Saturday was a Mom visit. The visit was a difficult one.
When I arrived she was lying in bed. I stood in the doorway making small talk (me asking Mom questions and she repeating the question a few times over) when a nurse walked by. “I just put her down for a nap. She looked so tired all morning.” With that I decided we would break from our usual milkshake run for a morning in.
I struggle with these sometimes. I fell lost for things to say or do. In the breaks between questions I stare at her. I try to think about what she may be thinking about. What is happening inside her head? What does she think about when she turns her sometimes piercing stare at me? I want to tell her that I am sorry this is happening to her. I truly am. There are so many other things I would love to talk to her about. These are mornings in. They are hard for me. So is every car ride home after.
We looked at pictures. I showed her photos of her grandchild. This is so heart wrenching for me. I almost want to keep the photos to myself. Hold them for just me, like a secret I keep from her. It is not that I don’t want to show her. This is her grandchild. She has no other. I don’t want to deprive her of that. But I almost hold them back because I want more of a response. It is one of the things I want most from her. It is the one thing she is unable to give me.
After a few pictures I read a story instead. I know she is not listening. I am like the radio channel they play over the community ads on whatever channel she has playing on her television at that moment.
While reading I start thinking of all the things I want to be different. This is a road that always rips your heart to pieces, but you can’t stop yourself from going down. It’s compulsive. It is the same game you play when you’re driving down the highway, or lying in bed at night around the holidays. I can’t stop it, so I recognize it, and I make an honest list of all the things I wish my Mom would say to me, or talk to me about.
1) I wish my Mom would ask about her grandchild, Eliza Helen.
2) I want her to know that Eliza Helen is named after her, Helen Katherine.
3) I wish my Mom would sing to my child all the songs she would sing to Matt and me when we were babies.
4) I want to listen to her calm voice as she explains to me how to sooth a crying baby, or get her to sleep through the night.
5) I wish she would tell me how beautiful her grandbaby is.
6) I want to talk with her about what a great woman my wife is, what an amazing mother she is, and will be, and how lucky I am to be married to her and that as a parent she is happy I found a great partner.
7) I wish she would help me to ask the questions I don’t know that I didn’t know, but should.
8) I wish she could talk to me in the way parents do when you become an adult, and they become your friends.
9) I wish, just one more time, she could say, and understand what she is saying, not just parrot back the words, that she is proud of me.
I think of these things while I read. She has fallen asleep. I close out the book on my iPad. My background is a picture of a smiling Eliza. I close my eyes and visualize my mother holding her grandchild. The Kathy of long ago would have been the best grandmother.
The nurse comes in. It is time for Mom to eat lunch. I take that as my cue to head back to the highway, and back to DC.
On the way home I sing all the songs she sang to me as a child. I call my wife, who answers the phone while holding the baby, and I tell her I love her. I think about the book I going to read to Eliza when I get home as she is swaddled on my lap.
I drive on, staring out the window. These are hard mornings. I am sad, but I feel proud of myself. After all the terrible things we are all in the best places we can be. I want to smile about it, but I just can’t. I want my Mom to smile again, but she can’t. I think about how there are so many smiles are lost due to dementia.
Next week we’ll do it again.