“Reach out your hands! What color is the light coming out of your fingertips?”
As I walk through the active living part of my mom’s memory care facility, I note with some interest the very (handsome) young man leading yoga today. There is always something going on in this central section and I navigate my way down along the edge, as if I were trying to avoid the perfume spritzers at a department store.
“Blue!” “Blue!” a couple of residents shout. Cute yoga instructor (must take note of his scheduled classes), comments that we have a lot of blue.
Defiantly, another man shouts out “Orange.” Good for you, I think to myself, happy to smile about something before I turn the corner.
Around that corner is Mom’s section of the facility, with the most impaired residents. There are no yoga classes or shouts of joy here. Most are in wheelchairs, unable to walk, and very few are verbal. Mom is mostly non-verbal. Considering the number of rounds we have gone together in my 50 years, you would think I would welcome the silence.
The September 2014 stroke that took most of her speech, amazingly, left her only able to say the “Hail, Mary.” As you commented at the time, those grooves must be worked pretty deep in her brain. She was not in a Catholic facility, but everyone on staff learned the Hail, Mary. At one point, we investigated moving her into a home run by a Jewish organization but weren’t sure how well the Hail, Mary would go down there.
Although I get many kudos for being a great daughter and caretaker/organizer, I am not. I hate coming here. I usually last about 15 minutes before leaving in frustration and unbearable sadness. I can’t speak with her, she does not register recognition of me at all. She doesn’t recognize anyone in pictures, our kids or pets. Sometimes I help feed her but other than that what can I do?
Sometimes there is a jarring moment when one of the staffers says “You look just like her.” While smiling and thanking her, I inwardly cringe. This is what I look like? I never thought we looked that much alike and we haven’t always had the easiest relationship. If I am honest, I have tried to distance myself from her. We have been hard on each other. Many times I felt abandoned by her. There have been a lot of harsh words, particularly when Mom was suffering from the “sundowning” syndrome afflicting so many with dementia. You know it’s the disease but…. maybe not so much. Then to be told I look like her? Aagh. Is this going to be my future? Am I going to be trapped in a wheelchair completely dependent in a fog of dementia?
With mom at my wedding, mid-eye roll
Last week I just decided to sit with her. No pictures, very little talking. I just sat and held her hand and stroked her hair. NB: we were not a touchy-feely family so this is learned behavior for me. It is funny now to see someone who was so protective of her personal space, relish the contact. Mom loves to have her hands and hair stroked now. It’s almost like watching a cat leaning into your hand and purring. And you know what? I didn’t have the urge to flee or cry. If God is in the silence, I am pretty sure Mary was with us, too.
Literally staring my mortality in the face didn’t even get me to leave this time. As we sat and held hands, I was prepared to accept the part of my mom that is me, even if I didn’t like it and even if it hurt me. I can take it. That was the light I saw in my hand that day. What a shock that after all the talking, it would be silence that brought us peace.
So here is my question for you today, what color light is shooting out of your fingertips?