“Good Morning,” what a beautiful entrance to the day , the sun is shining, and a little black bushy tail squirrel is racing from limb to limb on the mighty oak tree just outside the window..
She beams a big delightful gummy smile. She is looking in my general direction, but her eyes don’t see clearly because of cataracts. What she recalls is what has been etched in her failing memory log of that which is me.
But… this moment, this connection is well.. priceless..fleeting. Elusive like the wave on the seashore, it will not be held back, it can be captured and witnessed for that moment, but it cannot be held back, and so it slips into infinity. But it was there. Such a gift, so worth it.
The breakfast tray arrives on her bed. I announce the arrival of cream of wheat with brown sugar. I ask her if she would also like a spot of tea to accompany her meal . Every bite and sip needs to be sold, and so I embellish , and coax her to open her mouth and , say “ aah” and accept what comes next. She is polite…most of the time, saying thank you. There are times when she spits the food back out at me, or makes the face of someone who has just been given something horrifically sour.
I make myself laugh thinking about the fact that this plastic face guard that I wear also protects me from projected spit up food. I may have to install wind shield wipers.
Accepting where she is right now. This is not an “ easy pill to swallow.” Don’t even get me started on the bitter taste of her meds. The choking on the crushed medicine strategically camouflaged, but without success in the spoonful of raspberry jam.
At times she seems bitter at her present state, but other times she is transported somewhere else talking to invisible people in the room, reaching for them and having conversations. I just engage with the characters that I cannot see, and join in the conversation with her and them.
I had invisible friends when I was a young girl, so perhaps my Mother is getting hers now when she needs them most for comfort .
I located a cd with gospel hymns being sung out by Mahalia Jackson. She had mentioned to me some time ago, that she and Dad ( her Dad, Arnley Denzin,) loved to listen to her . I hope the other residents at her long term care home enjoy the concert sounds coming from her room.
Not gonna lie, sometimes I have been asked to turn the music down, so as to not disturb other residents. From what I have observed, when spontaneous hymn sings erupt after exercise class, from the doorways of their rooms, wheelchairs holding precious people begin singing. Heaven comes down to earth . It does the heart good to watch, and be a part of.
The trolley of beverages and snacks arrived, and warm tea with milk and sugar, and peach yogurt is offered. Party in the hall. Well of course within reason, but it raises the morale of all of us combined.
Smiles with missing teeth, tangled and greying hair, and voices lifted that remember the words from the hymns. It is miraculously uplifting.
It can be an exercise in patience at times. Mostly hers with me. Often I am tolerated. It is a dance. She feels as if she doesn’t belong here. I recall her Mother in her mid nineties inquiring what she was doing in this place with so many old people?
We don’t seem to see our true selves in the mirror ever. As I am middle aged now, I look back at photos of myself in my twenties, when I thought I was “ husky”( love that word,) and recognize that’s when I was slim, and didn’t even appreciate it. Too often looking for the next phase in life to get to rather than being in the here and now.
Lord, give me eyes to truly see myself and others as you see us. People to be loved… and yes I broke into an impromptu prayer right there…a request, a beseeching.
In real time, not looking back, just the now. Acknowledging and being grateful for age spots, imperfections, graying hair, knarled and arthritic hands, eyes that can no longer see, but stories when read, and spoken of, will often elicit an elusive memory that spills forward.
She giggles when I speak a German phrase, knowing exactly what it means. It is astounding. We laugh. Being read to is so enjoyable and decadent. It feels luxurious when somebody takes the time.
Books on audible, and many other platforms are such big business. When our eyes fail, and we can no longer read the words, we can listen to somebody telling us a story.
My kids used to love when I would just tell them stories before bed. Big adventures in particular of a man who lived alone on an island would have them on the edge of their seats. Most times I never knew where the script would lead me, I just let it unfold until they would get sleepy, and then continue the tale the next night.
It must be the voice of someone familiar that you love, speaking words in your ears, that allow relaxation, and slumber. Mum often falls asleep as I am reading. I am happy for that .
I found a new book, that I’m going to take in next time. I bought it for Mum thinking it would be a good read with short stories of encouragement and hope. I know it will be that for me also.
I told her it was going to be March, and her birthday is this month. She was surprised. I asked her if she knew how old she would be? She shook her head. I said well,
“ you will be 103..”
She gasped, and I said,
“ just kidding just 83..”
We both laughed.. “ aren’t you relieved to know how young you really are?”
Honestly, she still seemed horrified.. but seems to sense joking and humor, and it lightens the mood. Redirection is the name of the game when agitation or extreme confusion ensues. Fighting to find her right words to say causes her to shake her head, and clench her jaw in frustration.
I tell her.. “ it’s ok..” and begin reading again… The pieces of the puzzle are scattered about, with some of them permanently missing, but we work with the misshapen ones that remain. My Mum loved puzzles, and would diligently sit working away at them for hours on end. She loved the 3D ones where she constructed buildings too. I never had the patience for them, but I was entranced by how engaged she would be by them .
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” -Plato
I show her a teddy bear, and put it in her arms. I tell her, “ you made this.” She is shocked and amazed. I tell her you are a crafty and talented woman. She listens as if she was a child receiving praise for an achievement for the first time.
“Words of affirmation” just may be one of her love languages.
I opened up her window to let some fresh air in. I asked her if she could feel the breeze? She answered in a quiet voice,
“ yes, it feels good”
We need to go outside. She needs to feel the sun on her face.. It’s been a long time.
March 1..bring on Spring, and new blooms, and thawing of hearts and minds, and flowers and trees.
Mud puddles, and melting ice , and tad poles, and the promise of new life awakening. The long slumber of winter and pandemic needs to fade into the grey, because we need to be with our people again.
We need to smell the flowers, and dance in the puddles, and walk with bare feet through the fresh green grass.