and said, “Oh, I love you so much.” You have no idea, really, how unusual that still is, for Mom to be so expressive and loving and affectionate.

She took my hand, and the three of us walked toward the program area. We selected a couch, and Mom and Mr. R sat down. I pulled up a chair to sit across from them. I told Mom I had been sick so I hadn’t visited for awhile. I asked her how she was, if she was sleeping OK, if she had any aches or pains. She didn’t respond in any meaningful way. But she was content, sitting with her arms crossed on the couch. Mr. R talked to me a little bit, telling me about a house in the distance somewhere. I just nodded and agreed with him. I wasn’t sure if he was remembering a childhood home, or his most recent home before he entered the Alz center. It’s really hard to say. But he was engaging in more conversation with me than he ever had.

We all got quiet. I was tired. Mom looked tired. She looked thinner than she has looked in months. Her face was so interesting to me, just completely at peace. The Bonnie face of five or more years ago often had a knitted brow, an unsettled look. Something was often bothering her. She lived an anxious life. I described it tonight in support group as an odd gift of the disease – that she is now completely without worry. There is nothing to worry about, after all. I took a picture of her.

We probably sat there for about 20 minutes. I announced that it was time to go, that I had to pick up some medicine. I stood up and put on my coat, and I went and stood over Mom and said, “Can I hug you?” And she looked startled and looked up at me and said, “Who’s that girl?” I said, “It’s just me,” and we both laughed a little, even though that question broke my heart a little. I said I wanted to hug her goodbye, and she let me, and I kissed her cheek.

That is the second time that Mom has forgotten I was there while I was actually there. It was partly my fault this time, for sure, because I just sat quietly for part of the time, feeling too exhausted to try to engage in a meaningless conversation. I don’t mean to imply that it’s ever her fault. But I wonder if there are things I should be doing to prevent it. At support group, I wondered out loud if I should try to be touching her while I’m visiting – if I should sit and hold her hand. Or if I should visit when I know there will be music, so we can dance. Or if maybe next time neither of us will be as tired, so it will be just fine. Or if I am just thinking too much about it all. I admitted I am feeling a little selfish – that Mom forgetting me while I’m right there significantly decreases my interest in visiting. And I already have enough guilt about the fact I don’t really visit particularly often. It’s as if I’m trying to decide how it’s going to be from here on out, like we’ve turned a corner. And I know better than that – there is no way to know with this disease how it’s going to be from one day, one minute, to the next.

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10 comments so far

  1. David Hoover on

    Maybe you’re attempting to apply logic, rational thinking, and “outdated” realities on something you can’t control. I understand the response of trying to remedy or fix the situation, but you can’t. You are so fortunate your mom is content and well taken care of. I hope you never blame yourself for her condition of think you could or should “fix” it. What an amazing journey that you are so brave to share.

    D.

  2. momsbrain on

    Hi, David. I think you make good points. I am very lucky Mom is content and has such great care. And I suppose I am looking for a fix – not for Mom’s condition, but for how my visits go. And I don’t like admitting I have no control over that… Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. margaret massey on

    I love the picture. She looks so content and tough, in the sense of appearing self-assured and complete in herself.

    Enjoyed the honesty of this article, as usual!

  4. momsbrain on

    Hi, Meg – Yes, I love the way she looks here, too. Thanks for the comment!

  5. lisa on

    My mother was also a very anxious woman and very very depressed. Though she has moments of anxiousness still when she is sundowning, the depression has nearly faded with the onset of Alzheimer’s. It IS a blessing…just one so far that I can find in this terrible disease.

  6. momsbrain on

    Lisa, I know you are really struggling. I just visited your blog today. I’m sorry you are experiencing such prolonged sadness. You are right, it’s hard to find any blessings in this disease. I just feel relieved that Mom has been able to shed that anxiety that dogged her for so much of her life. I’m glad the same is true for your mom. I hope you, too, will get some relief soon.

  7. Laura on

    I love the picture!

  8. momsbrain on

    Laura: I think she looks like the Virginia Woolf print in this photo – a LOT.

  9. Jeff on

    I love this picture too. It’s funny you mention the Virginia Woolf print, because when we were younger (or maybe just me) I thought it was a picture of her. My first reaction was that she looks like the portrait painted of her by the Spanish artist. No worry on that face, just hanging out and smoking. i wonder where that painting is.

  10. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jeff – Yeah, my knowledge of that painting is sketchy. I’ve never fully understood the story behind it. I think I always knew the Virginia Woolf print was Virginia Woolf, but it always reminded me of Mom.


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