Some months ago, my sister and I made an appointment to see my mother. It had been months since Sis had seen my mom, and that was through a screen with the sun baking our rears. I hadn’t seen her since before one of the many hurricanes had cut off my easiest route. We needed to see her, and this time, there would be no window between us. Masks? Yes. Window? No.
I could describe the process of getting into the place, but that isn’t interesting, except for the moment when I nearly yelled “WE MADE AN APPOINTMENT. THIS WILL BE HAPPENING.” Sis was about to go all legal eagle on them, but I decided to be the very genteel lady and politely insist.
The visit did happen.
We took a lap with our mom, and that’s when she said as she stared at Sis, “I didn’t know who you were.”
I knew this day would eventually come, and it did. At least it wasn’t full force. Sometime later as we sat and conversed with another resident, our mom said, “Are you asking my daughters that?” It was the only cogent sentence she uttered.
Well, there was that moment when she said that she was ready for it all to end. What those words might mean depends on what your definition of “it” is. (Bonus points if you understand the oblique reference.)
We were joined on the porch by the most delightful of men and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran, Mr. Green*. At first, neither of us thought that Mr. Green was a resident, maybe he had had an appointment, too, and felt like being a gentleman. That is what he is. He is a gentleman. Every action and wording showed him to be so. I loved listening to him, especially since my own mother wasn’t able to construct a sentence that made any sense. (*not a real name)
I also knew this day was coming, and it stung a little less. Her language ability had been slipping before the world ended. Now, though…
Y’all, it ain’t good. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Mr. Green was the source of my stress once I realized that he was a new resident, but I don’t blame him. He did not want to be at his new home. His sons had lied to him to get him there. That clearly confused him. He pointed to the fence surrounding the well-groomed yard and tarp-covered cottages. “I have done reconnaissance of this place, and that fence goes all the way around here with a gate that locks.” Though he was three days shy of his 80th birthday, he declared he was fit enough to scramble over it. I think that he will try one day.
He even asked me if I would want to stay in a place like this. Of course, the answer is no. Yet, I am trained to lie to the residents there, including to my mother. Moses must not have had room to add asterisks to the commandment saying “Thou shalt not lie”. It should have read,
Thou shalt not lie,
Unless it is to children
regarding Santa Claus,
the Easter Bunny,
or to people with dementia.
My answer to Mr. Green was with questions. “Do you have to cook?”
“Do you have to clean?”
“No. It’s a clean place.”
“Do you have to do your laundry?”
“Then,” I answered, “seems like a good place to be. I’d love for someone to do my laundry.”
Like my mom used to do. She made sure newly washed clothes smelled good and were folded properly. She used scented sachets in the drawers, too. Somehow, she knew exactly whose clothes went in what stack. Sure, my dad’s were easy, but she got my clothes right compared to Sis’.
In my house, I am not that good with separating clothes, or maybe it is just my family’s dynamics. My eldest might have taken over one of my lover’s shirts. My youngest continually gets hand-me-overs. The middle kid, at least, has mostly band shirts, so that part is easy. The real problem is my underwear. My eldest wears the same kind. She’s always stealing my stash, because she is very slow to do her own laundry. The other two teens might have a mountain of laundry. The eldest has the Mt. Everest of laundry piles.
There I was, lying to Mr. Green and thinking about how my mother used to do laundry for us and how grateful I was that she and I never wore the same underwear. That, right there, is the definition of a messed up train of thought.
What do you do when your own parent can barely construct a sentence and when someone else’s dignified parent wants out of the place?
You let your brain go on wandering paths through vague recollections from your past.
You smile at the elderly people, though they cannot see the smile due to the mask you wear.
You shoot worried looks to your sister to make sure she’s ok and coping.
You spend an hour outside hoping your mother says something memorable.
You hope you can figure out a way to leave without upsetting Mr. Green.
You send a text message to your sister to ask for the staff’s help on how to leave.
You hatch a plan to use the gentleman-like behavior you sense in Mr. Green so that we can leave without him rushing the gate. You are so sure that he will try, because, though he is nearly 80, he is fit enough.
You sit and shake in your car alongside your sister as the memories of getting your own mom to an assisted living facility wash over you.
You sit with your lies.
You go home and wash the Mt. Everest pile of laundry.