When I visit Mom at the place where she lives now, even though I’ve had a lot of time to adjust to this change, I never know what our visit will be like. I bring creative work for us to do together.
If I don’t feel emotionally well, she picks up on that. Or, maybe already she isn’t feeling well before I arrive. That was last time and though we sat together, I could feel Mom’s anxiety. I had to stick to the script. And having to say those things felt horrible. It was either say those things or the truth and that would not soothe anyone. One day she’ll forget while she’s there, though there’s no guarantee.
Last night I made two new flower drawings for Mom; that was her request last week. When I arrived today she was in the gathering room where everyone watches a movie. The care people said Mom went out there herself. She went in her white socks rather than her shoes. Usually Mom wears her navy slippers with the heels flattened down like slides. Her going out to a room where the other residents were is new. Usually she is watching CBS or WTAE news alone in her room.
I often think of the Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old. I won’t use the term inmates, the way the narrator does, but I thought about that the first time I visited.
Today Mom was sitting next to Lois, whose back is hunched. She reminds me of a woman my mom was friends with when I was growing up. I see Mom being with Lois keeping her company like an older sister or friend the way friends take care of each other.
Another time I visited, I took Mom’s meal tray out of the room. I was surprised to see Lois was on her way to Mom’s as I opened the door. Lois doesn’t have her words anymore, but her actions speak. Lois put a hand with a fierce grip on the corner of the tray. Slowly, bit by bit we walked out the tray to the dining area. One of the carers called out her name; that’s how I learned it. As she and I walked together, I put my one arm around her to help her balance. Tears fell from my eyes and I was glad for my mask to hide my feelings.
Last time Mom asked when she’d be going home. She asked was her kitty okay and did I think he missed her. I said what I was supposed to say. Mom colored the drawing; I meant it to be a cactus with red and pink blooms like the ones she’d kept on her window sill, but instead it looked like a chili pepper tree. I make pictures that soothe Mom. Sometimes I put short sentences about the picture, a fun fact to learn. She said coloring the drawing took a long time and exclaimed when I moved on a third watercolor. I hated each one I did more than the last one. At the end, Mom asked to keep the one I detested the most. I left the picture she colored so carefully much like when she painted the trim in the living room, no marks anywhere than where the color should be. I took a picture of what she’d done despite her protesting and put it on the window sill behind the family pictures. She hasn’t remembered each time we color; new memories are harder. Being present is important.
Today Mom colored two of the drawings. Both flowers and one of them with the Georgia O’Keeffe quote I’d typed on the picture: “nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven’t time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” I read it in Julia Cameron’s the Artist Way earlier last night. Today Mom was relaxed choosing the different greens for the flower stalks, a pink or red for the chrysanthemums, the flowers she named when I asked her what they looked like to her. We play like that. She asks if I’ve finished another watercolor and I watch Mom color the flowers, big swirls of her red pencil in the big petals and the different greens in the stalks that give perspective. Our time together is like this.
Except when it isn’t. And it’s like stepping into a play, with the other residents I recognize, one man wearing a winter hat and the woman say they were going to see a friend. Mom says, you’re in my room. Mom mumbles about being a patient and the man and the woman asks who is the patient. Everyone is confused; no one can hear anymore.
The woman touches the back of my rain coat hanging on the chair as I stand outside the bathroom where the sink is. She says, this will not do. This will never be warm enough. The woman repeats they were going out to see their friend. Mom repeats with a calm voice they are in her room. They apologize, turn around and leave.
I gather my things and Mom moves with me. She wasn’t shuffling last time. My hands are around her back as we walk down the hall.
We stop at the door. Mom asks what we’re doing. This is my way out, I explain. Mom pushes the door. You can’t open it; there’s a special code.
And it goes like this. There are many minutes of everything normal and moments like these of knowing why she is where she is.
I don’t cry on the way home this time. My mood shifts as my car winds on the country roads. I feel anger. I feel nothing. I’m sad without crying. I’m numb, then back to anger, then nothing. I’m surprised how fast 5 miles go getting to the intersection of Route 819 and 22. I listen to NPR and then turn it off when it gets political. I drive past the turn where I used to drive to Mom’s house. I try not to feel anything. The traffic moves and I return home, the bag of creative tools I dump on the floor and glad for the chicken pot pie I’d made from scratch earlier to reheat for dinner.
I think about Mom having to go through this and what it feels like to see this happening. Then I feel guilty because I’m not the one it’s happening to. Who knows what Mom feels. What my friend Laurie says is that it happens to everyone in the family.
This is what Sundays are.
-Written by Amanda L. Mottorn, Artist, Author and Owner of Modern Moksha Designs & Publishing.
© Amanda L. Mottorn, 2023. This article and these pictures are copyrighted works and may not be copied and reproduced.