She sits in her large recliner that is covered with worn blankets for extra warmth.
She is shrunken with age and her spine is so curved by scoliosis she slumps down into the
bowels of the chair. It seems to swallow her tiny body.
She has lost weight since she came to this place three months ago. She doesn’t eat.
Her meals are pureed in a blender and fed through a large syringe.
Open, please. Thank you.
She wears bright blue flowered pajamas which I know don’t belong to her.
She is covered by a Christmas blanket and looks like an incongruous mixture of Hawaii
with the North Pole.
Her beautiful white hair is uncombed today and she periodically raises her right hand to
carefully brush a few strands from her forehead. There, that’s better.
Two other women sit in similar recliners in the dark den lit only by the reflected light of
a massive television screen which is the focal point of the room.
How I Met Your Mother is playing this afternoon. No one watches this episode about
misadventures on New Year’s Eve.
I find the irony in the sitcom’s name since the woman in Chair Number One is my mother.
She has needed care for the past four years, and I have sat with her as her dementia progressed
in medical jargon from mild to moderate to severe. Severe is where we are for sure.
I try to talk to her about visiting my aunt over the weekend. No response.
Instead, she gazes at her black leather shoes on the floor in front of her.
Slowly, very deliberately, she bends over and painstakingly reaches for her left shoe.
I move to help her because I am afraid she’ll fall out of the chair.
Do you want to put on your shoes, Mom?
She stares vacantly at me and shakes her head.
Ok, I say and return to my seat on the large overstuffed sofa next to her chair.
I make conversation with one of two sisters who care for my mother and the
two other mothers who sit in the recliners. Mothers and daughters and sisters.
We are all connected in the little den with the big tv.
My mother ignores me as she continues her ritual of laboriously picking up her
black shoes one by one, tugging on the tongue to ready it for her foot, fiddling with the
shoelaces as if to adjust them and then lowering the shoe to the floor in front of her to the
same place it was before. She does this over and over again. Ad infinitum.
During one of her attempts, she drops a shoe beyond her reach, and I put it in front
of her chair with the other one.
Do you need help to put on your shoes? I ask again.
No. I have to keep on this road, she answers. She was on a mission.
The mother in Chair Number Two tells me she tried to help my mother with her shoes earlier.
She told me to get away from them so I did, the woman said with a note of exasperation.
I’m sorry, I say. That isn’t really who she is.
But I’m wrong. That is who she is now.
I talk and try to avoid watching my mother and her little black shoes for an eternity
that is only an hour.
Mom, I have to go, I say.
She looks at me with some level of recognition and says Don’t leave me.
I’ll be back in a day or two, I say and hug her and kiss her on the cheek and tell
her I love her. I love you too, she says. I really do.
I force myself to read this…not because it is not beautifully written: it is…but because I have walked this walk with one parent and so very much want to protect my remaining parent from this fate….not to mention myself. Thanks, Sheila.
Amen, sister. Thanks for reading.
This is a superb essay, Shelia. Wonderful writing. I went through a similar experience with my mother, who died at 88. Yesterday, Jan. 9, was the anniversary of her birthday. She would have been 95.
Thanks, Bob…I know you understand then. It is hard to lose our mothers. I appreciate your reading the blog.
Sheila, please send this essay to Lee@likethedew. Mention that I recommended it — not that it or you need a reference, but if you don’t know somebody, it’s always good to know somebody who does.
Thanks so much, Bob…will do!