I love you thisssss much!
My black leather pump sat applying pressure to the brake as my right hand sat on the gear shift already securely in ‘park’. I was exhausted, energized and apprehensive all rolled into one emotional state. Exhausted, I had worked closed to 40 plus hours for the week already and it was only Wednesday afternoon, so my tired state was warranted. I was energized, my team and I had a 7 am presentation that morning that was wildly successful, we were well on our way designing an amazing project with dream clients. If that wasn’t enough of a rollercoaster of emotions I now sat with my foot still on the brake, uncertain of what I would find today with Mom. I sat for a moment longer, rolled my shoulders to attempt to release some stress and checked my reflection in the rearview mirror, pleasantly surprised my eyes aren’t completely blood shot from lack of sleep. I don’t tend to visit Mom in the middle of the afternoon, Joe usually does. We’ve often received calls and reports from the staff that afternoons are difficult times for her and Joe has experienced it too. Alzheimer’s patients do struggle their most difficult times come during ‘sundowning’, while the sun setting does affect Mom, she additionally has the afternoons to contend with.
I heard the lock ‘click’ as I finished punching in the code into the key pad outside Mom’s unit, and I firmly placed my palm on the door pushing the door open. I switch the gears in my head as I step through the door, any feelings that I maybe harboring at the present moment needed to be tabled, there’s no room for any of it right now. As I close the door behind me Yolanda the head nurse, rounds the corner wearing a bright smile.
Yolanda: Hey Gurl! What you doin’ here in the middle of the day?
Me: I have a CEU tonight, and a trip in the morning. So, how is she this afternoon?
Yolanda: (shrugging her shoulder a bit, tilting her head towards the end of the hall) She’s okay?
The question at the end of her sentence didn’t instill any confidence in me. Still, I know better than to predetermine how my visit will go, I know I set the tone.
Me: Well, let’s see if we can’t make her a little happier
Yolanda: Gurl if anyone can … (Yolanda turns quickly to a sudden repetitive banging around the corner. She flashes me a warm smile of encouragement, turns and disappears) Henry? Oh Henry here I got that ….. where you goin’?
I stepped by the doorway to see Yolanda carefully redirecting Henry in his wheelchair. Clearly, he had been running his chair directly into the wall of his room. Her hand gently stroked his arm as she spoke gently and softly to him, he blankly looked at her, his jaw dropped wide open while grunts escaped his throat.
I always find great comfort in seeing the staff treat the residents with such kindness and compassion. I continue down the hall to find Mom sitting by herself in a chair at the end of the hallway. From my location I can already see the scowl on her face. I do a quick pep talk again with myself, reminding myself again I am in control of the direction our visit will take.
Me: Hey there Mom!
Nothing … not even a turn of the head in my direction. I step closer right at her side.
Me: Hey there beautiful!
I place my hand carefully on her arm. She jumps and pulls her arm away abruptly. Her eyebrows are knitted tightly together, her eyes don’t project fear, no they are brewing anger and rage. I force a warm smile across my lips as I make my eyes dance, hoping and silently praying she can feel the love and tenderness I’m projecting
Me: How are you?
MIL: (staring at me with laser eyes) Goooood?
Me: You look fabulous! (placing my hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze)
MIL: (pulling away from my touch) Oh …. (turning her head away from me)
I think to myself, I am far too tired for this. I watch her for a moment staring at the wall as a rub the back of my neck attempting to loosen a knot is only growing. Mom turns her head slightly and looks up at me out of the corner of her eyes as the corner of her lip curls up. I pull a chair closer to hers and sit.
Me: So, it’s a beautiful day, do you see…
MIL: What do you want?! (with a slight screech to her voice)
Me: I’d like to visit with you
MIL: No …
MIL: I know you … (she leans in close to me her eyes send me a message of distrust)
Me: Of course you know me, I’m your …
MIL: Yea … you… yous (she slams her hand on the arm of the chair and turns away)
Me: Mom? (cautiously laying my hand on her arm again)
MIL: Don’t … don’t you … GET! (her voice rising) You think … you think yourrrr so … GET!
I pull back, it has been months since I’ve experienced this level of anger, and frustration from her. My overtired, mind scrambles for ideas on how to diffuse this before it escalates out of control. I know she thinks I’m here to take whoever she believes is her man. These days Mom flips from her ex-husband to her boyfriend I don't know who she thinks I'm here to take from her, never the less I’ve become a threat.
Me: How about I just sit with you for a few minutes? I don’t have to talk I can just be with you.
Me: (sigh) Well … you might not like me very much right now … but I love you and want to spend time with you …
MIL: I don’t care … GO
My eyes start to burn. They don’t burn from lack of sleep they burn because tears are quickly brewing. I look up and see Yolanda watching us carefully. I weakly smile and nod towards her, indicating ‘we’re ok’. I decide to just sit for a spell, collect myself and plan out in my head how I can turn this visit around.
MIL: humph …. (fidgeting in her chair)
Me: Need something beautiful?
MIL: Don’t call me that! (folding her arms tightly across her chest)
Me: Well … you happen to be one of the most beautiful women I know …
MIL: (her eyes dart left to right) yea right (she focuses on me fury still filling her eyes)
Me: (cautiously) I speak the truth, you are beautiful …
MIL: huh? (looking at me cautiously)
Me: Yep … You’re an amazing woman, one that I admire.
MIL: you what? Ad… ameeer… huh? (her face softening)
Me: (I think here we go … we’re turning the corner) Admire … I admire you!
MIL: You …. You do?
Me: (now leaning a little closer) Yes, you are smart, you are beautiful … you are a wonderful Mom and Grandma, but most importantly you are very, very important to me ….
She studies me for a moment.
MIL: I … I …. (sigh)
Me: (kissing her cheek and lightly touching my forehead to hers) I love you Mom …
She leans back. I look squarely into her eyes, its gone, the anger is gone. She looks down at her hands and back up at me.
MIL: I … you … (her eyebrows knit again) you … I don’t (she makes eye contact with me a she looks so sad, my heart hurts)
Me: sshhh …. It’s going to be ok.
MIL: (she sighs deeply and looks up to the ceiling) is it?
Me: Heck ya!
Me: yep, ‘cause we’ve got love … love fixes everything.
I start scrambling in my head for something to connect this, to how can I explain love fixes everything and keep this momentum going. I fall back on a ole stand by … my kids. Stories of my babies almost always make Mom smile.
Me: Yep … Love fixes everything, it wins everytime … You loved the way my little Joey would say ‘I love you’!
MIL: did I?
Me: When Joey was little you lived with us for a while, you had been very sick and needed some help during your recovery.
MIL: Oh? I don’t re… rye … (tapping her forehead) I .. I don’t reeee (sigh) remem…. mmeber
Me: How about I help you remember …. (smiling and opening my eyes wide with excitement) I’m sure you’ll like the memory
MIL: yea … do that …
I leaned back in my chair and take her down memory lane. I took Mom back to 2001 when she lived with us recovering from Necrotizing Fasciitis. During her stay my sitting room became her bedroom, there was never a door on the room, so for privacy, so I had hung a simple curtain. Mom was never a morning person, and well we were … so mornings were tough for her in our house.
Me: Oh, you were patient Mom …. Joey was always so excited to see you in the morning he’d plant his face against the curtain and whisper-yell (I lean in a little closer to Mom for affect and explain ‘whisper yell’) … that’s when you try to speak really loudly but you’re still whispering.
MIL: (smiling) oh yea?
Me: Yes, he’d whisper yell with his face against the curtain (holding my hand in front of my face like it was a curtain) … “GAMMA?! …. GAMMA?! … You AWAKE?” (giggling) I’d scoop him up, which was difficult he was 3 and the size of a 5-year-old, I’d pull him away from the curtain and explain you were sleeping, and that you needed your beauty rest.
MIL: uh huh …
Me: I don’t know how he would do it … but most mornings I’d turn my back for only a moment and he’d be gone …. Do you know where he went?
Me: He scooted behind the curtain and was standing at your bedside … guess what he was doing?
MIL: (shaking her head, her eyes searching my face for an answer) what ….
Me: Standing over your bed whisper-yelling “GAMMA?! …. GAMMA?! … You AWAKE?”
MIL: (starting to laugh) Really? Oh …
Me: Yep … I have to scoop him up again, most mornings you’d roll over and say it was ok … you were up anyway. (shaking my head) But really, he woke you up, you were never a morning person!
Me: Nope if you had it your way you’d get up at the crack of noon!
MIL: crack of what?
Me: Noon … but Joey had a way of waking you up and making you smile …
Me: He was so darn cute, I’d usually lightly scold him for waking you up … but he always had the perfect response … want to know what it was?
MIL: yea … (a smile creeping across her face)
Me: (standing up) He say … “GAMMA? Don’t be mad … I don’t wake you for nuttin’! I wake you ‘cause I love you thissssss much” (I re-enacted Joey as a three year old stretching my arms so wide my hands touched behind my back)
Mom’s head shot back, and a hearty laugh escaped her lungs, she held her belly and let the happy memory and good feelings fill her soul. I soaked up the moment.
Yes, love wins … or at least it did this afternoon.
We sat for a spell longer before I settled her in the dining room for dinner. At her table Dorothy started chatting about how glad she was I came for a visit. I stroked Moms shoulder and kissed the top of her head .
Me: I’m going to head out Mom … I love you …
MIL: I love you to (looking up at me smiling warmly)
Me: Yep love fixes everything Mom …
MIL: it does?
Me: Trust me Mom it does …
As I exited the unit I stopped outside the dining room to wave to Mom behind the glass window. She looked directly at me, blankly actually through me. I blew her a kiss, more for me than for her, reminding myself love wins, every time.