Mother’s Last Days
Welcome to the Glenbrook Retirement Home. May I ask who you are visiting? Oh yes, you must be Mrs. Mitchell’s son. She talks about you so often. Right this way.
Ignore the other patients peeking from behind their doors. Walk past them, down the long hallway. You are the outsider here. Don’t forget that; you are now the crazy one, not them. In this place, sanity is like a dream that you struggle to remember throughout the day.
Scott, so nice to see you again. It’s been a while since your last visit. She asks about you every day. She’s just inside, go on in.
How is she today doctor? Ask anyway, even though the answer never changes.
Touch and go, really, no ...view middle of the document...
Show her pictures of the kids, tell her about Lisa’s school play and Taylor’s soccer game. She was the star. He scored the winning goal.
Stay for as long as you can this time, before saying, I really have to go now mother. Your real life is waiting for you. Tell her you love her. It is one more thing that she can forget.
Don’t take it personally, they say to you. Don’t take it personally. Remember that she is a sick woman. Struggle against the hatred that is growing inside of you. It is not her that you hate. It is this disease, it is forgetfulness, it is growing old. Don’t pull away from her now. She has no one else.
Why doesn’t she recognize me Doctor? I thought you said these new drugs were going to stop the progression. Things have only gotten worse.
There are no guarantees, they tell you. The drugs are experimental. Your mother is an experiment. You signed the medical waiver. You read the small print at the bottom, you knew the risks; the risk that nothing will work, that nothing can save your mother. The risks are that you allow yourself to hope again. And that your hope is destroyed.
Is she in pain? you ask them.
No, they tell you. She does not know pain anymore. She does not know anything. She is nothing but a shell, a shell of forgotten memories and lost thoughts. Fill her with your thoughts, fill her with your dreams and your happy memories. And ignore the hole in the bottom where they all seep out again.
How did it go? your wife asks you when you return home. Try not to hate her for being so blissfully unaware. How can she know? It is not her fault that her mother died quickly and easily from a heart attack. A heart attack you can explain. There are reasons for a heart attack. Her mother’s death was quick and painless.
Your wife cried at her mother’s funeral, but all her tears are dried now. She is back to routines, back to morning lattes and scones. Back to carpools and soccer games. Back to PTA meetings and yoga classes. Her mother’s memory is strong and healthy. No, your wife does not know what it is like to watch a memory fade in front of you. You can’t remember your mother healthy. And you fear that her forgetfulness is contagious.
She didn’t remember me again. I don’t know what else to do. Your wife doesn’t want to hear this. She wants you to tell her that the visit went fine. She wants to plan your next family vacation. She wants to be the perfect nuclear family. Two beautiful children, one rambunctious golden lab, no crazy mother-in-laws.
I thought the drugs were supposed to help, she says. So did I, you think.
There are no guarantees, you say. But really there are guarantees. You can be assured that your mother won’t remember your name. You can be assured that the fear of being one day in her place haunts you at night. You can be assured that your children will never know their grandmother. Yes, there are guarantees, just not the right kind.
Back again, Mr. Mitchell? Yes, you are back...