My husband noticed something was wrong.
At first I hesitated. Then I told him, “No, it’s stupid.”
“I can tell something is wrong, what is it?”
“You’re going to think this is stupid. Actually, it is stupid. Ridiculous… [long pause]
“… Last night, I dreamed of an afghan.”
Lest he think I meant an Afghan rather than the knitted blanket I envisioned, I hurriedly clarified:
“I have been thinking of the afghan I didn’t take from my mother’s house — and wishing I had. Last night, I dreamed that I got the afghan back; this morning, I awoke and found I hadn’t… It’s stupid. It’s just a thing. ”
At that, I promptly burst into tears.
Back in November, when we’d cleaned out my mother’s house to prepare it for rental (to produce income for her stay at a memory care facility), I’d taken very little. Some photos and other memorabilia, some articles my mom had written, a few practical items — dishes and the like — and one of the two wool afghans my grandmother had knitted but were unraveling.
Not really wanting two unraveling, useless afghans merely for memory’s sake, I took my favorite — and left the other.
Days after my visit, spent boxing up my mom’s memorabilia and other possessions to distribute among my siblings, a housekeeper came in and sent the rest of my mother’s belongings — including the second wool afghan — to a charity to be sold. She cleaned the house and prepared it for rental; in January, a family moved in. My mother — memory impaired and unaware despite being told of the house being rented multiple times — still invites me to stay every time I visit her. She lives in a single room in a beautiful memory care facility — her home away from home, she believes, as she ministers to others while her own mental health improves.
It isn’t and won’t. For the past two months, every time I call my mother, she tells me about the “conspiracy” taking place in her facility. The first time she discussed this with me, she sounded so serious and distressed that I called the facility and contacted my siblings to make sure everything was OK. (I am her only child not living in her immediate vicinity.) The facility attributed Mom’s fallacy to the full moon present at the time; she was sitting in her walker near the main door of the facility trying to make her escape. My siblings said that all was normal and well.
The other times my mother has mentioned the “conspiracy,” she has discussed it jovially, with delight. I have ceased to be concerned, though it is disconcerting, and attribute this current perseveration to her illness.
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. While she has lived a full and productive life, at 82 she suffers from a hip that causes such pain it should be replaced. My siblings and I have decided, after learning that 90 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who undergo surgery never recover completely from the anesthesia, that my mom will have to live with the pain. Recently, the facility requested Depends, wipes, and gloves for Mom’s care. She has become incontinent and has thrown away most of her underwear.
Certainly, she is on my mind — along with the now-gone afghan.
It wasn’t until I had my favorite afghan in my possession that I learned my gym friend Connie would be able to repair it; she took it home on a Thursday and returned it on a Monday — perfect. I haven’t washed it; it still smells as it did when I was a child and my mother would bundle me beneath it when I was sick. It was a household item, not my personal belonging, but it provided the perfect weight and warmth needed when I had a fever to break. The two afghans together almost insured good health was just a few hours away; they certainly indicated my mother’s love for me — and her mother’s love for her, as my nana was the one who knitted them.
Before my mother’s mental condition deteriorated to the point that she needed 24-hour care, she remained in her home. I cannot count the number of times she asked me and my siblings to come to the house and “claim” what we wanted of her belongings. We came and put Post-It notes on a few items — the grandfather clock, the rocking chair, the ugly frog doorstop, the Santa Claus who resided on the toilet tank at Christmas, the spice cabinet — but most of the items remained unclaimed.
Maybe we undervalued her belongings. Maybe we thought it disrespectful to flock over “things.” Maybe we didn’t want to admit the severity of her illness. Maybe we didn’t recognize how important it was to her that we did this. The last “maybe” is what I regret most. I didn’t take Mom’s requests seriously — for whatever reason. I didn’t do the simple thing she asked; I didn’t recognize the importance for her in sharing her beloved possessions, in having closure before she left her home for the last time. I certainly hadn’t foreseen the value I’d find in some old afghans.
I have been regretting the loss of the second afghan since Connie repaired the first and returned it to me. It is spread over my bed and seems so beautiful to me; I breathe in its unique scent and remember my mom as she was in her prime… which lasted until just a few years ago, actually. Mom as my nurse, my hero, my spiritual leader, my best friend, my confidante, my adviser, my cheerleader.
When I call her, she no longer asks about my life. If I mention any of my children, she passes over the comments without interest — not because she is rude but because she no longer remembers. She still remembers me and seems delighted with my calls, but it is getting harder to make them. She fumbles about, trying to find the right words. She rambles on, thinking she is making sense when she isn’t. She thanks me for updating her on my family’s life when all I’ve done is listen. She doesn’t remember that I’ve called, and so every call is a huge delight that I am finally calling. In fact, I’m not sure calling benefits her at all. It doesn’t seem to benefit me; in fact, it hurts, as much as I try not to make a simple phone call about me.
I don’t know how much time my mother has left here. When I consider her pain — and her mental state now coupled with the indignity of incontinence — I hope it isn’t long for her sake. For my own, I wish she could live forever — healthy and whole.
The latest news — of Mom’s incontinence — makes me think I won’t be able to take her away from the facility for lunches or shopping or any other delights. (I am probably overreacting.) It seems my mom’s world gets smaller and smaller — and my world seems bleaker for her losses. For my loss of her.
I find myself clinging to my memories and those few cherished belongings, including the afghans — both the one I have and the one I don’t. They both tell a story; one reminds me of my mother in better times; the other reminds me of my regret — which challenges me to live better.
Both are a blessing.