I crinkle my nose as I glance over at Mom, nestled in her green, crocheted afghan. She is snoring loud enough to wake the heavens. And right now, on Mom’s birthday eve, I am trying to keep the heavens at bay.
She caught some cold bug the other day, and has been sleep-eating (yes, its possible, because it’s Mom), and sleep-walking and a few other activities that most can only accomplish when awake.
And I am stuck, here in her room, with an iPhone battery dying (yes, its an iPhone 6) and little to do but take on a task Mom would relish – cleaning out her closets and drawers.
I begin my duties at a small, crème cabinet, one that resided in Mom’s foyer. We had a foyer in the home on Lincoln Street. It was quite the step up from the screened breezeway of our youth on Ridgeland Drive. Mom taught us the word, foyer, and what its purpose was. Mostly, the cabinet held Mom’s dress purses. A matching mirror was perched above, positioned in an area where the girls could bound down the steps, fix an errant curl (and did we have lots of them), and head out, not the foyer, but the mudroom, which was also new concept in the home on Lincoln St.
The cabinet had been separated from its mirror, still languishing in storage following my father’s death. But the mirror kept good company with the sofa table and someday will be reunited, I suspect when Mom and Dad are reunited.
From the bottom shelf, I lift up and caress Mom’s two black, dress purses. And imagine Mom toting these, filled with only lipstick and Kleenex, on her nights out. Her evenings were never fancy, but Mom dressed as if they were.
I wrestle open a few plastic Kroger bags to find 12 pairs of new socks. Twelve. I hadn’t realized Mom was flush in socks or I wouldn’t have bought her the many pairs that joined her Christmas stocking stuffer of new socks. What else do you get one who turns 90 and whose socks disappear inside the Dr. Suess-like dryers of her care home more than my own?
I add several of the new pairs to the stash in Mom’s regular sock drawer and fold all her camisoles, which she now wears instead of bras. I recall the first time one of her caregivers asked if I wanted Mom to wear a bra, because we would have to also keep track of her breast form. I agreed to discarding the bra concept. However, I kept the insert as a reminder of the battle she won over her breasts, letting one go, and liberating the other.
The chest drawers contain little, other than manicure supplies I have bought over the years, a few errant colors that only work in spring and summer, a photo album from my parents trip to Hawaii, which included a stop-over in Napa, to join my sister, Laura and I, while we toured wine country. My parents were so alive then, so full of life’s promise to live out their days on their own terms. Come to think of it, so was my sister. But, as life has taught each of us, we don’t always get to choose.
I store holiday items in the bottom drawer: plastic pumpkins, a purple, felt Easter basket. Anything Mom can’t eat or break. I remove the red and green tinsel from the countertops and shelves and take down Christmas.
Carefully, I rewrap her Christmas carolers and place them in a box in her closet, along with thinning numbers of Christmas decorations. The carolers are my favorite holiday decoration. The figures so represent a time and place only touched in my heart by the sight of these felt dolls. My mother treasured the dolls for the hope they exuded and the songs only she could hear sung.
I move on to her nightstand, with the drawer pull now gone. Only a screw remains to grasp, to pull out the drawer and select a Nat King Cole CD to croon to Mom while she sleeps. The drawer once held a coloring pad of Scooby Doo characters, for when any grandkids came, or for when I was bored, or wanted to pressure Mom into coloring. She never liked the idea, so I gave up. A red crayon rolls out from under her ceramic bible, which I have hidden because I can’t bear to take it away from Mom. I always want her to be nearer to thee.
I rehang a few cards a sister once sent. In the past, birthday or holiday cards dotted her closet doors. Letters from friends who still resided in northern Ohio. Cards from her sisters-in-laws. But they all know Mom’s disposition and that their words would fall on, not-quite-so-deaf ears. That they will save their prayers for Mom for the pews, where the incantations are more likely to be heard.
Mom’s snores are now shaking the wreath hung on her door. One resident, Rita wheels herself into Mom’s room, curious as to the noise and my appearance. Rita doesn’t speak much, but she cackles when I call her “Chiquita Rita.” She nods her head over and over for sometime before boredom sets in and she wheels herself out.
I trudge over to the closet. I am delighted by my own brilliance as I rearrange Mom’s clothes from blacks to beiges, though I know they won’t stay color-coded for long. Yes, I am this bored, and this committed to observing each breath Mom is inhaling. I am taking no chances, and like any other day, will drag her kicking and screaming into her ninetieth birth day.
She only has eighteen hours until that time arrives. Eighteen hours in which anything can happen. I am really not anticipating her departure, because she is on her seventh or eighth life, as a cat who might possess more than nine.
My phone has died as I snap the last photos of her room. Pictures of her grandchildren, all but the oldest, because at the time, I didn’t have a 5 x 7 of Cheryl. The round faces have morphed into thinner faces, hair color changes, broader chests and a change of fashion. Her youngest granddaughter, Sophia, is 13. In the photo, she is in kindergarten.
I never had the heart to change out the photos. They were chosen by Mom, displayed on her “altar” above the kitchen desk. Two photos of my father also watch over Mom, but Mom always gravitates to her wedding day photo. Who wouldn’t?
Only a few other photos populate the room, because, well. Because. Because my time is better spent in the moment with Mom. Or outside. Always, outside. And Mom rarely spends time in her room, other than to sleep. Though right now, I am wishing I would have spruced up the décor a bit more, if only to entertain myself.
Inventorying the contents of Mom’s room, I have taken stock of Mom’s life. For Mom, whatever items remain now no longer have meaning attached to them (other than the wedding photo). And for that, I am grateful. The lack of sentiment will ease the task later, whenever Mom departs for brighter shores. For that too, I am grateful.
The bedrooms of the many residents at Arden Courts is testament to that same detachment. What they hold is not what I consider necessary or would carryout out of a home in a fire. No passports, or insurance papers. No laptop or cell phone. No photos, even.
For them, pictures of their loved ones have been burnished into their minds, just as they would want to remember them. Young, and vibrant, and maybe with a glass of wine in their hands.
My mother would certainly not want to remember me, standing over her, tears streaming down my face, as I held her black clutch bag with its gold chain and clasp and imagined her dancing somewhere. Somewhere.
She would want to remember me, as she sees me now, when she wakes for a brief time, holds a hand to my cheek, and says, “Sweetie”.
I don’t know how old I am in Mom’s world, and I have a birthday approaching, so I am moving further away from whatever age she views in me.
I wouldn’t pick to be ten years old. And probably not eighteen. I am aiming for twenty-five. At that age, I wasn’t married yet. Not widowed or a mother either. And certainly not the blubbering fool I was now. At that age, I was only her daughter. And we were on the path of becoming. Just becoming.
Dementia can be a beautiful disease. While it sloughs away at Mom’s remembering of me, the disease has crystallized my remembering of her.