As a child, I thought my mother was literally ten feet tall. At 5’8”, she towered over me both in height and in authority.
During the last few years, osteoporosis has reduced her to almost the same height as me, 5’4”. Now we look at each other on equal footing, although I still emotionally look up to her.
Lately, Mom has seemed taller again – or maybe she’s just feistier.
For several months, she seemed content with her apartment in assisted living. “You’re so lucky,” I told her. “This is such a beautiful place.” I thought about Cove Creek, the assisted living facility in my book and how much Reverend G loves it.
“I don’t have to cook or clean here,” Mom said. “The food is good.”
But during my recent visit, Mom regressed back to the anger she felt when we first moved her. “I want to go home,” she repeated. “I can’t believe I’m here.”
No amount of placating seemed to help. None of my comments about how lucky she is made a dent in her attitude. She was back to anger and frustration, both of us ignoring the fact that Alzheimer’s would keep her out of her home for the rest of her earthly life.
Yet her dogged determination still persisted and in spite of everything, she complied with what we told her to do, especially when we came to pick her up and take her to an event. “Put in your hearing aid, Mom.” “You’d better put on a sweater. It’s cold outside.” “You’ll need your scarf. It’s windy.”
But I could tell that anger waited, right below the surface, along with confusion and the strange reality that is now her life.
After a family lunch together, we drove Mom back to the facility. She stepped out of the car and let me hug her, but she wouldn’t say, “I love you,” even though I said it first. I wanted so desperately to hear her say it. “I’m going back to Kansas,” I reminded her.
Won’t you please tell me that you love me? Can’t you forget the anger for a moment?
Instead, she walked away with that perfect posture back into the building – her shadow reflected on the windows as she proceeded down the hallway – back to her apartment, back to the place she doesn’t want to be.
I don’t want you there, either, and I don’t want you to struggle with Alzheimer’s.
I want to see her standing tall again over the kitchen sink or planting flowers in the garden or hanging wash on the line. My mother shouldn’t be 85 years old with her complexion as white as her hair.
This is not fair, God. I can’t stand it, and I’m sure Mom can’t either.
I wonder…what does she do during the nighttime hours? Does she cry for the life she once had or has she forgotten it entirely? Does she remember the confusion, how she passed out and needed a pacemaker? Does she realize the doctor told us she could no longer live alone?
Does she ever think of us, her children, and how we are feeling about this difficult family dynamic?
Does she know how proud I am of her that she still walks tall?