I visited my Mom yesterday. Virtually, via Facetime, as my Dad held his phone up to the screen window so I could see her. She was smiling; her usually dyed brown hair now mainly white. She sat in a wheelchair, wearing a white and blue shirt that didn’t appear to be stained. Her face mask was hooked to her ears and covered her chin, not her nose or mouth. No lipstick, no mascara, no Charlie Chaplin eyebrows. I know I should be thankful, as a number of my friends have lost parents due to Covid.
It’s been over a year since she became a memory care resident. The place is great – she’s well cared for, has daily activities and people to talk to who won’t snap at her for asking the same thing 24 times in a row. Placing her there was the best thing we could have done for her, despite all the angst it created at the time.
It means a lot to me that my Mom is safe in these difficult times. Since Covid 19, my only direct contact with Mom has been via Facetime. I’m thankful for the visits the staff arranges, although they are few and far between. Our last staff-initiated Facetime involved me watching her sleep for two minutes while shouting Mom, Mom, Mom in hopes of waking her.
My Dad usually visits her twice a week through the screen window. I suspect aside from his good intentions, Dad visits to get out of the house, as he’s miserable being housebound. Dad sits outside in the Florida heat, wearing a mask, chatting with her for no more than thirty minutes. Most of the conversation is Dad initiated and Mom nods as if she understands. Lately, she’s been sleeping through a lot of those visits.
Yesterday, when I saw her through the screen on Facetime, I did my usual introduction, “Hi Mom, it’s me, your daughter, Lauren J. Walter.” For more than three years, that’s how I’ve started every conversation with my Mom. For the first two of those years, I spoke to her daily. She’d usually respond, “I know that,” and then she’d say, “L. J. W!” Hearing the smile in her voice, I’d smile and say, “hi, Mom.” When she moved to memory care, our daily calls stopped. It was difficult, as I knew without our daily chat, her memories and connection to me would fade.
Before Covid, I flew down every other month to visit. When I’d visit her the first day, she might not remember me, but she’d remember each day I was there afterwards. But yesterday, for the first time, when I introduced myself, she didn’t answer “L. J. W.!”
I get it. I know that thanks to Covid, the few memories she retained due to the dementia have been eradicated. I know the disease doesn’t remember me. Somewhere deep inside her brain is a cell with my imprint, but she can no longer access it. I hate Covid for taking away the last shreds of our relationship.
Loving someone with dementia is a challenge. You set low expectations so you can be pleasantly surprised. But no one expected this prolonged isolation. It’s super challenging. I miss my Mom.
It’s so hard to mourn the living.
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