There are subtle changes and then there are transitions. I call my folks just about every week at least once, and we catch up on the mundane and the milestones of life. In the past few years as mom’s Alzheimers has progressed, I call my dad. Mom’s cell phone was cancelled a few years ago. After chatting for how ever long we like, my dad always asks, “Would you like to talk to mom?”.
I called dad to wish him a happy birthday, knowing that he was preparing for hurricane Dorian. He is in his mid 80’s and the last thing he should be doing is installing hurricane shutters on his double wide, but that’s what he was doing. His normally strong, confident, baritone voice has taken on a slightly shaky, weaker, more defeated edge these days. He sounded tired. He sounded sad. He sounded worn out and fed up.
How do you wish a man a “HAPPY” birthday when his wife of over 62 years doesn’t recognize him, has become mean towards him, doesn’t bathe, doesn’t know how to take care of herself, and often won’t let him out of her sight? She’s either calling out to him constantly, or she’s yelling “What are you doing here-get out-my brother is coming to get me!” This is Alzheimers. This is marriage. This is letting go of every perception of life as they’ve lived.
“Would you like to talk to mom?”
He has said that every single time I’ve spoken to him, every single week, for as long as I’ve lived apart from them. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Until yesterday.
The question is always followed by a brief silence and then I’d hear him say, “It’s your daughter Patty. Say hello”. Mom would get on the phone and in her always upbeat, joyous voice-where you can SEE her smile bright and beautiful, she’d say “HI DARLING! HOW ARE YOU?” And then the conversation would continue with the same scripted questions…where do you live? Are you working, etc. We stopped talking about anything real a long time ago. With the progression of her disease, I’ve navigated the narrowing path of conversation by following her lead. She hasn’t known who she is talking to for some time. But she always sounded happy to talk, and always ended the call with “When are you coming to visit?”. This made me sad because I couldn’t just pop over to see her whenever I’d like. Plane tickets, work, life…..
But yesterday hurt. Hurt like a baseball hitting my chest at 90 miles per hour. Hurt like a crushing, suffocating weight, preventing my lungs from working. Dad didn’t ask “Would you like to talk to mom?” For the first time ever. Was he just too tired to put on the charade anymore? He told me they have decided to put her in a facility. He just has to decide which one he can afford. It hit me. He didn’t ask the question. And for all those times when he DID ask, and I kind of dreaded the ensuing empty conversation, I wanted to SCREAM, “YES! I WANT TO TALK TO MOM!!!!” I want to talk to my mother. My funny, beautiful, Irish, laughing, singing, costume making, compulsive cleaning, daily church going, family loving, caring, nutty, baby loving, lasagna making, perfect penmanship, beach loving, fucking amazing MOM. I fucking want to talk to mom.