My mother has vascular dementia, which renders her more and more aphasic, though in her case–so far–her “emotional tone” (as philosopher Arne Naess calls it) has remained intact. I visited my mother on a recent occasion when I wasn’t feeling my best and had had a week of less-than-good health. It was not a matter of duty. The time I spend with my mother is beautiful. But it had been a tough week. Let’s leave it at that.
We sat in her apartment in the assisted-living wing and arranged the flowers I’d brought. Then we spent 20 minutes in a kind of conversation, to which I’ve become accustomed, during which she tries to convey information about something she needs to have done. In this case, after much of the usual (really, rather humorous at times) confusion, I deciphered that she wanted some sweaters taken to the dry cleaner.
Such minutia. And yet, so difficult to get across, across that divide of language and cognition. The incredible concentration and effort it takes her just to dial a phone number to call her ailing sister. To tell the nurse aide that she needs more yogurt. Anything.
Then she surprised me. She pointed to my forehead and then to her own. “This,” she said. “Is wrong. For you. What?”
Was she reading a crease in my brow? I told her I had not been feeling great. She wanted to know, so I told her details, the way one tells one’s mother. Even though I am never sure quite how much gets through.
“Lie down. Take off the peaks.” By which she meant shoes. Why not comply? We both took off our shoes and spent the visit relaxing. We even indulged in a glass of wine because she loves to offer wine to her guests. Never mind it was 11 am. My mother has lost that rigid cognitive sense of time that the rest of us spend our lives obsessing over. There’s something valuable in that loss, though it is a loss.
She’s still teaching me things. Other ways to live with loss (my dad, her “normal” brain, mobility, words…).
The next evening, she called me. She wanted to know how I was feeling. I’m 63 years old and my mother is 88, and she’s still worried about me.
I’m feeling loved.