The nursing home was nervous today. Three women each asked me how to get home. They were concerned about being late, about missing their ride.
These are women, like all the residents there, who are not going home. They can't go home. They are not able to live without supervision and assistance. Like my mom.
There are about twenty-five residents on my Mother's floor. All have have dementia or Alzheimer's or a consequential problem with memory. It is a nice unit and the staff is nice and kind and no one is overworked. Today my favorite nurse there told me he's noticed as I have the decline in my Mother in the past few weeks. She is more tired more of the time, she is especially relieved to see me, and she has trouble saying the right words. All of this is new and I'm told it's simply the combination of dementia and age. I think that must be true. My Mother will be 99 on January 5th. I know she could not live at home with me. I'm glad I know that.
I find myself staring at most of the folks on this unit until I can see their younger selves through the lines of their faces. They've had children, jobs, homes, spouses, gardens. I've come to understand their confusion and resistance because where they are now is not their life.
This week my Mother has been thrilled when she sees me. With relief she says, "Oh good! How did you know I was here? Should I get my coat? Are we leaving now?"
It's a heartbreak, but I don't make it a heartbreak. I reassure her that I am always close by. I stay longer. I tell her jokes. This week, uncharacteristically, she said 'bullshit' when she couldn't say the word she meant. I told her the problem was called a 'senior moment' and we both laughed.
There is something very noble and very sad about living in old age in a place you don't know, with memories that don't always work, with a true north sense that this place may be okay, but it is not home. My Mother does her absolute best to adjust and thrive there. She is very much liked, with good reason. Often she tells me I don't need to worry about her. But I think her resilience is waning. Because it's hard to be resilient when you don't have context.
She knows and trusts me. Sometimes she thinks I'm her sister Betty but mostly she's safe with me because we have deep love for one another. These days I want her to be okay, whichever way old age turns her. I don't want her to become afraid or wildly unable to be herself.
To be Herself. That is what we all want. Now. And even when we may become too old to know who that is.