Hope Returns with a Bossy Mom

Several weeks ago, I drove to Oklahoma and spent an afternoon with Mom. For the first time in months, she was fairly lucid, bossing me, like her old self.heart - sunset

We took a walk around the perimeter of the assisted living facility, discussed the geese who sometimes fly onto the pond for a drink or goose fellowship – whatever geese do.

Mom remarked how nice the facility is and how glad she is to live there – a reversal of the attitude she sometimes displays when she demands, “Why am I here? Why did you kids do this to me?”

Heartache piled upon guilt.

But on this day, she seemed grateful, and I saw in her the personality I grew up with – the bossy Mom who made sure her kids read at least seven books each week, practiced their musical instruments and worked hard to complete their chores and finish their homework.

Suddenly, we were transported decades back as Mom became herself:

“You need to hem up those pants you’re wearing. They’re dragging on the ground.”

“I did hem them, Mom.”

“Well, you need to do it again – another inch at least.”

“Okay, Mom. When I get home.”

Then we walked to the dining room. Mom instructed me where to sit. “Grab that chair over there. Someone else will sit beside me.”

As the meal was served, Mom worried that I wasn’t eating. “How come you don’t have a plate? Do you want me to order one for you?”

“No. I stopped at Braum’s two hours ago. I’m not hungry.”

“Well, you’ll be hungry by morning. Do you want a cookie? I’ll get you a cookie.”

“No, thanks. I eat gluten free.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m allergic to wheat.”

“Well, that can’t be right. You grew up on a wheat farm and we had bread for every meal.”

“Exactly. That’s why I have an allergy to wheat.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a cookie?”

The nurturing of children continues into old age, even when the brain is infected with Alzheimer’s plaque. A mother longs to feed her children, to make sure they are never hungry, even if they’re just visiting, even if they’ve just eaten.

After the meal, we walked back to Mom’s room. “Do you want to watch the idiot box?” (Mom’s description for the TV).

“No. I’ll just sit here with you or read a book.”

“Yeah. There’s nothing on but junk anyway.” We sat in silence for a while, then suddenly – Mom looked at me, her glasses slightly askew. “Are you dating?”

“No. I’m pretty busy.”

“Well, you should be dating someone. I don’t understand why some wonderful man hasn’t snatched you up.”

It was the nicest compliment she has paid me in years. My throat began to fill with the tears of missing my mom, of not being able to call her and discuss my latest book, of no longer sharing a shopping trip or the latest crochet pattern or the encouragement of a Psalm.

“Thanks, Mom. That’s nice.”

“Well, I’m just askin’.”

For a few hours on a hot July afternoon, Mom and I connected on a level long past. She was again the bossy Mom, demanding answers and commanding me in directions she wanted me to take.

Once again, I was the daughter and our roles were clear, not reversed or confused in the dynamics of what Alzheimer’s does to families.

And for a few hours, we sat together in peace, two women – still joined by an emotional umbilical cord.

It was sweet. I know that may never happen again.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://www.crossrivermedia.com/portfolio/1624/gallery/fiction/

Mom Walks Tall

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.3D Rev G cover

“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?