"Hello, Sweetheart," she says.
"I love you," I murmur, and kiss her forehead, careful to avoid her watering eye that she keeps re-infecting with her hand that wavers, only partially controlled by her failing muscles.
She is ninety-nine. Sometimes, with her, I feel ninety-nine.
She is dressed, but still in bed. I ask the secretary at the 5 Wing front desk to find two aides to place her in her wheelchair. Then I get to work. Her eyes light up when she sees the bottle of fingernail polish remover I've brought. I'd noticed at my last visit that she has patches of polish on her nails. I rub her nails down gently, being careful of her fragile arthritic fingers. "Thank you," she murmurs when her nails are clear. Then I clean under the nails. Gently rub revivifying lotion into her hands and arms.
She says, "Is it true? I heard that Aunt Dolly has passed away."
"Yes, Mom, I'm sorry. I know you loved her like a second mother."
Aunt Dolly died when I was a little girl.
The secretary at the desk has found two aides to place her in her Broda wheelchair. I hear her faint screams behind the closed door. She hates the blue Hoyer lift that they have to use. Hates it as a toddler hates anything she doesn't understand and is therefore afraid of. She even cries out when her nurse takes her blood pressure; she dislikes the tightening of the cuff.
Once she's in her chair, I wheel her down the corridor, and check in with the kitchen staff to let them know I'll be feeding her lunch today. I change her food order to roast beef, her favorite. I've asked them to always give her roast beef when it's on the menu, but for everything here I have to ask and ask and ask. After over two years of asking, I'm growing very tired. I work with the staff members here whom I know and like. It's the best way to get things accomplished. Mom and I sit at a round table in an alcove, where she can watch the people moving around us, especially a toddler, a girl with pig tails, who makes her smile.
I feed her everything when I visit her now. Today, once her shaking fingers grab a small piece of snickerdoodle to slowly lift to her mouth. Her poor disease-riddled body has forgotten how to control itself. Dementia is a raging demon. I hate it with all the strength I possess. I am so glad that she eats all the beef, the asparagus, drinks most of the juice and milk. I know the next stage is her forgetting how to chew. Then she'll be fed pureed food. Dementia is a demon I'd like to battle but I cannot win against it. With her, seeing its ravages, I'm exhausted by inner anger and helplessness.
When she's eating pureed food, will she even know by then that somehow she knows me? Right now I know there is a connection between us. I don't know if she knows what the connection is, but it's there, a flame of constant love between us, shining in our eyes, in the smiles on our faces.
I remember the day I came here over two years ago, shortly after we had to place her here, her paranoia and hallucinations beyond our ability to control. And I smiled and tried to soothe her, sobbing inside at her illness, sobbing inside because mentally she was too far gone for me to even begin to tell her that my son, her beloved grandson, had died. I couldn't curl up in her arms like her little daughter. I could only hold her in my arms as my beloved, wounded child. Now I can't tell her that once again, illness has invaded our family.
She is Christ, hanging on this cross of disease for so long now, over three years. Why, God? When will You bring her home? HOW will you bring her home? Her eyes already search the horizon over my head, looking into a world I cannot fathom.
Passion of Christ, my comfort be. Oh good Jesus, hear me. Do not let either of us be separated from Thee. Bring her safely to her final healing whenever in Your perfect timing You choose to bring her home.