Wow, I am not even sure what kind of tea goes with how I’m feeling as I try to put these thoughts down. This may be as hard to read as it is to write so I caution readers who have elderly parents, or those who have lost their parents, that this blog may contain triggers.
As I write this, I am enjoying the privilege of visiting my 97 year old mom for a few days. (We do not live in the same community so most of our communication is by phone.) The moment I walked into her house I could see a further decline in mom since my last visit only a few weeks ago. I’m losing my mom second by second and it is breaking my heart. I just want to stop time. My husbands’ mom, sadly so much younger than mom is, also travelled a difficult health journey before we lost her. My husband and I both lost our dads so suddenly, our heads were spinning, but this? This is a different kind of hurt.
I have some friends who remind me constantly that I am lucky to still have mom, because they know the pain of having lost their parents, and know what they would give to be in my place, to have had more time. I thank them for their thoughts and reminders because I feel that it makes me more aware and appreciative of the privilege of still having my mom around. It reminds me to look at her and soak up every second, to tell her that I love her, and to thank her for being my mom.
For those who have experienced it, there is a type of role reversal that takes place with very ill or elderly parents. Let me explain my experience with it, though yours may have been very different.
When I was a child, I used to fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s Singer sewing machine that she had bought from the old Cochrane High School many moons ago and used for years and years. If it was not the drone of the sewing machine, it was the tick tick tick of her knitting needles, lulling me to sleep. My mom’s hands were always creating something. On my last visit to mom’s I noticed a rip in a pillow from her bed so I got busy sewing it up while she napped. Suddenly she’s awake and saying “You are so busy and I’m being lazy.” Acknowledging that she taught me to sew I replied, “If it wasn’t for you mom, I could not fix this pillow. Thank you for teaching me so that I can do this for you.”
My mom was a wonderful cook and home baker. When she first retired she took up the challenge of learning how to make buns, a skill that had alluded her for years much to her dismay. She did it. Her home baked buns were so good people used to love to receive them from her, and she gave away many. When visiting my parents, we learned NEVER to throw out the potato water as this was the apparent bun baking secret ingredient. Recently, she was looking over the variety of gluten free cookies and muffins I had made for her and she noted “I’m gonna get fat.” I thanked her for teaching me to bake so that I could make these treats for her. She winked and said, “but you still can’t make buns like I can.” (To this day I make sure she never sees me throw out the potato water.)
My mom was always so good, calm and reassuring, especially when my brother or I got hurt. She always said she had wanted to be a nurse. The sight of blood never got to her. I remember one time my dad had to go to the hospital as he needed to have an impaled fishing hook removed from his eye lid and there was mom, calmly checking out the wound and saying it needed stitches. In the meantime, my brother and I were cringing in the corner unable to look at our dad’s injury without feeling nauseous. Mom would always tell us that scabs are nature’s bandages that would fall off when our cut was healed enough. Recently, she has developed a bad habit of picking at some scabs on skin. One time when I was visiting she started picking at a scab on her temple. I said, “Stop picking at that mom, you’re going to make it bleed again. Remember how you used to tell us that scabs are nature’s bandages?” Apparently, when you are 97 years old you do not appreciate hearing your own words as a ‘life lesson’. She looked me in the eye and said, “Hah! I guess you fell for that” and gave me a huge grin. That leads me to another moment when I once wanted to ask her to look at my slowly healing cesarian section incision. I remember asking her, “Am I too old to ask you to look at my incision?” She looked me in the eye and said, “You are never too old to need your mother Lynn.” She is so right.
My mother had such a sharp wit and sense of humour but she is fading fast. We are not sure what is causing this decline, arterial aging, dementia, or some other sinister ‘reward’ for living as long as she has, all these 97 years so far. She is still such a kind and caring person who does not look her age, but slowly is becoming more and more child-like, confused, and forgetful. Let me share some examples.
Recently I had baked some of her GF cookies first thing in the morning. A few of them went missing from the cooling rack without explanation. However, I did notice a tiny, guilty smile on mom’s face. Consequently, when her ‘meals on wheels’ arrived she didn’t want to eat the meal, making the case that, as a rule, she she keeps it for supper. That theory was disproved when I saw her eat her ‘meals on wheels’ meal the other day when we had just arrived for our visit. As a fun test, I put the 3 included dessert choices in front of her and magically her appetite reappeared as she grabbed a freshly baked cookie and dug into the strawberry mousse. Man, if I’d have tried anything like that when I as a kid!
A difficult example occurred when mom recently took out a photo of her grandson, (my son), and his wife and said to me, “these two were actors and now they are married.” I mean, she is quite correct, factually speaking, as my son and daughter-in-law did meet during a play they appeared in together. Mom continued by explaining that “They are very nice, she came to visit me once and spent time talking with me.” Though it bothers me that she does not always know who my son is, honestly, the bottom line is that I am happy that she has such a nice memory of meeting my son’s wife. Life lesson; always take time to chat with seniors, it matters.
Another odd time came about when mom suddenly picked up and was reviewing an old pantyhose cardboard where she keeps important phone numbers written down. She was looking it over and chatting about the people listed on the cardboard when suddenly she read the name of someone she knew who has passed away and said, “oh there’s ****’s number, she’s passed away” she said sadly. Expecting a chat about that person, I’ll admit that I was startled when mom suddenly grabbed a pen saying, “well I guess I’ll stroke her number out” and proceeded to do just that.
This is a confusing time for us both, one minute she calls me by my aunt’s name, and in the next minute mercilessly beats me at cards. She can seem far away one second and then suddenly right with me. If this behaviour is confusing for me, I cannot imagine how it feels for her. This is my mom, my mother, the woman who raised me and taught me so much. It is notable to mention that my mother, who taught me to be kind and respect other people, now receives the kindness and respect of her PSW helpers whom she affectionately calls ‘the help’ or ‘my girls’. These people are truly angels on earth.
I try never to correct mom about things. Respectfully she has taught me so much and has probably forgotten more than I have ever learned. Who cares if she thinks Saturday is Monday? Instead, I do my best to try to lead her around to the right answer, but only if the right answer matters. For example, the other day she had forgotten to take her lunch pill so I handed it to her with a glass of water. She looked at me and said, “I take one of these at lunch time and one at supper and its not supper time yet”. I simply agreed and said I wondered which meal that this pill that was left on the table might be for. She looked at the clock and said it was probably her lunch pill and that I had likely forgotten to give it to her at lunch time.
The oddest thing happened the other day. Mom randomly picked up a pen and paper and asked me what year it is. I told her. Then she asked me what year she was born. I told her. She’s quiet for a little bit, looks up at me in shock and says, “don’t tell me I’m 97?” I asked, “did you just do the math?” “Yes” she replied, “no wonder I’m slowing down.” “No wonder mom.” I agreed.
When my mother asks me the same thing many times in a row, I am grateful to be able to tell her the answer many times in a row. I am grateful that she is still here to ask me questions and to hear my answers. When my mom calls me by my aunt’s name, I answer, because she is simply calling out to someone she loves, it doesn’t really matter what name she is using, I am grateful just to be able to still hear her voice. I love you mom!
Thank you for reading. As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com