I’d been writing for an hour in the chair across the room from where Mom was resting. She often likes me to just be with her. They call it, ‘shadowing’ and it’s supposed to be reassuring. My chores were done, and it was so nice to have a little bit of quiet time to myself. I was lost in writing and research for my book, “Bread Madness.”
Then I heard my mother call out my deceased Aunt’s name. From the time I was a kid, Mom called me Barbara, but I didn’t mind it. I knew she meant me. She sometimes called my sister our dog’s name, ‘Twister’ so it was not something to get upset about. I went to see what she wanted.
“Get away! Where’s Barbara?” she yelled to me when I tried to sit next to her.
“Can I get you anything?” I went to put my arm around her shoulders but she pulled away.
“I don’t like you!” she said to me through clenched teeth. Distraction wasn’t working.
I knew I should just let her sit quietly and wait for the mood to pass. I tried to resist the urge to ask her, “Do you know who I am?” I failed, asked the question, and searched her face for some sign of recognition. Perhaps the problem is that neither of us recognize the other. We are so different – both of us – from whom we used to be. I was a brunette, but my hair is almost white in the front now and I wear glasses almost all the time, which is not the way she remembers me. I took the glasses off.
I thought I detected a hint of recognition in her eyes, but she threw me a curve. “I want the other one! Where is she? She was here this morning.”
I had to laugh a little. If this was a comedy skit, we’d all think it was funny. I hadn’t meant to make her anxious, but I was tempted to leave the room and come back with a different sweater on.
“What? What did you say?” She had a strange, faraway look that made HER look like someone other than my mother.
“I said there’s no other lady. Just me. I’m your daughter, Hillary.”
“I don’t care if you’re the man in the moon. Get away from me!” She thrust her chin out. Her hands are small but powerful, and she clenched them into fists. She has a grip of iron, and a temper to match, so when she gets like this, I make a quick exit. I make sure she’s safe and I keep an eye on her, but basically I leave the room and wait for her to ‘sleep it off.’
“O.K. Mama.” My friend John coached me in the beginning to just say okay when she acted up. When she first came to live with me, I’m afraid we ‘locked horns’ quite often, just like we did when I was a teenager. It was really hard for me to do, but I came to see the wisdom of his words. His mother had suffered with Alzheimer’s, and although I had worked in a nursing home during the summer between high school and college, I had never really experienced the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde thing before this.
‘Don’t take it personally,’ I reminded myself. And at least she wasn’t repeating herself. I sat down to write again:
So, when your mother doesn’t recognize you,
Or if she accuses you of stealing all her stuff,
Or if she asks you just one more time where her mother is,
Or her brother, or father or sister,
Or, if she demands to see the death certificate of the husband who died 29 years ago,
Or cannot be calmed that there is no body in the bed upstairs,
Or if she is not convinced that she didn’t go dancing last night
Or that she must make supper for the baby,
Or that she just took a bath last night,
Or she insists her teeth are in her mouth when they clearly are not,
And she misses her mouth and pours her tea on her plate,
And asks where her glass of milk is that is in front of her
Or where the bathroom is
Or whether her bed is her bed
Just smile, and say, okay.