Monday, March 8, 2010

Watching her sleep

Walked into the nursing that my mother refuses to step foot from these days, if she actually remembered how to step foot from anything, and watched the director hanging framed pictures of the administrative staff across from the front door.  My sister offered to help him, I wanted to correct him--the pictures were hanging too far apart, which my hours in front of HGTV have taught me should be no more than a hand's width.  He didn't need my sister help, didn't hear mine.  We walked down the hall, around the corner, and there sat a stragglely (is that a word?) haired, hunch-backed woman, whose hair and shoulders I'd know anywhere, even as unkempt and bent as they were.  I knelt in front of her wheelchair so that my face and voice came from within her line of vision.  Other visits have taught me that sometimes this is the only way she is able to see the speaker.  But though she saw me, and sort of answered to my "hello," there wasn't a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. 

She was willing for us to wheel her back to her room for a visit, but once there, didn't look at either of us.  It gave me opportunity to stare at her while my sister brushed her too-long hair.  I often used to say that my mother's face in repose was always a frown.  No matter what her internal attitude, she appeared to be disapproving.  I know this, because I sometimes asked her how she was feeling, and she'd say, "Fine," when I would have guessed, "Disappointed, angry, upset or sad."  I often think of those frown lines when I'm just doing mindless tasks and purposely turn stretch the muscles on my cheeks upward, so that someday, when I am no longer paying attention, I will easily smile--or at least look mighty pleasant! 

Along with the ever-present frown now, Mom has eye-brows my daughters would maim for.  Perfectly arched, perfectly shaped, and perfectly dark brown even with her all white hair, they sit above her eyes incongruously on this wrinkled face.  Actually, one--her right one--might be over-arched into a question, like she's confused about why she's so upset, which isn't really that far from the truth.  But it's her eyes that get to me.  Mom's eyes are the definition of 'beady'.  They really are just about the size of the almond-shaped beads in those plastic boxes my daughters used to play with, which aren't very large at all.  And they're just full of meaning as those beads.  Or just as empty, I should say.  That's the point.  There is no meaning in those eyes at all now.  They open or close with no difference between the two.

I know this because I saw my mother twice over the weekend.  Friday evening when I saw her, when my sister brushed her hair, she seemed completely vacant.  That night, when we told RE's husband about it, he said she's better sometimes.  They decided Mom's better in the morning, that by the end of the day, any human understand left in her is gone, due to the weariness of having been sitting out in the hallway in her wheelchair, sitting at meals playing with food (taking a bite or two--maybe), you know, all those really exhausting things!  So my daughters and I thought we'd stop by before leaving town yesterday morning.  We found her in her room with her television blaring.  She was sound asleep.  When I gently nudged her and said hello, she said, "hi!" and I thought, "wow, Brother-in-law is right!", but no.  Definitely not right.  I'd intended for my very musical, singing-the-drop-of-a-note daughters to help me sing some old family favorites to see if Mom's brain could sing, even if she can't speak.  But Mom wasn't there.  She kept drifting back to sleep, yes. Then she'd creepily open her eyes and seem to stare at me.  Seriously creepy.  And definitely vacant.  We stayed  about five minutes and there was no singing involved. 

When we left, I was teary.  Teary. Leaving my mother.  TEARY leaving my mother.  That's a first.  Well, a first since that time when I was in a summer pre-school program at the University of Michigan when I was four years old (it was a program for gifted children--but before you think I'm boasting, it was the first and last of such programs I was in EVER, and I'm pretty sure it was my father's giftedness that got me into it, not mine!).  Another little girl, who I'd been talking about all summer, invited me home with her after school.  So my mother arranged it with her mother and I was very excited.  But at the last moment, I panicked.  Refused to get into that  station-wagon.  Not with my own mother standing right beside me and I could just go on home where I belonged. I threw a fit, cried my eyes out.  My mom had to make all kinds of excuses and apologies, but for once in my early life, I was extremely stubborn, and simply wouldn't leave my mommy. And I really think that was the last time until yesterday that I cried at the idea of leaving her. 

Because, as irrational as it sounds, I wasn't sure I'd see my mommy again if I got into that strange station-wagon.  Now I know I'll never see my mother again.  I may see this body.  But the woman inside is gone.  A couple of years ago, I told her that at some point this disease would be like being asleep for her, and when that happened, it wouldn't be hard for her, only for us watching it, but that we could handle it. However, I didn't really know how hard.  She's asleep, and we're watching her sleep, her living, wheeling-around sleep.  Actually, we're watching her nightmare.  My sister and her family especially are watching Mom's nightmare.  It's a hard, sad way to live.  So I'm with that doctor--pace yourselves--twice a week is plenty.

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