My mother called me tonight. She wasn't sure who she was calling, exactly. Either me or that other girl who doesn't live where she does (which would be my sister in Ventura). She hardly remembers how to use the phone now, and even when I call her, she answers as if she isn't sure she should have, isn't sure what exactly that ringing sound meant. And every conversation is labored and confusing, because her words are disappearing. So she'll speak a sentence like, "It won't go that way, but only the other. Back there." I haven't any idea what 'it' is, and if I try to guess, I'm wrong more often than not now. Just a few months ago, when she was only dropping a word here or there, it was a fairly simple thing to guess the missing word from the context. And if I miss, it only frustrates her. Makes her cry, and say she's stupid. It's agonizing to hear, hard enough that it's easier than ever not to call her. Tonight, I apologized for not having called her this week, and she said, "But you did." So I take advantage, I'm sorry to say, of the fact that she no longer keeps lists in her brain--and trust me, it used to be a long, long list--who called her, when, how long they talked, etc. I could trust her to tell me how often others in the family had called her since I last had. We used to laugh about it, my siblings and I, laugh about how she didn't really want to talk, she just wanted to count us. Really quite sad, though, now that I've written that out so baldly.
But she was very distraught on the phone this evening. She has to get rid of her cat, you see. Her cat she named Purrky--"you know for the way it purrs" That's also the name of the first cat Mom ever owned, when she was about 5 years old. When she got the cat, she remembered that. She can't remember how to tell time, but could (a year ago or more) remember clearly the calico cat she had as a little girl. This Purrky, also a calico, has been making messes on the carpet, and Mom can't take care of it any longer. Probably the litter box isn't as clean as Mom thinks it is. Anyway, Mom's incredibly upset. She thinks the cat is the only thing she has to love, the only thing who loves her. "She's been with me the whole time," she said, the whole time meaning since she moved into the assisted living complex last spring. I told her it was okay to feel sad about the cat, and reminded her of how much I grieved when my dog, Jemima, died. But she thinks she's bad to feel so about a cat. I told her that the cat isn't all she has, that I love her too, but it didn't make much of a dent. I'm not in her daily life, after all. And for her, out of sight is increasingly out of mind. And this cat is right there, sitting on her lap, nuzzling into her head as she sleeps. Something to love, for my little-girl mother.
This long slow fade toward death feels a little like the moments before sleep. She's just drifting away. I can hardly remember what she was like now--both the good and the bad. Maybe that's a good thing. But it's hard to watch, to try to listen to. Harder still is my own ambivalence about her. The way I have to work to remember to call her. But as bad as she is now, I know worse is coming. There will be days ahead when she won't know us at all. Days ahead when she'll have to be cared for more practically--even bathed and clothed. It's hard to imagine.
But for now, it's just about a little girl losing her cat. And that's hard enough.