Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Both at once

I took my mother for a drive today.  It's the first time she's been out in a car (she gets driven to doctor's appts in the nursing home's wheelchair accessible van).  She was very excited about the idea...until she realized that the physical therapist who was helping her get into the car wasn't actually going with us.  But once he reached in a fastened her seatbelt and closed the door on her quavering face, I just put the car into drive and bumped out of the parking lot.  A minute later, she asked for ice cream, trembling concern forgotten.  "What kind do you want?" I asked her. "Chicken," she said.  "You mean chocolate?"  "Yes. Chocolate and chicken."

I bought her chocolate-almond  (WSU's creamery was fresh out of chicken-flavored ice cream), and we drove through town, then south into the Palouse hills. She was thrilled to see them. "They look like water," she told me.  They're just beginning to 'green up' as farmers would say.  Our family home had floor to ceiling windows facing south, so the hills we were driving through are ones she's watched in every season for the last 44 years.  Mom used to love the ocean, but today just driving along those familiar fields was pleasure enough.  I reminded her of Sunday drives we'd taken when I was a child, asking if she remembered.  "I remember the idea of it," she said.

All in all, it was a pretty clear day with her.  Sure, she talked nonstop from the moment we got into the car until the therapist met us in the parking lot at the end.  She told me she talks all the time, even when she's alone. Mostly she talks to her legs--those injured legs she thinks are separate from herself.  And a great deal of what she says is pretty indecipherable, but when we've all learned to smile and nod (though there are moments when, unfortunately nodding is clearly NOT the response she wants).

Finally she asked me about my book.  And I told her the hard news.  "Oh," she said.  "That hurts my heart." And she meant it. Yesterday when I saw her, she told me, pointing to her chest, "When I see you, or see a picture of you, it makes me happy.  I feel it here." Two sweet things from my mother in two days. In the days that she was our mother, she used to sometimes write sweet things in cards...but those sentiments were always a little hard to swallow.  They were overshadowed by the thousands of interactions that were the opposite of sweet. But these seemed to spring from a place of truth so I appreciated them. 

It's like being with a small child to be with her now.  One who very much wants to please, doesn't want to trouble anyone. It made me wonder if she thinks of herself as a child now.  But when I asked if she knows how old she is, she stuttered and tried, but couldn't find the answer.  "78," I said.  She was shocked. But when I pressed about why that doesn't sound right, she said, "I'm a very old lady."  Yes, I thought, a very old lady who is also a very small child.

I wonder if it's wrong to be so thankful for a disease that is so destructive.  A disease that has taken the sting out of a mother from whom I bore so many stings. I'm thankful for the small pleasure of this day, and how much easier it is to be with her now.  And at the very same time, I wonder if it's wrong that I hope for a speedy end of this excruciating season in her life.  She confessed again today, as she has often since Alzheimers began swallowing her, that she wishes she could die.  "I understand that," I told her.  But what I didn't say was "From your mouth to God's ears."  Both these thoughts I hold in my hands tonight. Thanking God for the very worst thing that ever happened to her.  And asking God to take her home.

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