Before my long weekend get-away, I visited Little Red Riding Hood (aka Mom) in her dementia facility home last week.
My usual feelings of dread – and the pit in my stomach – had been building up as I anticipated my visit. I knew that once I saw her, the pit in my stomach would begin to dissipate into the smaller, more manageable pit that’s taken up permanent residence. Sweet Clone (my youngest son) offered to accompany me. Having someone with me every now and then takes a little of the sting out of my visits.
We arrived and I punched in the code at the front door, where a much different reality exists beyond the threshold. This is where I take a deep breath and swallow my trepidation for how the visit may unfold.
These days Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t recognize me. For the last two years she seemed to at least realize that I was someone she knew and someone who was nice to her. Now it takes more effort to briefly catch her gaze once I track her down. She’s usually rearranging silverware or dusting a table with a tissue. Her head hangs low but she walks with surprising agility.
This time as we walked into her area of the facility, her roommate Amy (who scares me a little because she always looks angry even though I don’t think she is), was holding Mom’s arm and leading her toward me. I just knew she was going to tell me that something was wrong. (Mom has been irritating some of the other residents lately walking into their rooms and taking her shoes off to stand and gaze at them. I can understand their frustration even if it isn’t that uncommon around there.)
Instead and to my surprise, after I said hi to Mom and tried to get her attention, Amy held Mom’s arm as if protecting her and told me that I must have the wrong mother. That Mom couldn’t be my mother because she was actually her daughter. She inquired about my last name as if to double check but then kept walking with Mom.
Christian, the sweet caregiver, told Mom’s roomate that I was indeed Mom’s daughter and wanted to visit. She argued again, told me “Sorry, honey, you’ve got the wrong mother. It just can’t be.” She explained that Mom was her daughter, and that she had not been herself this week, and therefore she needed to be taken care of. And it was her job to do it.
I looked to Christian and nodded with a smile to let him know it was okay. I softly touched Amy on the shoulder and thanked her for being so sweet and caring. Her wide, smoky blue eyes met with mine and her facial expression lightened, as if she suddenly realized I wasn’t going to take Mom away from her.
After chatting with Christian about how Mom was doing, checking her room and leaving her favorite Russell Stover’s Assorted Creams on her little bedside table, it was time to say goodbye.
I caught up with them again and Amy was still holding Mom’s arm lovingly as they strolled around the facility. I stopped them to give Mom the longest and most loving embrace possible and I told her that I loved her. I almost, for a second, felt the old her hugging me back. Or maybe I was trying to wish it to happen.
I leaned down to capture her attention and tell her again how much I loved her. I got a brief smile but she kept on walking.
Amy looked at me and smiled like she felt badly for me, and told me not to worry, that Mom “just hadn’t been herself lately.”
As we left, I smiled and was grateful that someone new was also watching out for my Little Red Riding Hood.