Sometimes My Buddy Remembers
Francine L. Billingslea
My husband and I walk into the house and give his mother a big kiss and hug. Her face brightens and her smile spreads from cheek to cheek. She’s so glad to see us. She loudly exclaims in her sweet southern drawl, “There’s my babies!”
A few minutes later, she’ll lean over and in a whisper; ask her daughter, “Who are they?”
I look at my mother-in-law sitting in her chair. She’s been blessed to live a good long life, but at ninety-four years old, right now life isn’t being so kind. Sometimes she doesn’t know who’s who or where she is. Sometimes she doesn’t remember that she just ate. Sometimes she’s the sweetest person in the whole wide world and sometimes she’s uncontrollable with unintended outbursts of yelling and crying. Sometimes she’s ninety-four. Sometimes she’s forty-nine, but now most of the time, she’s like a nine-month-old baby who needs to be fed and changed. And sometimes she just wants to be the woman she once was and can’t understand or remember why she isn’t. She’s fighting the progressive disease of dementia.
My mind wandered back to the first time I met Ms. Catherine and all that has taken place in the last few years. I remember her in the kitchen cooking, cleaning or doing what she loved to do best and that’s folding the freshly washed and dried laundry. I remember her talking and laughing and taking every chance and opportunity to tell her favorite poem, “If it ain’t one thing, its anotha.”
I remember her strength and energy that I so often admired and sometimes even envied. I remember when she first started repeating herself over and over, and when we corrected her, she’d laugh and say, “Oh baby, it’s just oily time.”
She had such a way with words as she quickly made up her reasons and excuses for everything. I remember the first time she leaned over and whispered something in my ear. I remember the first time I called her buddy.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I took her to Walmart and she almost ran me over with the scooter and almost took out an entire display and how we laughed about it all the way home. I remember her big retirement party at age eighty-nine from the nursing home and a year later returned back to work, but by then she had started acting more like a patient instead of a worker. Forced to retire permanently, we knew she’d busy herself around the house now more than ever and she did, and when she cooked a head of lettuce instead of a head of cabbage, we knew it was time for her to hang up her apron and stay out of the kitchen. I remember her outside sweeping, raking and picking up the fallen apples right before our eyes and when confronted, swear that she did no such thing. We realized that now, someone had to be around her at all times. I can’t believe that was only four years ago. The disease that we were so unaware of was steadily progressing.
Now, she sits in her chair, sometimes with stares void of emotions, looks of confusion and rapidly declining in her mental and physical abilities to think or do anything for herself. That sneaky thief called dementia is slowly claiming all that she is and making her forget all that she was, and for whatever reason besides aging, we just don’t know.
We sit in the living room, the heart of the home because that’s where the heart of the family sits. My sister-in-law puts some cookies and milk on my mother-in-law’s tray. She takes a cookie, puts it in her hand and guides her hand to her mouth, then she says, “Now you try it by yourself momma,”
and weakly, she does. We’re thankful for the small accomplishments and give claps and cheers to encourage her. Her smile lets us know she understands the victory. She won that battle, but the war wages on. With shaking hands, for the next hour or so she picks over the cookies as she talks, mixing the past with the present and speaking of loved ones that have passed on as if they just stepped out to go to the store. We no longer try to correct her, we just go with the flow, and when she calls pup-pup, the name she gave our dog Max, it almost seems as if he’s just as happy to go and lay by her feet as we are that she remembers him.
When she doses off to sleep, we silently pray, hoping for another few good hours when she awakens. When she has a good day, the whole family does too.
I look at my husband and my sister-in-laws. When it comes to their mother, they’re all duty bound with various roles and tasks, and even though they take turns trying to equally balance the responsibilities of the household and the well-being of their mother, you can see how the months that have quickly grown into years have taken a toll on them and their own households. I see the stress, the frustrations, the love and the patience, and as hard as it is, I also see their joy because they’re able to do it. I see their aches and pains from lifting and turning her, along with eyes fighting back tears and yet, through their pain and challenges, they remain the most loving and reliable caregivers I’ve ever seen.
Strongly believing in the power of prayer and standing strong in faith, we’ve accepted the seriousness of the disease and know that in due time, it will eventually win, therefore, we’ve learned to take each day as it comes as we look for and count the blessings. Every day that we see her smile, call a person by their name, or remember something and verbally express herself accurately is a blessing and an answered prayer.
To see a loved one desperately struggling and fighting a losing battle is not easy; especially when denial is no longer protective and you see and know the outcome. However, a nursing home is not an option, the family is too hands-on, all too eager to lift, clean, feed, and change. It’s done more out of love than obligation. However, as times passes, professional help has become more and more a necessary reality. What’s available is searched and questioned, and the answers and waiting period is surprisingly disappointing for someone who has paid her dues and then some. When I see how the elderly and their needs have become so disrespected and unappreciated by today’s society and youth, I become angry that they have so little reverence, value, and such a great deal of slothfulness when it comes to them.
My mother-in-law beckons for me to come and sit next to her. With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she leans over and softly asks, “When you gonna take me shoppin’ again?”
Remembering the last time, we both have a hardy laugh. Then she turns and somberly looks out of the window. I look at her and wonder what she’s thinking about.
Her longevity has been such a blessing to us, but now I wonder how much of a blessing it is to her or for that matter, anyone who has lived those amount of years and has gone though all that she has. However, she continues holding on, not for herself, but for her family. I wonder if I were in her shoes, would I do the same or is she the last of that generation. Deep down inside, I know the answer.
Much to our surprise, she’ll weakly and softly start to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
The words still engrained in her heart and mind flow out of her mouth and the message permeates the room. We all smile and quickly join in.
I tell her, “I love you Ms. Catherine.”
She looks at me with a far-away look still in her eyes and in almost a whisper, she says, “I love you too.”
A few minutes later, she turns and looks at me and in her sweet southern drawl, she’ll softly ask, “Baby, what’s your name?”
I tell her.
A few minutes later, she’ll repeat the question. Now, her eyes are heavy; she fights to keep them open, just as hard as she fights to keep on living. I know before she drifts off to sleep, she’ll ask me my name again and as many times as she asks, I’ll smile and respectfully answer and when she repeatedly asks questions, I don’t mind, to be honest, none of us do, we’re just so glad that she’s still here with us and that yes, her light is shining, it always will, we’ll never forget it. And that, sometimes, my buddy still remembers.