The part of this post that is in regular type, is a post I wrote two years ago, on my old blog. The paragraphs at the end that are in italics, are a new addition to the tale.
I walked into the living room. Mom was sitting in her chair.
Says I: “We are heading out for a bit.”
Says She: “Where are you going?”
I: “We are going to go get my new glasses, and then run to Kohl’s to return some things. We’ll be back in awhile. Maybe an hour-and-a-half?”
We have arrived at the optical store, which is about a 5 minute drive from the house.
I think we’d only been at the store less than 10 minutes when the phone rang. It was mom.
I: “Hi mom”
She: “Will you bring me a danish and some tea.”
I: “I can’t right now.”
She: “Why not?”
I: “Because I’m not home.”
She: “Where are you?”
I: “Did you forget that I told you we were going to get my glasses and then to Kohl’s?”
She: “Yeah. I guess I did forget.”
I: “I’ll be home soon, and get your tea and danish.”
She: “Ok. Bye.”
As I hang up the phone, I am annoyed with myself that I said “Did you forget?” Obviously she had. I didn’t really need to point it out. Seems rather mean of me to have said that. Mostly, I think, it’s that thing we do when we get scared, like a parent yelling at a child for running out into the street, then giving them a big hug. My mentioning she forgot seems to be the same: an expression of fear, but not knowing how to express it in any other way. Does that make any sense? Maybe that’s a poor analogy.
I walked into the living room. Mom was sitting in her chair.
Says I: “We are heading out. I’m going to the grocery store to pick up a couple things for dinner.”
Says She: “Ok. You won’t be gone long?”
I: “Shouldn’t be. Just need to run in and out. We’ll be gone half hour, forty-five minutes maybe.”
We are at the grocery store, which is less than a ten minute drive from home.
We’ve been at the store no more than 15 minutes. Maybe only 10.I picked up some produce, onion rolls, pork chops, chips, soda and diet tonic water. So, it couldn’t have taken all that long. Then, we walked right up to the check-out; there was no line. We checked out, paid, and just as I was walking out to the car, the phone rang.
I: “Hi mom.”
She: “I have some mail for you to put out on the box before the postman comes.”
I: “Ok. I’ll put it out when I get home.”
She: (short pause) “Where are you.”
I: “The grocery store. Picking up the stuff I need to make for dinner.”
She: (long pause) “You’re not back yet?”
I: “No. We are just leaving now.”
I: “I’ll be home soon, ok?”
She: “I’ll go put it out. See you. Bye.”
So, I’m not annoyed with myself, as I didn’t mention that she forgot. What doesn’t translate in the story is that she did forget — the pause and her tone of voice, along with the hesitant way she said “You’re not back yet?” all gave me reason to believe she forgot. At least I didn’t point it out this time.
These calls happened today and yesterday. Though they aren’t the first calls of their kind, each one brings pain to my heart. She’s 87, so I know that there’s a certain amount of age-related memory-loss to expect. It doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve always thought of my mom as one of the smartest people I know. She was never one to forget things — even the most trivial of things were things to be remembered.
To see those trivial things forgotten just breaks my heart.
Time moves on, as time does. We experience life. Hopefully, we learn a thing or two along the way.
Sometimes we notice our mistakes, and try to change them, as I tried to do when answering one of mom’s phone calls when we were out and about — trying not to say “don’t you remember I told you….?”
Two years, and a couple of months have passed since I wrote that blog post, and I noticed my mistake. I wish I could make the claim that I’ve been perfect, that I’ve not made that mistake again. But, no. I can’t claim perfection. Mom still calls when I’m out, and I’ve asked “…but don’t’ you remember I told you….?” The words fly out — no thought involved. And, as soon as the words have flown from my tongue, I’m left standing there, wanting to rip my tongue out, throw it on the floor, and stamp it dead in the same freaked out way I stamp out a big, ugly bug crawling rapidly in my direction. I’m left wondering why it was important for me to say “….don’t you remember?” It’s not as if saying it makes a difference. Obviously she didn’t remember, or she wouldn’t be calling, so why the need for me to point it out?
If this were happening with a friend, or a roommate, or even my partner, I might feel a little sorry that I questioned their memory, but, I don’t think any of us would really be bothered by it. We might even laugh it off with a “Well, you know, the memory is the first thing to go.”
But, when it’s my mom, who is fast approaching her 90th birthday, it’s different. It’s not easily dismissed, or even laughed off. Ok, I’ll admit, I laugh a little about it, that she gets so focused on what she needs, that she forgets I’m gone. But, this need to point it out to her. No, no, I don’t say it every time. I’ve gotten better. But, sometimes I still ask, “…don’t you remember?” Sometimes, there’s even a tone in my voice, an exasperation in my voice, a tone that reminds me of an exchange between a parent and child: “…don’t you remember I told you that we were going to Aunt Sally’s tonight? You’ll just have to tell your friends you can’t go to the movies.” And, then the plaintive wail, “But mom….”
When I use that tone with my mom, there’s no “But mom…” wail from her. Usually just silence, as she remembers that yes, I had told her I was out, and that, yes, she had forgotten. And, in that moment when she’s silent, the pain wells up inside me, then the accusing guilt: why am I so stupid? why am I so thoughtless? why does it even matter?
Finally, I’ve realized why it matters, why I call out her forgetfulness, or why I sound exasperated. It’s because I need her not to forget. I need her to remember. Not just that I’ve left the house for awhile. That’s not really the issue, is it? Forgetting I’m gone is trivial. But, if she forgets that, what else is she going to start forgetting? She’s already forgotten stories, mixing them up, adding people into stories who weren’t actually a part of the story, leaving people out of other stories, placing them in the wrong time and place. Is the time going to come when she forgets where she is? Forgets who I am? Forgets who she is?
So, you see, the questioning, the tone — they are not directed at her. They are directed at time, at age, at the erosion of our mind and body. At the cycle of life.
I think I can honestly claim that I’ve never expected my mother to be immortal — my father dying when I was fourteen taught me that lesson. And, I’ve seen enough people age, grow less vital, begin to lose memories and thoughts. I’ve never denied that those times were coming. I’ve watched the calendar turn its pages, from day, to month, to year, another year, and another.
I knew that this time was coming, these days that are often politely called The Twilight Years. I had no starry-eyed illusions that it would be easy to watch.
What I had no idea of was how angry and hopeless it makes me feel to watch the vital, active woman who was my mother slowly fade away. No, I’m not burying her just yet. She’s still got life left in her. But, there are the forgotten things, her being easily tired by spending an hour or two taking a friend shopping (my mom could, once upon a time, when we were working on all the mountain property, spend a Saturday running from hardware store, to lumber yard, to department store, then still have the energy to go to dinner and a play with friends); now, and hour of driving her friend to the store, riding around on an electric cart, and taking her friend home, is enough to tire her out.
I need her to remember because she’s the only family I have left. My dad is gone. My brother is gone. She knows stories about them, stories I’ve still not learned. She cannot forget, because then I’m left being the only one who’ll remember the stories of my family. I try to write them down, but, how can you capture the stories of the lives of three people, and still try to hold onto your own story?
How can I carry the weight of the stories of my mom, my dad, my brother? I haven’t gotten the stories all stitched into my brain yet. I need her to at least remember until I’ve finished sewing the quilt of their stories into the fabric of my soul.
I’m weaving their tales as fast as I can. But, I cannot stop time from moving on.