The evidence is above my head. Old t-shirts from Davis’ basketball teams, old hand towels from my first wedding, a Loyola shirt that someone has grown out of, leftover t-shirts from charity events hosted. All these sit atop the wire shelves in my laundry room, in plain sight, pointing to my guilt.
Each day, a new piece of evidence appears. Just last night, I rinsed out a carry home salad container from the pizza parlor to store with my Tupperware. And when my friend Leigh and I are out for lunch and she offers me lotion, I watch as she squeezes the lotion out of the tube into her palm, while I flip my hand over and nudge a little lotion onto the top of my hand, then rub both bony tops together.
My sighs are heavier now, my worries a little deeper. I have set laundry days and usually threaten that any remaining items in the laundry will be donated to Goodwill. When did this begin, this becoming my mother? I ask and laugh to myself.
Surely, I have always been her, in some fashion. But now, I want to bake more of her cookies, try my hand (again) at ravioli, create my own sauce from homegrown tomatoes. I sink further into this writing chair knowing it is because she is slipping away.
Were I to survey my friends, my cohorts, would they reply the same? That “becoming their mother” occurred when they noticed she was not really available to them anymore.
There has been no official diagnosis of dementia, but even if there were, my mother would forget that she had dementia anyhow. If it werent so sad, it would be quite a funny running dialogue about her either forgetting to take her meds, or not wanting to all because she forgets she has the disease!
Oh sure, mom still answers the phone. Oh sure, she still makes cookies, better than I ever will. But for Fall, she iced the cookies with Easter colors. When asking about the stepdaughters’ birthdays, two of whom were born in November, my mother cannot understand why the third daughter’s birthday does not also appear on her November calendar. I answer quietly, “If you flip to April, Mom, you’ll see her name there.”
As we speak over the phone, I envision her scrutinizing her calendar. She mumbles back and forth about this April birthday and that, while in my mind, I am wishing, “I don’t want you to go, mom. Inside your body to a place where none of us can find you. I know you will be safe there. I know it is a good place to be. After all those years of fighting back the arthritis, which I swear was caused by the stress of your worries, you are lighter. The telling is in your face, your oh so youthful, almost angelic face. Your soft cheeks, not yet hollowed all the way out. You were and are the original Ivory girl. There was never a need for a Sephora in your life. No cosmetician ever asked you to sit in her chair. There was no need, they could not have sold you on any product that could soften or lighten your face and cheeks.”
Her actions, her quirks, her ideas are now lost in a jumble of neurons. As of late, I have been telepathing them, almost intentionally performing actions that define her as Mom so as to hold on to her as she was. Her thriftiness that she displayed by saving all the old tees and towels for rags, I too am coveting, as if there are stories attached to each piece of fabric or rag. Stockpiling peanut butter, when it’s on sale or not, though it is the cheapest lunch item by far in my grocery cart. I leave my shoes at the foot of the staircase, when I go up the carpeted steps to the 2nd floor. When I descend, I put those shoes back on.
I find myself shopping less, because I know she doesn’t anymore, considering more duties in the community or the writing center. She was a committed person, who taught first grade CCD every Saturday morning for ten years. Who could blame her for choosing the first graders, they had to be so much cuter than we were at 14. And too, she had been trained as a teacher for the young ones, she was at her best, reading the Bible stories, emphasizing the Ten Commandments, she was never deep, but always firm. And then, immediately following her classes, she would rush us off to bowling leagues.
Her energy I have never duplicated, but I also recall her naps – and am prone to my own – on the couch when we came home from school, her daytime attachment to General Hospital – I guess that’s no different from my attachment to West Wing or 30 Rock.
Just last night, I looked up from my post at end of the kitchen table and was caught off guard by my reflection in the sliding glass door. I may someday fear looking in any mirror, seeing myself actually age into my mother. But for now, I observe a woman who saved the world- the world she lived in – through photos, dinners, traditions and green stamps. I am trying to become a little piece of that woman.