Hello Mum, are you there? It's me Sim. #ThrowbackThursday



I couldn’t let Alzheimer’s Awareness Month pass without sharing something about my mother. I wrote this Throwback Thursday piece in 2010, my mother, once so full of life and fire, passed away in 2012.

Hi Enid I say, spotting her sitting by the window, calling my mother by her first name.
Sometimes when I call her Mum, she just looks at me, confusion and accusation mixed in her eyes. Why are you calling me Mum? I’m not sure I even know you, she seems to say.
Some days are better, she may not know who I am exactly but shes cheerful enough for the company. A change from the caretakers with their pale turquoise uniforms, cheerful little bears or angels dancing across their chests.

Today my softly whispered Hi Enid gets nothing but a blank look. I try again.
Hi Mum. It’s me, Sim. 
Her expression doesn’t change. Not a blink, not a flicker. Nothing. I notice a book in her lap. Next to Die or something. A mystery. She always loved mysteries; Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell. This one featured a gushing blurb by Patricia Cornwall on the cover.
So, what are you reading? I ask lamely as I push her wheel chair closer to the unlit fireplace. I sit on the bench-height brick hearth, facing her. Theres a huge flat screen TV up above it. A dog show is on, volume down. A lot of the visiting families are watching. Watching and eating. Thats what most families do when they visit, their spreads from home or the Subway on the corner, filling up the table in the common room. Ill help feed her when they serve dinner at four; she wouldnt keep her false teeth in and ever since her second pair went missing, the pureed meat and apple sauce is all she can manage. 
I suspect one of the caretakers has gone so far as to throw her teeth away but they blame the other residents. Someone must have taken them is all theyll say if I complain. My brother and I agree it isnt worth the effort, shell never keep them in.
I tap the book How do you like it? 
Her eyes find the shiny green cover with its black letters. She runs the tips of her fingers over and over the title as if the words are written in Braille.
You love to read I tell her.
And I know its something that used to be true but isnt anymore. Before the disease shed practically lived in the library, checking out as many books as they allowed. Its hard to imagine my mum without a book open on the table next to her big old comfy chair; I long for the days when shed tell me that I needed to read it next. She doesnt have any books of her own here in the assisted care facility. All the residents in the locked down dementia unit have sticky fingers, wheeling in and out of each others rooms, picking up whatever they like, my mothers false teeth, my mothers book, tucking it next to their legs in their chairs before they wheel themselves away. The last book I gave her for her birthday, A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George, is at my house, sitting on my own shelf, my inscription as meaningless now as that gushing Patricia Cornwall blurb.
These days looking at the pictures in magazines together passes for reading. I sit next to her, flipping slowly through the pages, describing the photos. Oh look, I say what a pretty garden! Remember when Daddy built a rock garden in our backyard in Niagara Falls? Remember those plants that flowered in more than one color?
I'm desperate for her to remember. The garden, the flowers, my father, my sister, my brother. Me.
She blinks at me finally and starts to wheel her chair away. The secret of her garden and those magic little blossoms buried within her mind forever. I grab her wheel chair and pull it back, flip the little metal plates that act as brakes.
Stay here, I say. Talk to me. I’m insistent, petulant, like a child.
Its hard to talk to someone who doesnt answer back. I dont know how those people whose loved ones are in comas do it. How do they visit week after week, sharing stories and tales of their day?
Today I dont have the heart. I put the magazine down and show her the clothes I bought for her, hoping for something. Some sort of response. But the something doesnt come. She looks past the green velour of the jogging suit with its elasticized waist, to where a used napkin on the table grabs her attention. She picks it up and flattens it on the little table built into her wheelchair. She smooths the creases away and then she folds it over and over again, in half, then quarters, then eighths until its a tiny square, too thick to fold one more time. When shes finished her chore she puts it back on the table and we sit there with me holding her hands between mine. I squeeze her fingers gently, I think I feel hers squeezing gently back.
I know what Im saying as I trace the thick violet veins on the back of her hands—I love you, Mum. Can you please, for one day, know me. Just know me. 
But she doesnt know me, or no longer has to words to tell me so. All I can hope is that the gentle pressure of her fingers is my mother saying that yes, she knows me. Yes, she loves me back. She did love me, loved all three of her children. I know that, theres never been any question of that.

Its just that she forgot. Thats all, she just forgot.

Comments

Popular Posts

Above Ground on the London Underground: Brompton Cemetery via Earl's Court Station

Above Ground on the London Underground: A half a mile & a world away from Grenfell Towers

Bandol Revisited #DreamingofFrance

Above Ground on the London Underground: Embankment Station AKA What is this thing I love?

The Paris Metro: It's a work out