Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 19, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – April 19, 2004 – Life goes on and it was determined after an eight week stay at the hospital that my mother was functioning well enough to live in a nursing home. My father decided on a location on the east side of town, close to our family home where he could visit easily and often.
The arrangements were made for a transfer with both the hospital and the extended care facility and I took a day off work and went to visit my father the day of the move. To say this was difficult would be an understatement. My mother had settled into a routine at the hospital and gotten to know the staff and the other patients. Now she was going to be being uprooted again and taken to another new place.
When we arrived to pick her up she was sitting on the chair beside her bed. The nurses had packed her suitcase. When I walked into the room with my father, there was a brief, shining moment when Mary thought she was going home. There was such a look of joy on her face and she hugged me tightly and told me she knew I had finally come for her. I had to break the news to her that she was going to a nursing home. Her smile vanished and the short-lived happiness simply melted our of her body.
Her shoulders slumped and she fell silent. We drove the short distance to the nursing home and pulled into the parking lot. Mary refused to get out to the car. I sat and talked with her for a long time and she finally agreed to come inside for a look. She shared a room with three other women. Neutral gray walls, four single beds, a wall closet, a bedside table and a foot locker. Her bedside wall had a foot square picture of a cat playing with a ball of yarn and a crooked photograph of a vase of roses hung over the bed. Mary walked around wringing her hands and shaking her head.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if you were staying a week or two and then going home. But, what if you were already trying to understand why your family had abandoned you? What if you were afraid – your health was failing you and you couldn’t understand why your thoughts were so erratic? What if some days you knew who you were and other days you just couldn’t make any of the required connections? I can’t imagine what my mother experienced, I know it was a nasty cocktail of confusion, pain, fear, sadness, loneliness and anger.
We had a tour of the facility. I mumbled inane comments about the size of the day room and the brightness of the corridors. Mary walked over to the main door and tried to open it. “Locked”, she hissed, “You’re leaving me here aren’t you?” My father was sitting in a chair with his head in his hands. One of the staff suggested that we have a cup of tea with Mary and then leave. She needed to try and settle down.
We hugged Mary good-bye and went out for an early supper. I still had to drive back to Toronto and I was already exhausted. My father hardly spoke. Dad wondered aloud what Mary thought from day to day. Alzheimer’s plays dirty tricks on those he inflicts with his poison. One day he grants you time in the present so you understand the nature of your predicament. He gives you the gift of lucid thinking.
The next day, in a sneaky move, he shuffles you on to the never land express for a short ride to la-la land. One day you’re docile in your surrender – the next day your vitriol is sharp, cruel and bitter. Some days your anger boils over and you attack other people. The stages of the disease erode the personality and destroy the person.
My mother eventually settled into the dull routine at the nursing home. She never stopped asking when she could come home and she never stopped watching the doors to the nursing home. I got a frantic call from my father one day in late August telling me that my mother had escaped. Visions of the final scenes from the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” flashed through my mind.
He promised to call me with news as soon as the police found her. She had apparently watched the nurses as they punched in the door security codes enough times that she was able to decipher the numbers. One sunny morning she opened the door and went out for a walk. It must have been delicious. To this day when I think of her day of freedom, wherever she went, I hope she sat in the sunshine, picked an apple from a front lawn fruit tree, skipped along the sidewalk and did a cartwheel.
I know most of those things never happened, but when they found her, she was walking down the street carrying a good portion of the bed sheets and towels from someone’s back yard clothes line. She was tired and climbed into the police cruiser without incident. My dad called to say that she was okay but that he had to go to the nursing home for a review of her progress and her behaviour. I guess they didn’t want bed linen bandits endangering the very welfare of the community.
In May of 1986 I took some vacation time, sprang Mary from the nursing home for a week and brought her down to my home in Toronto. I invited some friends over for dinner – people who had known my mother and were happy to share an evening with her. Mary insisted on planning the meal. No one seemed to care that we had coleslaw, scrambled eggs, pickles and Jello for dinner. She sat at the head of table and told all the wonderful stories that she could remember from years gone by. She couldn’t recall the next afternoon but she was a grand story teller and she had charmed all my guests.
We spent the week together. We went for long drives in the country, we walked around my neighbourhood and sat in the park. We ate pizza and pie and drank pots of tea. We played with my new puppy Boadi and snuggled on the sofa and watched movies on television. She had long, luxurious baths and I gave her a manicure and a pedicure. I washed her hair, towelled it off and brushed it until it was dry. We hugged a lot and looked at old pictures. She tried to play solitaire without much success, but she beat me at checkers every time.
She couldn’t be left alone for a minute and at times she was cranky and terribly confused. She slept a lot and talked about going back to her husband and her home. Some days she couldn’t make the connection that I was her daughter and other days she talked about small details of my life that I’d long since forgotten. Friday was our last evening in Toronto and we had a quiet dinner together with candles and wine glasses and my best dishes. I made a roast chicken, potatoes, asparagus and glazed carrots. Mary made one of her famous “everything” salads.
About half way though our meal, she stopped eating , looked over at me and with perfect clarity she said, “Dear, I know I have Alzheimer’s disease and that I’m very sick. I realize you and your father are doing your best to make my remaining years comfortable. I know he can’t look after me alone”. She closed her eyes for a moment and then looked at me again. The lucidity had vanished. She said, “Suzie Soup – I’m so glad you could have dinner with me tonight. I have a daughter who looks just like you but she lives in Toronto and she’s far too busy to spend time with me, so I’m glad you’re here instead. Now be a pet and give a girl a shot of sherry and an after dinner ciggie”.
We left about nine o’clock the next morning for Owen Sound. The nursing home wanted her back before late afternoon so she could get settled in again before dinner. I had agreed to meet my father in the lobby. It was a glorious spring day and we enjoyed most of the three hour drive together.
In the last half hour I could feel Mary’s anxiety start to build. As we drove past the laneway to our family home, she patted my arm and whispered, “You missed the turn to my house”. Mary became silent and withdrawn. When we turned into the parking lot of the nursing home she grabbed the dashboard and said, “Oh please no”.
My father came out as I unloaded the car. My mother walked right past him without speaking and disappeared through the lobby door. We carried her suitcase and bags into the room. She was in the bathroom. When she came out, I could see that she had washed her face and combed her hair. My father had gone to the kitchen to ask for some cold drinks and I was alone with my mother. She looked at me with unadulterated hatred and seething with rage she said, “You cold hearted bitch. I will hate your filthy guts until the day I die for bringing me back here. I never want to see you again”.
As Alzheimer’s had his way with my mother, her behaviour deteriorated until it became evident that her days at the nursing home were numbered. They were not equipped to handle a vicious tempered, violent woman. The next call in this saga of sadness was to inform me that Mary had attacked two patients. She had decked an elderly man in the corridor with a mean right hook and gone after a quiet, frail old lady in the dining room with a fork.
She was cursing constantly – (throughout her life, my mother never even said ‘dam’) – stealing from other people’s rooms, uncooperative, mean-spirited and rude. She was to be transferred back to the chronic care unit at the hospital and moving day was just around the corner!