The Face of Fall – A Prose Poem

Leaves of red maple shoot up in flames, against a towering white picket fence.  My mother looks out on them with wistfulness. She begs of me, Come here. Look. She points assertively at the trees.  And that blue, blue sky.  We marvel together for a moment.  Then she begins to count, One, two, three.  Three, she says again with pride, as she turns to me.
So, I think, let me take her out sometime. Drive her through woods or down my home street.  Show her more leaves. Leaves she made my father pile and bag. She never handled a rake. I can’t imagine her long slender fingers, which tightly rolled nuthorns and other delights, have ever wrapped a rake. But certainly, she jumped in mounds of oak and maple, when they were piled high.
I arrive one Saturday, ready for our drive. I have supplies in my car, in case of incidents I used to expect with toddlers, and now plan for with my mother.  I have a few hours space on my schedule. We have all day, I tell her, when I find her. 
She is in Jerry’s room, seated in his rocker chair, watching an old Lawrence Welk show.  There is no cable – someone must have pushed a button on a video player.
I get her to rise. She follows, but that only lasts for several steps. She wants to turn away from the main door. I let her lead for sometime, and she pulls me over to the bulletin board.  Arden Courts News Center, she draws out. See, I told you.
And when she reads, I am supposed to answer, Yes. She is waiting expectantly, a pupil awaiting approval from her teacher. I am anything but.  I miss my clue this time.  She yanks at my arm again. Rereads the headline.  Pushes my arm away. Walks down her corridor away from the exit.  We are not going for a drive today.
Halfway to her room, she stops and stares, I don’t know what to do.  I am lost for a minute, and then I comprehend. She has had an accident. They are happening with more frequency.  Recent medications are speeding up her digestion.  Or is it the disease?  In this I always wonder, am I witnessing the end?  Will I know it, when she is in it?
We toddle to her room.  I struggle to remove her clothes, clean her body. This does not come without pain and heartache. For she often slaps me when she is in pain or shame. When our task is complete, and she feels comfort, my mother reaches out to touch my cheek, and says, I love you, honey.
My name is not at the tip of her tongue. Most names are not.  But honey suffices.  After accidents, embarrassment and exhaustion, she often wants Sinatra and sleep.
I help her to bed. She never sleeps beneath her sheets, as if  preparing to rise at a moment’s note. 
I’ve got you, Frank starts out. And Mom replies, Under my skin.
I’ve got you, he says again, Mom answers, Deep in the heart of me.
The call and respond endures.
I’d sacrifice anything come what might.
For the sake of having you near.
As if she could finish any sentence Old Blue Eyes ever began.
I pull the green afghan up to her chin. Her arms circle around me, and mine, her.  I look deeply into her puffy eyes as she sings herself to sleep. Her childlike face, beaming. Not at me. Not even at Frank.  But at Autumn’s musical of leaves changing colors. Her lit face a reflection of God’s show.


When I Miss Her

When I Miss Her
My mother called me beautiful
as rains pounded against glass
and a gloomy mood
set down and hushed the hallways.
In her chosen chair,
she stirred in fits and starts
complained my hands were cold
squeezed them ‘til they turned blue.
When finally she woke
to walk back to her bed
she reached her tender hands
to cup my face and in
her native custom
kissed both my suntanned cheeks.
My mother called me beautiful –
as someone she might know?
A variation on her self?
My mother called me beautiful
then returned to rest
rain still rapping on the roof.

Nice and Easy Does It

Oh there you are Netti! Mom exclaimed as she opened one eye.  She was seated on a floral chaise, one arm resting on a footstool turned armrest placed nearby.  That had become her favorite piece of furniture as of late, but never used the stool to prop up her feet.
Her use of Netti threw me off, reminded me of those years when I would call from Oregon or Cincinnati, and she would answer the phone, Oh Netti, I knew it was you. She sat straight up and immediately her eyes were drawn to my feet, in particular, my blue running shoes.  They were a neon blue think North Carolina with a little Oregon swag to them.
Hey, what are you doing with those blue shoes? She questioned me.  I shrugged.  Theyre my running shoes Mom, I was a runner, ran track, jumping over hurdles, remember all those times I fell…”  A part of her connected to that time, as a smile crossed her face in the same instant as the sun shone through the window.
All those times I fell.  We chuckled together on that one.
C’mon lets get up and go walk around, I told her.  She sighed, her trademark for quit telling me what to do, but I will probably listen to you anyhow.
We wandered from her hallway out into the main gathering space.  Jerry and Richard were actively engaging in a conversation that went like this – Jerry: “Well, if you at run this, does not you tell look back,” and Richard mumbling over Jerry, “Most people know how to work airplanes, they make them ride… But truly, the men appeared to be battling it out in Congress over the budget.
Mom continued to point out one of the caregivers Q., who had rolled her hair into a bun.  Mom exclaimed, Well look at that, she thinks she is all high and mighty, with her thing up like that. It took some doing, but I convinced Mom all the young girls were wearing buns, and reminded her it was once her style too, perhaps not that I witnessed, but a style in her day for sure.
These moments I had catalogued before, but I called them B.D. moments, before Dads death. The occurrences were not only regular, but entertaining, as well as challenging, because Mom was thinking, and was stating aloud what it was she was thinking. She too was engaged.  But the circumstances of her life dictated she would fall into a state of grief that was difficult to understand and explain to someone who had Alzheimer’s, and even more onerous to explain to one who regularly pushed her own emotions below the surface for the sake of others.
And so she progressed through his death, her moves, the addition and removal of medications, the holidays.  The rate of suicides and deaths among those who experienced grief always rose post holiday season.  I held my breath.
We celebrated her birthday in January at a restaurant where she mistook the waiter, dressed head to toe in black, for a priest, then laughed when Mark suggested, the waiter was there to serve us bread and wine.
Mom came to my house to celebrate Mardi Gras, sans all the kids but one, with our tradition of gumbo, muffuletta and king cake.  Mom even picked the cake piece with the baby in it, and we will hold her to buying the cake for next year. 
She followed along in conversations with my in-laws, and they remarked, how much mom was involved, interested in the flow.
Grief comes in waves for all of us, including those with Alzheimer’s.  Mom could still be stuck in an angry place, but her surroundings have offered her a change of pace, constant social contact and a weekly hair appointment, seriously, her hair was always important. And as such, constant attention to her needs and responding to her want of hugs have also helped.
These are small moments between the long hours when loving someone with Alzheimer’s. I am not there to care for her, but even the hour or two I spend when visiting her or she with me, brings a heightened awareness that her awareness could all be gone again, so easily, and not even with her death, but with her disease.
On our walk, we came across a chaplain who visited every other week, to meet with residents, and hold a service of sorts in the afternoon, following lunch when the residents were more alert.
I love your having your Mom with us. 
I didn’t know who he was, or why he had spent time with Mom.

I’m a chaplain, he explained, telling me about his service and how Mom loves to sing church songs.  Oh yes, I responded.  And Frank Sinatra.
He turned to Mom,  So you love Frank?
She grinned ear to ear.  She worships at the altar of the Good Lord and Ole Blue Eyes,  I noted, then left him to finish his meeting and gently tugged Mom away.
We sat ourselves outside of Boathouse Cove where Mom loved the white wicker furniture in that courtyard, either reminding her of the glamour of Cape Cod, or the cleanliness with which the bright furniture shone.
We positioned ourselves opposite of each other. I had let her hold my music player, listening to Sinatra. She sang along, Nice and Easy does it…” She forgot to repeat the phrase several times and immediately added, every time.
She rose to dance with me then sat down sighing, tired again.  I put the earbuds in her ear, so she could listen more clearly to the music.
Mom which song is it? I asked.
She answered, Come fly with me..,. then added, with your blue shoes on….  She threw her head back to laugh and laugh and laugh.  So hard she could have slid off the plastic cushion on the chair.
Mom, you are making no sense.
Pleased even more so, she answered, Oh, I know.
And I believed her.
She rose up to wander towards the health office, where the nurses met, and poked her head in, Umm. Hi, what’s going on here?  In the same tone she used to check in on kids when we were younger.
This scene was repeated often in the short time I was there.  She was curious, she was amused, she had a life outside of anything I knew of, including the singing service, and teasing the girls who were wearing buns in their hair.
When I was younger, I recall my parents muddling through marital, financial and parental struggles. When I didn’t want my parents to consume their energies on my doings, I would just tell my mom, Don’t worry about it.
In some ways, I removed from her the ability to be my mother, for me to be her daughter. Even these past many months, I had felt the parental one, overseeing her care.
But for the first time in two or three years, I wasnt worried about it.  I felt refreshed to simply be her daughter, to be Netti, and bask in the beauty that was my mom.