Novelist | Singer
Taking in a parent includes all of their stuff, and old people have a lot of it. In Mom’s case, I didn’t really mind, because she has some cool stuff she inherited from generations long gone. We incorporated her furnishings into our living space so she would feel at home. A couple of years prior, we had traded dining room sets when she moved from her house, as her new apartment was small. Her dining room set that came down through the family generations includes a buffet and side board, queen and king chairs, etc. In other words, nothing I would ever have been able to afford.
That dining room set is my pride and joy. I grew up eating at the table. There are many days even now that I look at the furniture and swell with gratitude. The color and structure, the intricate carvings bring to mind a time long gone. Seven leaves gave the table a capacity of twenty-two many Thanksgivings in the past.
When Mom moved in, she brought other things; an 1885 kitchen clock, a tea cup collection and a Tiffany-style lamp which had belonged to her grandparents. All of the furnishings fit nicely into our condo, but until I adjusted, I could swear I was living in Mom’s house.
Every morning, Mom would shuffle quietly into the kitchen for her coffee, her fleece robe drawn up tightly around her neck. She was always cold. After spilling coffee all over the counter (she never learned to negotiate our coffee pot), she would shuffle into the living room and sit quietly at one end of the sofa.
“Good morning,” she would say quietly.
“Good morning, Mom.”
“What day is it?”
“Oh. It looks cold outside.”
“Yeah, I think it’s about 40 degrees.”
She sipped her coffee and sighed.
“Ahhhhhhhhh! This coffee is so good!”
“What day is it today?”
Sitting in that living room, gazing past her grandparents’ furnishings, out the window to the large silver maples in the adjacent yard, time became a blended gel of reality. The visuals were all in place: Mom grew up in Norwood Park in Chicago, a neighborhood with huge trees. Her grandparents lived on Bosworth Ave., also with big trees. And inside that house, the same kitchen clock, teacup set and dining room furniture.
Almost every evening she went down with the sun. I soon realized that she was about ten years old in her own mind. She spoke of her parents and brothers in the present tense, and often about staying overnight.
“Am I staying here tonight?”
“Where am I staying?”
“Your bedroom is in the back on the right.”
“Oh.” She would think about this for a moment. “Do my parents know I’m here?”
“Yep. They called about 5 minutes ago, and I told them that you would be staying with us.”
I never did figure out who she thought we were. She knew that she was my mother most of the time, but sitting in that parlor of her past, she would return to around 1935, when the World’s Fair came to Chicago, and her family spent many weekend days on Bosworth Ave. with numerous relatives. Maybe she thought I was her grandmother at those times.
Alzheimer’s training had taught me to go with her reality. Sometimes it was fun, because I would learn all kinds of things about Mom and the person she was before she met Dad. Sometimes it was exasperating, fielding the same questions over and over again. And sometimes it was downright scary.
Perhaps about the second week that Mom was with us, my husband woke me out of a dead sleep about 7:30 a.m. with, “Barbara, wake up! Your mother’s gone and the dog’s gone too!”
Gone?????? My heart started to pound, then, I swear it stopped. I rolled out of bed as fast as my healing back would allow and hurried to the window to see pouring rain but no Mom, and no dog. It was already fall, so it wasn’t particularly warm outside. I hobbled down the stairs and out the front door, pulling on my jacket.
I didn’t know which way to go, but I checked the yard first just to be sure. It didn’t take long to find them. Mom was standing (fully dressed with her coat on) almost under the front deck in an attempt to get out of the rain. The dog (my dear Lila) was standing right beside her with the most quizzical look on her face. It was something like Thank goodness you’re here, Mom. I tried to follow the old lady ‘cause I knew she shouldn’t be going out alone. Now, you take over. Her eyes shifted from Mom to me and back to Mom.
My gasping breath sounded frantic at that point, and I was trying to stay cool, so I took a breath and said, “Mom, what are you doing?”
“I’m waiting for Frank Delaney to give me a ride.”
They were both soaking wet. Mom actually had water dripping from her nose. So did Lila. I took her arm gently and said, “Let’s go back inside. You’re all wet.”
“But what about Frank? He’s coming to pick me up.”
“I’ll call him and tell him that we’ll take you.”
Who the hell was Frank Delaney? And where was he taking my Mom?
We went back upstairs and I got her into dry clothes. I toweled Lila. She looked confused, too. Al came into the kitchen and we just stared at each other. There was really nothing to say. Mom had been a wanderer in Indiana when she wanted out of rehab, which was logical. I would leave rehab too, if I could. But it never occurred to me that she would want to leave my house. The real complications had begun.
I waited until that afternoon so that Mom would not make a connection which might cause embarrassment, then asked, “Hey Mom? Who is Frank Delaney?”
“Wow, I haven’t heard that name in years!” she said.
“Well, who is he?”
“He lived in our old neighborhood in Norwood Park. He used to pal around with my brothers, but he was older than they were.”
“Oh. Did you ever spend time with him?”
“Me? No, he was a lot older than I was. He knew my brothers mostly.”
Alzheimer’s is a strange and mystifying disease.