My Mother has been sick for two weeks. She is 96 years old and lives in a rest home fifteen minutes from me. She has lived there for three years after living in the house my Father built for 56 years.
A week ago my phone rang at 1 am to tell me that my Mother was hallucinating. This has happened before when she is sick. Normally, when she is not sick, she has very little working memory but she is lucid and quite with it in the present. She always knows who I am and I trust her judgement as long as she doesn't have to remember anything past thirty seconds.
My Mother is a vibrant woman who fully appreciates her life. But when I arrived at her room at 1:15 am, she was restless and confused. I realized quickly that she was operating from a different time and place. I have learned that when a person is hallucinating, it is not helpful to tell her/him that what they see or feel or hear or believe is not true. It is much more helpful to enter the world they think they reside in, because they are more likely to understand and make sense of that world.
My mother was agitated. "I have to get back to my own bed," she told me.
"Mom, this is your bed." (Okay, I started with reality, but not for long).
"kj," she said firmly, "Now you know my bed is downstairs. And these men in the room. I 'm not staying here with strange men. Two of them are in this bed. I am not going to have people talking about me."
I want my Mother to safely stay in the bed she is in--her bed. "Mom, those men are going to sleep in the bed downstairs. You and I can stay in this room alone for the night. They're leaving any minute."
"Oh good," she says.
A few minutes later, "Should I heat the chowder now?"
"No," I say. "Let's wait."
And, "Those men have a nerve just showing up like this. They probably expect me to fix breakfast for them. I could be mad about it."
"I'll help you fix breakfast, Mom."
"Oh, okay. You are such a good daughter."
This exchange took place a week ago. Since then my Mom has been lucid and then not lucid. She has some kind of virus and she is sick and weak, mostly in bed, not eating. This morning the wonderful nurse at the rest home called me first thing and told me my Mother said she is sure she is dying. She asked the nurse and two aides if they were angels, asked them if she was already in heaven or still alive.
I hightailed it to the rest home. "I've never felt so sick," my Mother told me. "Do you think I'll make it?"
"Definitely, Mom. It's just the flu. You're getting better."
"Really?" she asked me.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"I'll be glad when my head feels right. And what's wrong with me?"
"You're sick with the flu and besides that, when a person is older and they're sick, they can see and hear things that aren't there. It will be okay, Mom."
My Mother smiles.
Later, she asks me where 'our' mother is. I hesitate. I'm not sure what to say.
"Mom, it's me, kj. I'm your daughter." and then, "Mom, do you know how old you are?"
"I'm close to a hundred, aren't I?" A lightbulb goes off. She realizes if she is that old, her mother is not around.
She smiles again. "I still have a ways to go."
"Yes," I say. "Most definitely."
My brother cannot bear to see my Mother this way. Myself, I'm glad to know how to calm and comfort her. And another thing I'm glad about: when she mixes her past with her present, I feel like she is sharing some authentic part of her life that I haven't known before. I find myself playing different roles with her, responding to her questions about where her car is parked or does she have bread to make sandwiches or how will she get to Aunt Betty's party. I tell her, not necessarily as her daughter, that her car is parked outside and she doesn't have to fix lunch today because she is sick and Aunt Betty is canceling the party until she feels better.
"Oh, that's good." I like hearing my Mother say that. She believes me and she puts her head back on her pillow.
I've always believed that time is not linear; that the past and present and future all exist collectively, all reside within us as us.
Maybe this is one reason I am able to accept my Mother's reality; in addition to the very simple fact that I love her, and it is my honor to help her find her way.