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between night and day

whenthetableturns: care for elderly moms

by Judy
June 23, 2014

Recently I started an essay for my next blog post and even had a title for it, “Night and Day.” In it I spoke about how my mom is like two different people. Like the difference between night and day, I wrote, she has these two different faces, voices, mentalities that are particularly pronounced when she is out of the comfort of her bed and when she is in bed. We all have different temperaments, moods, faces depending on internal and external circumstances, but it is very extreme with my mom. I gave the example of going to the doctor’s and what a nightmare it often is.

Usually throughout the car trip, my mom moans and half cries, constantly calling out for me or Pat and telling us how tired she is. This is not negotiable, by that I mean, nothing that we do seems to ease her discomfort except for brief moments when I distract her with conversation, but then she is quickly back to moaning. The behavior truly is irrational; it doesn’t make sense for her to keep repeating herself, but she does. This is not the woman I knew before the stroke. Something really did affect her emotionally and there is nothing to be done about it. At the doctor’s she "wears" a perpetual mask of pain. The beautiful and down to earth woman who always charmed the doctors is nowhere to be found.

Afterwards when she is back and comfortable in bed again, my mother literally forgets the pain and suffering she had just been in. I know that because if I mention how uncomfortable she had been, she doesn’t recall it. Now as she lies in bed, she is relaxed; the lines in her face and grimaces are totally gone. She literally is a different person - even her voice is different.

The relaxed mom really still looks beautiful - in my eyes - and in some ways more beautiful than she ever was. I think because there are no “veils” anymore - no strong make up - and she is often restful and at peace. In this place, she is much more subdued than years ago; likes to listen much more than speak, but she can still be very funny. The other day I said to her we have a lot to be grateful for. Her response was: “Yes, we still have our fingernails!” I burst out laughing and so did she. I don’t know if she realized at first how funny that was, but then we were together and just laughing. This laughing together doesn’t happen all the time, but it is beyond delightful when it does. We go back and forth like a comedy team and put each other in stitches of laughter as we lie in bed together. 

She is also very vulnerable. She will tell me when she feels insecure, lonely or sad. She will ask me to stay with her and hold her hand.

And it is here where the caring mom resurfaces. She’ll make sure I’ve remembered to offer food to someone or give one of her paintings to a friend or helper.

So before finishing this new essay, I had an unexpected surprise. We had to go for my mom’s quarterly checkup and my mother did not cry or moan once in the car – she actually listened with interest to our conversation. Then at the doctor’s office where she had to get blood taken, she sat without moving in her chair and again was basically alright and even chatted with the doctor. He mentioned that we must be taking very good care of her because she was much better than the last time we went. Mom also looked so elegant – dressed in black trousers and a beautiful black and white silk jacket. Afterwards, we brought some hot dogs – the doctor encouraged her to eat whatever she liked and so for late breakfast, early lunch, she had her beloved hot dog reminiscent of childhood pleasures.

Afterwards, I felt a bit stunned...delighted and relieved. All afternoon I played Broadway musicals like South Pacific and The king and I. I sat by her bed and told her stories about Rogers and Hammerstein and how they really revolutionized the musical theater. She listened with interest.

I am remarkably uplifted by this event as I witnessed the fact there really is more than night and day - there is this unknown factor that can’t be rationally explained. Why today was Mom so alert and at ease? I can’t figure this out. It’s a mystery that encourages me. It’s not that I even expect that it will be repeated the next time we go to the doctor’s, but still it touches me deeply. I think because it points to the potential of the human/holy spirit that won’t be held down, is ever regenerative and moving upward.

Feel free to share your thoughts


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