It's my fault that G'ma's dentures have been rattling around in her mouth these last few months. Apparently, the dentist has been waiting for us to make an appointment to have the bent clasp repaired. That fact was mentioned to me at her last appointment, but it never made it into my permanent memory bank, let alone onto the calendar. With the upcoming nuptials, "Preparing G'ma" has a place on the To Do List and fixing her teeth tops her section. The appointment was yesterday, at 4pm.
I arrived at the pod-castle just after 3. Her nap was over, Law'n was on the tube, and the Horace Mann blanket was covering her lap. She was wearing one of my favorite blouses, the yellow one with the gathered bottom, and a pair of pants that looked like ones she bought for herself but which, upon closer inspection, belonged to another resident. Laundry is fungible at the pod-castle; every month or so the worker bees scour the closets and dressers, returning misplaced items to their rightful owners. If I ask about a specific article, they are always able to find it. I've given up any emotional content which tries to attach itself to this issue; it's not worth the bother.
Wearing somebody else's brown pants and her own perfect smile, she ambled to her bathroom and emerged, twenty minutes later, hair brushed and ready to go. Her hair is another issue, but one that I will put off until next week. That glamorous style created by Jesse is unmanageable for her. It's too bad; she looked great. Yesterday afternoon, it was good for a laugh as it blew into her eyes, no matter how she cocked her head.
"Look at my hair," was the prelude to every sentence which left her lips between her apartment and my car. Air conditioning, the summer breeze, bending over to sit on the seat.... her bangs were drooping into her eyes and making her giggle. I love to hear my mommy giggle. I know, in that moment, she is happy.
Driving out of the parking lot, the facility's over-sized sign caught her eye, as it usually does. "Friendship Villas..... is that where I live?" I try to convince myself that it doesn't matter that she can't remember as I remind her that, in fact, she's lived there for nearly three years. "Assisted Living... what the hell do they assist me with?" Bad grammar aside, it's an interesting question and I stumble over the answer.
G'ma is at an in-between stage in the panoply of services available to the elderly in America today. Not demented enough for Alzheimer's Care nor independent enough to manage her own home, she's caught in the middle. Independent Living is the euphemism for the hotel-like accommodations which feed and entertain the no-longer-driving elderly. It's possible to hire help to manage medications and to encourage participation, but monitoring the success of those services proved overwhelming for both of us. She doesn't need all the care that is available to her in Assisted Living, but there's no alternative that works for us.
She's paying for care she doesn't use and they can't manage to keep her laundry straight? It's one of the many pieces of her life which isn't working out quite the way we had planned. She's safe and happy, so I try not to worry....too much.
"What do they assist me with" morphed into "If I were dropped off on the side of the road right here, outside this driveway, I still would have no idea where to go." That's true, and horribly sad, but the fact is that she's not going to be dropped off on the side of the road and she's never without someone to tell her where she belongs. I remind her of this and she smiles.
The good thing about her lack of short term memory is that sad thoughts don't take up residence for very long. The bad thing is that she doesn't remember that we have this conversation each and every time I take her out. I'll never tell her that these reminders are pinpricks in my soul; it won't make any difference and would only serve to make her momentarily sorrowful. I keep those thoughts to myself.
She likes to point out the bright yellow and red and green cars which seem to dot our streets in greater numbers than were found in New York. "Do I still have a car?" she wondered as we tooled up Oracle Road. "Nope, brother took it one day for Niece-the-youngest. You gave up driving the day you called me and said that it had taken you two hours to get home from the grocery store. You forgot the way...." and I continued with the saga she had related all those years ago, how she had driven all around town, noticing the homes of our friends and doctors and babysitters but unable to figure out how to connect the dots and find her own house. "Did I ever get home?" After pausing for the obligatory moment of giggles, I went on by retelling how she ended up in front of the library and, "of course you could get home from the library."
"I have no memory of that at all."
There's no affect attached to that sentence. It doesn't seem to make her sad or mad or angry or frustrated or any of the other emotions which roil to the surface of my soul whenever we're in one of these situations. It is. It's a fact. There's no sense in wasting attitude.
Once again, I go to school on being an old old person by watching my mom.
I retold the story of her journey to Arizona, from freezing in New Jersey and selecting her first apartment here to her fall in my garage and the consequent hospitalizations for a fractured spine and sprained shoulder and how the medications overwhelmed her and she fainted and broke both her ankles at the same time and wore two lower leg casts for 10 weeks and had three lovely Mexican ladies living with her and caring for her and how that was unsustainable financially so she moved to the pod-castle.
"I have no memory of that at all."
She was the keeper of the stories, the one who remembered which relatives did what when. She kept track of our friends and our appointments and our responsibilities and our birthdays and our anniversaries and now it's all gone. I amuse myself, at times, by imagining a pill that would reawaken those sleeping memories and surprise us all. She'd remember and I could forget and it would all be just the way it used to be.
The light changed, I drove on, my fantasy vanished.
I don't mind telling those stories. It makes the time pass and I've bowlderized them sufficiently so that no awkward parts remain. No sense in reminding her that she lay like a sack of potatoes on the bathroom floor. No sense in reminding her that her refrigerator was filled with left-overs in take-out containers yet she continued to order dinners. No sense in reminding her how difficult it was to prepare her medications and Daddooooo's medications and of the consequences of those difficulties.
No, there's no sense in that at all. Instead, I tell her stories, in the same sing-song voice I used to lull the Cuters into a peaceful, resting state. I'm parenting my parent, even down to story time.