I caught mom at home a little after three on Saturday afternoon. She had been sitting outside with her dog. The day was beautiful and she decided to come back to her apartment to change into her sneakers before going for a walk.
"It is a very nice day," she tells me. "It is sunny and everybody is outside. I'm feeling good today and that's always a big event," she chuckles. "I think I told you about the big park across the street. It is such a nice place and a lot of weddings are held there. There is a wedding going on right now and I was sitting out in front here with my dog, watching it. Just came back to change into my sneakers."
I asked if I should call back later. "Oh no, we can talk now and the walk will wait. Besides, my dog just laid down. I think she has other plans,"
The first part of our conversation is usually a lot of the same. At first she has to get her bearings. We've been talking every few days, but she gets confused over who I am. So, she asks and I remind her every few minutes in our conversation. She remembers half of her children. The ones she's been involved with the most over the past few years. With the rest of us there are vague memories, of certain times in her life. About me, she is stuck on the period of my life when I lived in Northampton, MA. When the girls were little and she would drive out to spend a few days with us. She'd always come with her to do list. Clean (always), cook, paint a room, put up new curtains. Those were the tasks she planned and thinking back, her payment for spending a few days with us. Oh, she loved New England. The beautiful houses, Stanley Park and quaint little towns. But, I believe number one was being with us. And I am afraid I didn't realize what it meant to her. We'd been at odds for a long time about almost everything. There would be glimpses, now and then of hope, when she would agree with me about bigotry, women's rights, war. Then her opinion would change and we would be back in our own corners again, for the next round. Crazy, it was. Over the years, this relationship was hurtful for both of us and I walked away.
Now I am reaching out to her. She says it isn't fair for someone to live 90 years and lose the ability to remember things. Good things, bad things, any things. Not being able to remember, getting everything confused, not knowing who she's talking to right now. It won't get any better, but she isn't going to stop trying. These are hard realizations and one reason why she's blue, most days.
Mom is right about that. She says her biggest sadness is living alone. She's always grateful for her little dog. It is company to an extent. "I miss Leslie, so much," she says of dad. "We were married for over 60 years. I've never been alone until now. I miss him and our life, so much. I don't have that, anymore. And I am 90 years old. I still get around, but I have to be careful not to fall. I don't drive anymore and I rely on friends who have cars for going out to eat. Dennis helps with doctors visits and getting my prescriptions, but he works and lives kind of far away. Yet, I spend so much time alone."
Mom misses how she and dad spent their lives raising a family, taking care of their parents and always working to keep the farm and the house in shape. Dad was born in that house and turned down some pretty nice job offers, because it would have meant moving.
Things we reminisced about: In the 1940's and '50's the best public transportation from Bolivar where her parents lived and our home in Westons, was the mail truck. I remember my grandparents riding it to visit us when I was small. I asked mom how that happened.
"I rode on the mail truck so often, they should've just put a stamp on me," she laughs. "The truck went back and forth everyday. (Not clear where the starting point was, but it went through Westons.) They had bags of mail in the back, where I would ride, and the truck would stop at every post office to drop off and pick up mail. That went on for years. For a lot of people that was the only way to get from one town to another.
"They didn't charge anything. We would tip them. I always gave the driver $1.50 or $2. That was a lot then. But I always appreciated being able to visit my mother, go home. We had a good life."
I told mom I would let her go, so she could get her walk in. She thanked me for calling her. Thanked me for letting her talk, which is something she's been missing. Thanked me for putting up with her forgetfulness. Thanked me for listening to her stories she tends to repeat.
"I wish others could understand how hard it is with dementia. I get frustrated and sad."
I am trying to understand. We made plans to talk again on Sunday afternoon (an hour or so from now). Until then.
"I love you, mom."
"Love you too, dear."