Flashback August 27, 2013: I love to treat Mom and her BFF Gaby to lunches and dinners at my place.
Mom, who is in her mid eighties and living with the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, can’t really carry on a “sensible” conversation anymore. Her friend Gaby is 97; most of her marbles are still very much intact. Gaby’s only major complaint (about which she hardly complains at all) is the corn on her foot, which sometimes makes it painful for her to walk. She’s also becoming a tad hard of hearing. Other than that, she’s golden.
Mom and Gaby found each other at The Home, where Gaby has lived for about six years, and Mom coming on a year now. They met after Mom moved into the room next to Gaby’s, and they became neighbours. Their friendship is flourishing, despite Mom’s ongoing slide into dementia. They share a table, along with two other residents, in the dining room at The Home; they have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. Mealtime conversations are infrequent. People waiting to die don’t have much to say it would seem.
I visit Mom and Gaby at The Home almost every day, and I bring them to my place once a week for lunch or dinner, one of the few small pleasures they’re still able to enjoy. The atmosphere is loving and lively at my place. The three of us find more to say, to do, to be and to sing.
On this particular early summer night, Mom and Gaby help set the table. They hold hands and teeter slightly as they arrange the knives and forks while I prepare a simple feast: tuna salad with celery and mayonnaise, a few leaves of local lettuce, crisp carrot sticks, golden-toasted sesame seed bagels, and mixed olives.
They drink orange juice in crystal highball glasses I took from Mom’s real home when we decamped, and I sip sauvignon blanc from a funky goblet my cousin gave me. After dinner, I make Mom and Gaby comfortable on the back deck, then ferret out something “delicious and nutritious” for dessert: fresh peaches with yogurt and honey. On the way back to serve them, I stop short of the screen door that opens onto the deck, and pause to eavesdrop on their sunset conversation.
“Isn’t that a beautiful sky?” Gaby says to Mom.
“Yeah, and I told them it was. Dad thinks so too,” Mom looks around. “Where’s Dad?”
“Yes, you did,” Gaby says. She waits for this to sink in before she goes on. “He went to get our dessert.”
A moment of silence. Then another. Then several more. Gaby reaches over and gently feels Mom’s left arm, which is bruised because of the Coumadin Mom is being given to stop blood clots from forming in her swollen legs. She used to stride, purposeful; now she shuffles, uncertain, because of the drugs she shouldn’t be taking.
“Are you cold?” Gaby asks.
“No, I don’t think so,” Mom says. She pauses; searches. “Do I feel cold?” A fresh breeze blows through the screen door. Goosebumps rise on my arms; something in my chest squeezes like a sponge.
“You feel a bit cold,” Gaby says to Mom as she withdraws her hand. Together, they hold space for each other: Gaby in the slightly laboured rasp of her breath, Mom in the tissue she folds and unfolds, folds and unfolds, folds and unfolds in the cradle of her lap. The sun sinks a little more.
“Are you cold Gaby?” Mom asks. It’s not unusual for her to parrot what’s been said to her. It’s a way for her to conquer the aphasia that steals more of her words each day.
“No,” Gaby says as she turns to look at her friend. “I’m not cold. But you feel a bit cold.”
“I do?” Mom says.
“Yes,” Gaby affirms. Whatever Mom says, Gaby agrees. They never argue.
More silence. One looks this way, the other one that. They stare at nothing in particular: nothing in particular being the main thing they contemplate day in and day out. They have many days in. Days out are fewer and farther between. Gaby swings her right foot, and inadvertently kicks Mom’s left.
“Did I hurt you?” Gaby worries.
“No,” Mom replies.
“I wouldn’t want to hurt my friend Patti. You’re my best friend.” Gaby touches Mom’s arm again.
The sun keeps setting, as it is wont to do on kindred spirits everywhere, each day earlier and earlier until late December, then later and later until late June, when the cycle recycles itself. I guess it’s the other way around in the southern hemisphere, and different again at the poles.
Gaby and Mom don’t care about the hemispheres or the poles. They don’t worry about the length of the days: short, long, makes no difference. They’re all the same. Except days like this, when they get to go out. These are special days, even if they don’t remember them. I vow to myself that I will, until, like Mom, I don’t anymore.
“Your hair looks nice, Patti,” Gaby says. I wonder how many times Gaby has paid Mom this compliment today. Three? Five? Ten? More? Mom says nothing. She touches her head with her right hand. Pushes a roller-induced wave in and up. Still nothing. Perhaps she’s already forgotten Gaby’s words. Or maybe she needs a mirror to confirm their veracity. Not knowing the truth of one’s own reality is part of the disease.
“And that top looks beautiful on you. You have the nicest clothes,” Gaby continues, heaping one heartfelt compliment on another because she adores her friend. Mom looks down at herself. She moves her hands to just below her waist and pinches the bottom of the light-beige-and-white-striped shirt she’s wearing. She stretches it down and out to see it better. The stripes in the top match her caramel capris.
“Do I?” Her voice is flat, her face expressionless–more side effects of the medications that make her shuffle instead of stride.My hands tighten on the bowls of peaches and yogurt when I think of the drugs, the ones that kill my mother’s vibrant personality for convenience and cost saving.
“Oh YES! You are so stylish.” Gaby bursts with enthusiasm.
“Am I?” Mom doubts.
“Oh yes! Very! I wish I was stylish like you,” Gaby says, her grin as a wide as the horizon. “And you have such beautiful rosy cheeks. I love your rosy cheeks.” She leans in closer; her hand once again rests like a crooked feather on Mom’s arm. She plants a slow kiss on the pinkish flush of Mom’s left cheek. She’s oh-so-careful not to bruise her. Mom says nothing.
“I’m glad I’m here with my friend Patti, enjoying the sunset,” Gaby continues.
Mom seems not to have heard. “Is it time to go home yet?” she asks.
“Almost,” Gaby replies. She slides her hand down Mom’s purple-splotched forearm, and curls her craggy fingers around Mom’s soft, plump ones. “We’ll go together,” she says, and kisses Mom again.
I swipe the back of one hand under both eyes, nudge open the screen door with my foot, and step into the oncoming twilight.
In honour of Mom and Gaby who are surely raising Cain, wherever they are now.