I’ve often described my Mom’s concept of who I was by using the family tree. Although I was no longer a close branch, no longer her son, I was at least a brother or uncle. I took comfort knowing that while I had slid down the trunk of our family tree I was at least still clinging on. This holiday season however it was driven home that things have changed appreciably. I’m no longer on the tree. I’m in the yard now and I’m not alone. My sister is in the yard with me.
In the past while visiting with Mom, I would call my sister who lives out of state and allow them to talk together by phone. It was a tenuous but important way of keeping the two of them connected and I know both greatly appreciated it. This Christmas I had to warn my sister, “Mom will not speak to you over the phone, she no longer recognizes that the voice coming out of the cell phone is an actual person.”
What I did is call my sister but kept up a running conversation with Mom while holding the phone nearby. This way at least my sister could hear Mom’s voice and know for herself that Mom was alright. Unfortunately, as anticipated, Mom did not acknowledge my Sister existence. I could hear my sister calling out and trying to talk to Mom, but for Mom, out of sight, completely out of mind.
What I’ve apparently become is this friendly, vaguely familiar man who visits regularly and plays with her. I hold her hands, we play footsie together, compliment her on her attire, let her play with my wristwatch or cap, I’ll walk her around the facility, I’ll buy her treats, we tease each other, I give her hugs and kisses on her forehead… in short I love on her, even though she isn’t entirely sure anymore who I am. Because of that lack of recognition we have more and more days where she tells me to leave her alone and to get away. When those happen I give her her space. I know it won’t last. I also appreciate the verbal expression. That too is declining.
Between the two of my parents, Mom was always the vocal, articulate one even during this past year of Dad’s decline. In Dad’s final year, our time together often consisted of sitting together silently with me holding his hand. I’m finding myself doing that with Mom more and more. Not that Mom doesn’t try to talk but she is increasingly incoherent. I just nod and smile and she smiles back at me or breaks out laughing at a joke only she has heard. I follow her lead, and laugh when she laughs.
Trees need tending to even if they can’t actively contribute to the process. They need water and sun and protection from extremes. Occasionally they have to be pruned of what is no longer needed and contributing, pruned of what is draining valuable resources.
Whatever Mom needs, I’ll continue to provide… even if I have to do so from the yard next to the tree.