Undeniable likeness of Helen, Vol. 2

One of the staples to each visit with Mom is a review of recent photos. I take my iPad and we swipe through photos of Matt, me, and our families. I fill her in on the stories around some of the photos. She couldn’t look any less interested. However, she typically perks up when photos of Eliza pop up. They hold her gaze a little longer.

I have mentioned to Katie and Matt before on how I believe Eliza looks like my mom. Some photos are beautifully similar.

 

 

The chins.  The laugh-lines.  The shape of their faces.  The noses (a little bit).

The power of Helen is strong in Eliza.  It is comforting.  I love it.  Mom would love it too.

 

A break from tradition.

I’m going to break with tradition today. Today’s blogpost is dedicated to my Dad.

I have an iPad on its last legs, plugged it in to transfer old photos and whatnot off of it. I found this gem from last Thanksgiving.

The discussion went like this.

Dad: I’m going to get this for Eliza.

Me: No you’re not.

Dad: Yeah.  She’d like this.  She needs this.

Me: No. It’s too big to live in our house.

Dad: I’m going to get this for her.

Me: No.

Dad: Yeah.  Then I going cut the back open, get inside it, and then scare the shit out of her!

Me: No.

Dad: Too scary?

Me: No.  I’m all for that part.  It’s just that you’re not tall enough to fill it out.

Dad: Huh…(looks the bear up and down slowly)…huh…Well…huh…(keeps sizing it up with serious look on his face). Well…Shit.

 

I miss your irreverent sense of humor. I love you, Dad.  I miss you.

bear

The upcoming visit.


I got a call this afternoon.

“Hi Mr. DeMarco. It’s Lori from Berkeley Springs.  It’s not an emergency.”

I always appreciate they lead with the ‘not an emergency’ part.

“I wanted to call and tell you Helen has shingles. Did she have chicken pox as a kid?”

I have no clue. I assume so. She was hell-bent on Matt and I having playdates with the kids in our neighborhood who got chicken pox first, anxious for us to get it out of the way.

“Mr. DeMarco, we are going to isolate Helen for now. She started on medication.  It’s a 7-day supply, she should be fine after that.”

I ask if she is in pain or is it itchy.

“Nothing seems to be scratchy, and there doesn’t seem to be any pain, nothing seems to hurt.”

The nurse ends the call with reassuring and kinds words. They always do.  My mind started wandering after ‘scratchy’.  I’m in another place in my head.  I mumble a thank you and a bye.

I’m in my head, thinking of what my Mom will look like when I see her over the Labor Day weekend. I wonder what we will talk about.  More accurately, what will I talk to her about?  There have been a lot of changes recently.

It’s 3:30am. Eliza woke up from a bad dream.  I had her crawl into bed with Katie and I.  She is asleep between us with her little knees in my back.  I can’t get back to sleep.  I keep repeating over and over in my head, “nothing seems to be scratchy, and nothing seems to hurt.”

From my side of the bed I can look out past the balcony. I can see the wind blowing the leaves of our breadfruit tree.  My bad dream hits.  I panic and get hot.  My mouth goes dry.  It’s the situational-sadness that jumps up into your throat and you can’t talk, you can’t describe it.  It just chokes you.

I’m glad Katie and Eliza are asleep. I feel like I now have time to feel this way.  I’m isolated.

It’s my bad dream. My parents are both gone, one to death, and one to disease.  And then the question hits.

Do I tell my Mom that my Dad died?

Do I tell her he is gone? Do I tell her the father of her boys is gone?

How do I say it?

She may not have the mental capacity to remember my father. She may not have the mental capacity to understand that he is dead.  But there is a muscle memory to love.

Would her heart feel scratchy? Would her heart feel pain?

When I visit, we will look at pictures and videos of Eliza, Katie, Matt and Josh, the island, and our new home. I’ll tell her about my new job.  I’ll tell her we see stingrays and sea turtles every time we go to the beach.  I’ll tell her I make a good Italian-style meatloaf.  I’ll admit, again, that my chicken and rice soup isn’t as good as hers. We’ll talk small talk and WVU football.

I’ll run out of things to talk about. I’ll struggle on whether I tell her about my Dad.  It’ll linger in the pit of stomach.  It’ll feel scratchy.  It will hurt.  Do I tell her?

Morning is now slowly coming over the mountain. I feel like shit.  I’m exhausted.  Eliza’s little knees are still in my back.  I’m sad.  I’m sad for my Mom.  She would want to know.  I’m torn.  Do I tell her?

I have a month to stew on this.

How do you say it? Is it quick like saying “hi”, or slowly, explaining all that I know.

I have the rest of her life to stew on this.

She would want to know. She may already feel it.  Maybe a confused and far away ache.

This is all new. I’m unsure on how you are supposed to live without your father.  I always assumed I would have more years to figure that part out.  I’ve learned to live with out a mother.  This is different.  It all changed over night.

Do I tell her?

This feels scratchy. This hurts.

The Continuing Education of the “New Normal”

The two hour drive from D.C. to Berkeley Springs gives me time to build my courage on the way there. I give myself a pep talks. Visits are difficult. They are incredibly emotional. Mom’s disease has stolen her, and I struggle with it at times.

Every mom visit is something new. She is talking less. She is less steady on her feet. She engages in eye contact in shorter intervals and keeps her head down. I consider this the continuing education of dementia.

Dementia is a horribly cruel disease. An easy fact to comprehend, and an excruciating fact to live.

Part of this education is physical and mental and learning the ever-changing capabilities of my mother. They seem to ebb and flow, continually decreasing little by little. These new levels of decline are what we call the new normal.

Part of this education is emotional and learning to accept watching your mother slowly disappear before your eyes. She lost her ability to engage in conversation, to feed herself, etc…. I remind myself of this to and from Berkeley Springs every visit. I am rational. I know this will never get better. I accept that. Doesn’t make it any less difficult.

Sunday’s visit was a new normal. Sitting down in the chair beside her wheelchair I smile and offer my ceremonial “Hi Mom!”

She stared at me for a little bit. It felt like a long stare. Silence feels heavy in those moments.

“Hi Mom.” Her response came out muffled and slightly slurred.

“I’m not Mom. What’s my name?” I am trying to keep smiling and sound upbeat.

She stared at me for a while. Her eyes are beautifully expressive. She stared and said nothing. She genuinely didn’t know who I was.

This didn’t feel like a temporary slip of the memory. She has confused me with someone before. I was Billy for a while.

There was a chunk of time after I came home from Liberia that she called me Billy. It lasted a few months. She had a brother named Billy. We’re both tall. Had beards. Handsome with charming smiles. I was Billy for a while but that passed and I became Joey again.

“I’m not Mom. What’s my name?” My second, third, fourth, and fifth attempt over the next hour come out flat, and like a whisper.

She’ll stare at me for about 30 seconds to a few minutes, then eventually lose interest and look away.

Over the next 45 minutes we periodically look at pictures of Matt and me, playing the game of pointing and asking “Who’s this?”

Matt is identified each time. With me there is silence. She stares at me, deeply, then looks away as if the question times out.

She has struggled to remember my name for about a two months. After a while she rattles it off. No harm no foul, and I think nothing of it. This, however, is different. She has no idea who I am.

The two hour drive from Berkeley Springs to DC gives the time to continue my emotional education on the way home. There is a new normal. I’m not her Joey DeMarco anymore. I’m not even Billy. I have become the polite stranger that comes to visit. I wasn’t ready for this part yet.

Matt is now the last man standing.