Choose your Battle....
I peeked my head into the dining room that was bustling with activity, Whitney Houston was belting out “I’m Every Woman” from the boom box on the counter, an Aide holding a food tray was shaking her hips slightly to the beat and singing along. I smiled and waved to Dorothy, she looked right through me, she was in a special place in her own her head, smiling and bouncing her head slightly to the music. I scanned the room for Mom, she was nowhere to be found.
It was exceptionally quite in the hallway as I made my way through the Star Unit. Josh, one of the largest, most gentle men I’ve ever met, approached me with a warm smile. His frame towered over me as I stopped to exchange pleasantries.
Me: Hey! Happy Saturday!
Josh: Hey back at ya! How yous today?
Me: I’ve got no complaints!
Josh: Gurl, you always say that!
Me: Life is good my friend … life is good, I’m on the right side of the daisies what can I complain about?!
Josh threw his back letting a hardy laugh escape his lips. I basked in the beauty of his energy, his large hand waved by me as he shook his head smiling at me.
Josh: ain’t that the truth!
Me: Sure is … hey, Rosemary’s not in the dining hall?
Josh: She wasn’t having nothing to do with going to dinner today (shrugging) I tried but … yous know how it is sometimes …
Me: Oh, I get it…
Josh: You choose your battles. (chuckling lightly) We’ll get her a tray.
Me: thanks, see you later!
I pushed my hand against the slightly closed door. The room was lit, with the only the light entering being the twilight sky through the window. It was a typical scene of late, a quiet, dimly lit room, with the curtain drawn two thirds across her bed, and her white Velcro sneakers peeking out at the foot of her bed. I know that when she’s having a rough afternoon the best thing for her is quite space, although it still saddens me that she’s all alone in this room. I approach and cautiously pull the curtain back. There she lay sound asleep.
Me: (placing my hand on her arm, speaking just above a whisper) Hey there beautiful!
MIL: (eyes popping wide open and her arm coiling back from me) huh?!
Me: Hi … how are you?
MIL: … good? (studying me hard)
Me: Glad to hear it (leaning in to place a kiss on her forehead)
As I pull back, I see her face has softened, her eyes are closed, and a tender smile graced her lips.
Me: How about I use my magic wand and sit you up?
Me: Watch this …
I lean down and pick the bed control up in my left hand, purposely holding it below the bed. As I pretend to wave my ‘magic’ wand I push the ‘up’ button for the head of the bed.
MIL: (eyes wide with surprise) how … hey … wow
Me: (smiling and giggling) I have magic powers!
MIL: you do!
Smiling and shaking my head, I place the control back on the floor next to the bed. Mom stared at me for a moment, then weakly smiled.
Me: So, what’s new?
MIL: (shrugging) I don’t … I don’t know …
I studied her for a moment, trying to judge how she was. I was tired, and my feet were screaming. I had traveled from North Haven, to Suffield, to Manchester finally landing here in Wallingford. I attended two memorial services, conducted a three-hour client meeting in an unheated commercial space, all in stilettos before I made it to visit Mom. I needed to dig deep for conversation starters, it would have been so much easier if she was in the dining room. At least there I can feed of the other residents, the way I’m dressed today, especially in my dress coat with the thick fur collar, always gets ‘ohhs and ahhs’ from the ladies which makes for an easy conversation.
Me: So I saw Scot and Anna today ...
MIL: oh? (she’s not at all register who her son and daughter in-law are)
Me: Yea, they’re doing well. Anna’s dad passed away this summer and his memorial service was today.
MIL: uh huh …
Me: You did a great job with your son Scot, Mom …
Me: (she still has no idea who or what I’m talking about, so I continue more for me than anything else) You did, he’s a wonderful husband and father. I watched him carefully today, he was a pillar of strength for Anna and the kids. It warmed my heart as I watched him hold Sophia’s hand during the slide show. Poor Sophia, she’s only 14 death is so hard to understand at that age. Theo did well, looked sad but he did well. Anna’s mom looked wonderful … I don’t know how she does it her skin is flawless! Anna’s brother gave the eulogy, he just was re-elected to office, he ran for judge I believe and her (a yawn creeps into my jaw) other botr Michl ooks grat too ….
Me: sorry, (shaking my head) her other brother Michael looks great too.
I think to myslef ‘oh my this is going to be a long visit’. I’m scrambling for what to talk about, and literally rambling. I’m rescued temporarily by the Aide bringing Mom’s dinner tray.
Aide: Here ya go Rosemary ….
MIL: oh! Good! (showing a bust of excitement)
Me: Dinners looking good huh?
MIL: (looking at me like I was crazy) Yesssss …
Me: well, for the most part you don’t like to miss a meal!
MIL: yea …
Aide: Rosemary do you want to sit in a chair or on the end of your bed?
Mom looks up at her a little confused, but the aide is quick to act.
Aide: Here, I’ll set you up on the bed here and she can sit (nodding toward me) in the chair
MIL: ok …
The aide gets mom settled and I sit back in the chair. I watch mom eat, redirecting her to her fork and spoon when needed and intercepting the knife more than a few times.
MIL: (sniff) … humph
Me: you ok? You need a Kleenex?
MIL: (sniff) yea (sniff)
I stand up and go to her bathroom to retrieve some toilet paper. As I approach the bed, I see her using her blanket to blow her nose.
ME: Oh, Mom … (holding out to her the toilet paper) here I have tissues for you …
MIL: oh …
She doesn’t take the tissue, she looks back at her dinner and tries to scoop up the fruit cocktail with her knife. I wonder to myself why the kitchen even sends the knife.
Me: Mom how about we try this … (handing her the spoon)
MIL: oh yea …
She digs around in the fruit cocktail eventually filling her spoon with fruit. She sits a little straighter for a moment as she chews then sniffs again, then twice.
Me: Need this Mom? (holding the tissue)
MIL: No …. I … got my own …
She picks up the blanket again to blow her nose. I decide at that moment I’d follow Josh’s lead on this one. Choose your battles. What good will it do if I keep trying to force the tissue on her, what harm is there in her using the blanket as a ‘tissue’.
I sit with her for another half hour as she finishes her dinner, it was a constant exchange of my correcting Mom on utensils. No not correcting just redirecting and ignoring her using her blanket as a tissue and napkin.
MIL: Ahhhh (dropping both hands at her side looking down at her empty plate)
Me: was that good?
MIL: sure was … don’t you think?
Me: Here … I’ll move this tray …
MIL: (yawn) Thank you
I clear her tray as she turns to lay back against her raised bed. I busy myself for a moment packing up her laundry to take with me to wash.
Me: What do you do with all of you socks? (noticing there were no socks in her dirty laundry) It’s like you’ve got (turning around to look at Mom) …. a sock thief!
She was sound asleep. I sighed, I looked at her blanket balled up at the foot of her bed. I could see beet juice stains from her dinner among other smudges. I decide not to ‘tuck her in’ I leave the blanket as is. I place the bag of laundry on the chair and quietly approach her bedside.
Me: Mom (whispering) I’m gonna go
MIL: hmmm (not opening her eyes)
Me: (kissing her forehead) I love you …
MIL: (still with her eyes closed) I love you too …
Me: I’ll see you tomorrow with Joe … (stroking her hair behind her ear)
MIL: hmmmmm (her eyes closed with a content smile making her way across her lips)
I softly close the door behind me. Across the hall is the nurse’s station, I see Josh sitting working at a computer.
Me: Hey friend ….
Josh: Hey! How we doing in there?
Me: Sleeping …. Can you do me a favor?
Josh: Sure … whaddaya need?
Me: Mom needs a new blanket … there was some confusion tonight between Kleenex, napkins and the blanket.
Josh: (already standing) sure thing …
Me: it just wasn’t worth it …
Josh: Choose your battles! (smiling) Guuurl, go home you look tired!
Me: A little … thanks so much for the blanket.
Josh: (walking towards a linen closet)I’ll take care of it, see ya …
Me: have a good night
I punch the code into the keypad to exit the unit. I think to myself, battle … it is such as strong negative word. I don’t like negativity and I don’t like to think of myself battling with Mom. It saddens my heart when I think this way. I pass another nurses station and make eye contact with one of the nurses, I smile warmly, she returns with her own smile and well wishes of a good evening. I remind myself, that good positive energy and love is what wins every time. Choosing not to engage in a ‘battle’ is actually a positive action, one that makes our time together more enjoyable and better for Mom. I sign myself out in the guest book at the main desk and enjoyed a short banter with a few residents and guest in the lobby. I turned towards the receptionist to wave good bye when she stops me.
Receptionist: You’re always so nice and friendly when you’re here!
Me: Only way to be, right?
Receptionist: Well, don’t stop I love seeing you come through that door you lift everyone’s spirts.
Me: I won’t … Hey, have a great night and stay warm it’s a little raw and chilly.
Receptionist: I will … you too
The second set glass doors slide open, the cold air bites at my cheeks. I pull my collar closer to my cheeks, battle the bitter air … how am I going to spin this battle into a positive thought my head? I really don’t like the cold … my mind wanders to what my evening holds, a quiet evening with Joe, probably curled up on the sofa watching a movie … and well cuddling somehow seem cozier when it’s cold outside. … I smile, pleased with myself that I’ve found another positive spin, a skill I’ve had to hone during this journey with Mom. The ‘resume’ I have built over the last few years is extensive, this addition is invaluable … I pause for a moment and silently thank Mom for the great lessons.