Tonight Randy & I went to spend some time with my 87 year old mother at the care home where she lives. It was just after dinner when we arrived, many of the residents were still straggling at the tables, but Mom was in her room, sitting in her rocking chair. . . frantically chowing down on a huge bag of caramel popcorn that was also strewn in a trail from the door. . .
As we entered the room, she held up her hand and said, “I don’t want to get you involved in this!” The scene was almost funny.
My mother has Alzheimer’s and acute hearing loss, so from her perspective, she had been at the dinner table when one of the ‘waitresses’ had asked her a question that she couldn’t hear. She had said ‘pardon me?’ (completely normal to this point) but it just never got loud enough for Mom to understand, which is very embarrassing for her (very hard for her to hear in a large, crowded room.) That’s when it got crazy. Because in Mom’s recollection of events, someone was suddenly on her, reprimanding her like a child for swearing and sending her to her room without her dinner! She was hungry. She was humiliated. She sat in her room swearing and horking down the afore mentioned huge bag of caramel popcorn.
Here’s the thing with my mother in her current stage of dementia, she swears. Like a sailor! It’s almost surreal sometimes. But here’s what I have observed about her swearing, it is always a defiant reaction to fear. Because she can’t remember. She can’t remember selling her house and choosing to live at The Manor. She can’t remember who’s dead and who’s still alive. Some days she can’t remember her own children. And in the midst of all that, she lives in a world of isolation because of her hearing loss and she can’t even pick up the phone to call someone when crap like this happens to her, she is utterly powerless. To use a word my mother has adopted recently, that’s just too fucking scary!
‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is a phrase I have adopted from The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes says something like that to the bicycle zombie in the park in the first episode and I have always felt the impact of those simple empathetic words. Tonight it was Randy who said those words to Mom, because whatever did or didn’t go down in that dining room, this most certainly was happening to her and it was horrible, and there was nothing else to say without invalidating her experience or her feelings. Then I started humming an old Scottish hymn, as loudly as I could so she could hear me, and she calms a bit. “She’s singing?” Randy says. Her voice is very soft and I have to listen hard. “Yes, she’s singing.” – She’s singing all the German swear words she knows to the tune of According To Thy Gracious Word! – I nearly split a seam trying to hold in my laughter. I decided to go with what was working, so we sang hymns, and golden oldies, and pop songs; me singing the lyrics as I remembered them, Randy making up hilarious words of his own at times, and Mom singing happily in her alternate language of choice (or not choice. I don’t believe she has any conscious control over this anymore). We must have sounded insane, but whatever! She felt safe and the swear words slowly dissipated and she was just my sweet little mother again.
We had some coffee with too much cream, we worked on the puzzle, she asked about our house renos, even. Smiles. We left her with hugs and ‘love you’s, sitting contentedly in her rocking chair.
Some people may find all of this terribly offensive. Some people may judge. But me? I’m just very blessed to have been here, to share the scary and the ugly and the hilarious and the precious tonight. I’m just grateful that I was able to roll with it!