|Goodbye, Mom. I Will Always Love You|
|© 2013 Russ Nielsen
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Walking in the front door of the elder care facility, we found ourselves in the public area of the care center. It was a large open room, with a carpeted area where a large plasma screen television sat in one corner surrounded by a number of couches, armchairs, and recliners. There were several residents watching daytime soap operas on television, while others were sleeping in their rocking chairs. There was dining area with a half a dozen square café tables set on a concrete floor at the end of the room. The kitchen could be seen off to the right across the bar that separated the kitchen from the dining area.
There was a lone figure sitting at one of the tables. It was a woman who stared straight ahead, unseeing, with uncombed, long, gray hair and a slack jaw. Her face had a gray cast to it and her shoulders were hunched forward, as if she were getting ready to stand up; her arms hung slack against her body. As I looked closer, I could see that she was drooling on herself, but she didn't seem to notice. I stared at her for a long moment, wondering why someone hadn't cleaned her face; and helped her to move to the television area. It was then that I realized the woman was my mother. The shock I felt left me frozen in place. My brothers had warned me that she wasn't doing well; however, their warning hadn't prepared me to see her in this state.
It had only been six months since she had hugged me and thanked me for staying with her. It had been a challenging two weeks for me. Mom's memory had been going for a while, but she still knew who I was and joined the real world for most of the day. She frequently would tell me she was talking to my father who had passed on a few years before. When that happened, I would ask her a few questions about what he had said to her, and gradually lead the conversation back to the present. Afterward, she would look at me sheepishly, and say, "I've been hallucinating again, haven't I?" I would smile and pat her arm reassuringly. Then, we would go on with whatever activity we were doing. It really bothered Mom that she was losing her mind. She had always been the center of lively conversation, and enjoyed challenging mental games. It frustrated her that she no longer could keep track of a conversation, let alone be part of the energetic debate that often occurred when the family was together. Being with her and seeing the decline in her mental capacity, made my heart ache for her. It seemed to me that I was losing another parent, one memory at a time.
After returning home, I called her every night to talk. When she was in her right mind, she lamented the fact that she couldn't remember things, and would quiz me about the crazy things she had said a few moments earlier. It had been over a month since the last time she had been mentally present for one of our conversations, and that had been a very brief call.
Rick turned to me and asked, "What's wrong, Babe?"
His question brought me out of myself, and I turned to him. "That's Mom." I nodded toward where she was sitting.
Rick looked over at her. His eyes widened in shock and surprise. He turned to me and whispered, "Oh, my God. I had no idea…" Rick didn't finish his sentence, but left his unspoken thought hanging in mid-air.
I gave myself a mental shake, and put a smile on my face to cover the deep sorrow I felt at seeing her this way. "Children, let's help Grandma." I walked over and sat down at the table with her. "Hi, Mom! How are you?"
She didn't respond to my greeting, but continued to stare straight ahead. I moved closer to her and put my face directly in front of hers, looking her in the eyes. "Mom, it's Glenn. It's your son. My husband, Rick, and I have brought your grandchildren to see you. We drove here from Washington, DC. We just got into town and wanted to visit with you."
She still didn't respond. Her eyes didn't seem to even focus on me. I picked up a napkin from off of the table and wiped her mouth; then brushed the bread crumbs off her blouse that were left over from her lunch. I looked up at Rick, and said, "Please sit down, Babe." He sat down at the table across from Mom, while I grabbed a chair from a neighboring table and sat it next to Mom. I put my arm around her shoulders, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. "Mom, the twins are here." I waved them over.
JJ and Josh, our ten-year old twins, walked over to Mom and hugged her.
"Grandma, it's JJ. Josh and I are getting really good at soccer. We've been travelling for three days. We stopped in Chicago on our way here."
Josh said, "Yeah, Grandma. We stopped in Madison, Wisconsin, to get some really great cheese. We still have some in the van. I think you'd like it."
We travelled with an ice chest to keep our food cold. We stopped at parks and roadside picnic areas to eat, saving us time and money. The Wisconsin cheese had been a nice addition to our usual lunch of sandwiches, chips, fruit and a cookie. We shopped at local supermarkets to replenish our supplies, especially the fresh fruit. We all like grapes, apples, oranges and bananas. Rick had suggested getting a watermelon to take with us. The thought of all that sticky watermelon juice everywhere made me shudder in horror. I quickly vetoed that idea!
Mom didn't respond to them. She didn't even blink. I pointed to Ashley and David. "Mom, Ashley and David are here, as well. Ashley will be a senior next year and David is going to college."
Ashley and David exchanged places with the twins and hugged their grandmother. Ashley said, "Grandma, I've brought some of my drawings to share with you." She pulled out her sketch pad and opened it to show Mom her drawings.
Again, Mom didn't respond. David said, "I'm on my way to school at Utah State University, Grandma. I can't wait to get there. I'm majoring in mechanical engineering."
Rick said, "Kyle is still in Brazil. He is doing well, and has a very pretty girlfriend named Lucena. Lucena plans to come to the United States with him for the holidays. She speaks English, which is a good thing for us." He laughed, but Mom still didn't seem to know we were even in the room with her.
A nurse came over to our table. Her name tag said Sandy Jenkins. She was a petite, matronly figure. Her white nurse's uniform fit her a little too snuggly. She had dark brown hair, streaked with gray. She had brown eyes, a button nose, and a wide cheerful smile.
She said, "You must be Glenn. Your brother, Gary, told me you'd be dropping in for a visit."
I smiled at her, and said, "Yes, I'm Glenn. This is my husband, Rick, and our children, David, Ashley, JJ and Josh."
She nodded her head in acknowledgement of the introductions. "It's nice to meet you all. If you want to go to your mother's room, I can help you move her. It's quieter there. We have the volume turned up on the television, so some of our patients can hear what is being said." This last statement, she said apologetically.
She moved behind Mom's chair. She slid the chair out from the table, turning it so she could position Mom's walker in front of her. Then, she stood behind the chair and put her arms under Mom's.
"Eva, let's get up now. It's time to go to your room." She turned to me and said, "Will you help stabilize her from the front. She sometimes gets off balance and starts to fall forward."
I stood up and walked around the nurse, and placed myself in front of my mother. I reached down and placed her hands on the handles of the walker. "It's okay, Mom. We're going to your room, so we can visit with you."
With the nurse lifting her, Mom slowly rose to her feet, leaning heavily on the walker. The nurse said, "Let's walk down the hallway, Eva." Mom shuffled slowly past the television viewing area. When she neared the door, she turned her walker toward it. "No, Eva. We're not going outside today." The nurse gently patted her arm. "Come this way, Eva." She spoke to my mother as if to a little child.
Mom turned her walker back toward the hallway and made her arduous way along it to her room. The hallway was carpeted, and we passed the kitchen and two large bathrooms on the left side. On the right were two utility rooms; one was a laundry and the other housed the heating and air conditioning unit. The care facility had two wings, with six bedrooms in each wing. It was a small care center, specializing in memory care. Mom's room was at the end of the hallway, next to the bathrooms. The hallway bent to the right, where the remaining five rooms were located.
We followed Mom into her room. My brothers had brought her bedroom furniture from home, along with a few other pieces of furniture from the front room. There were pictures of our family and other things to make her feel more at home here. Mom shuffled past her bed and into her en suite.
The nurse closed the door behind her, and turned to us. "If she doesn't come out in a few minutes, call me." She pointed to a call button on the bed.
"Okay," I said. She left us and I sat down in one of the two armchairs in the room. "Rick, there are folding chairs in the closet. Gary brought them down so more than two people could be here at a time to visit with Mom."
Rick opened the closet door and retrieved five folding chairs, setting them up in a row against the wall. He sat down on one, next to me, taking my hand in his. He leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Are you okay, Babe?" I turned my head toward him, and he put his other hand up to my face to wipe away the tears on my cheeks.
"It's really hard seeing her like this," I replied, trying to get my emotions under control. I knew if I didn't, I would quickly become a basket case.
"We're here for you, Babe. Just hold it together until after we leave," Rick said. "It won't help your mother, if you lose it."
The door to the en suite opened and my mother shuffled forward, pushing her walker in front of her. I stood up, and asked, "Do you want to sit in your armchair or do you want to sit on the bed?"
She didn't even acknowledge my existence, but slowly shuffled past me. I turned to watch her maneuver her walker out of the way, as she sat in her armchair. She returned to her former state of staring straight ahead, slack-jawed.
I looked around the room at our children. "I think that she might respond to us after a while. What helped her in the past was talking about the present. That eventually helped her get out of whatever mental trap her mind had been caught in."
Thus, we began to talk about our road trip, telling her where we had been over the last several days. Each of the children related their achievements over the last school year, and the summer activities they had engaged in prior to our trip. Ashley showed her more of her artwork. David talked about his physics class and the robotics competition. JJ talked about participating in the robotics competition, as well. Since Rick was one of their advisors, JJ got to go along. The high school robotics team decided JJ could be their mascot. He dressed up in a clown outfit and had a great time. Josh told her of his soccer games and his love for video games. He pulled out his electronic games and showed her how they worked. Rick and I talked to her about our jobs. I told her of my music students. I reminded her of how she taught me violin and piano.
At the mention of the piano, she finally uttered her first words to us. "I like the piano."
She spoke so softly, I wasn't sure I had heard her correctly. I asked, "Mom, did you say you liked the piano?"
She still didn't look at me, as she answered my question. "Yes, I like the piano."
"You used to play the piano for me," I said. "You taught me how to play it, too."
David said, "I play the piano and the violin, too, Grandma."
I had hoped she would re-engage with us, but she returned to her catatonic state. We continued bringing her up to date on our lives for another half an hour, but she didn't respond to anything we said. The nurse came into the room.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's time for Eva's afternoon snack. She gets very upset if she doesn't get her treat in the afternoon," the nurse said. She handed my Mom a graham cracker sandwich filled with nutella (a chocolate and hazelnut flavored spread). She took the proffered sweet treat and began eating it. Her motions were mechanical, almost involuntary.
I looked over at my husband and sighed. "I think we should go," I said.
Rick nodded his head in agreement. "We need to get some lunch. I'm starving."
JJ said, "Yeah! Me, too!"
"Give Grandma a hug before we go," I said.
Each of them bid her goodbye. I hugged Mom and said, "We'll be back tomorrow to visit with you."
Rick bent over to hug her and kissed her cheek. "Bye, Mom. We'll see you tomorrow."
As I turned to leave, I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. The look she gave me was so heartbreaking. It was like she didn't want us to go, but couldn't get the words out of her mouth. Before I totally lost control, I said, "We'll be back tomorrow. I promise." I quickly turned away and followed my family out into the hallway.
The nurse was standing there, waiting for us to leave. She saw how upset I was and pulled me into her embrace. "It's hard to see a parent in her condition. My father had Parkinson's disease just like your mother. He stayed here for a few months before he passed. I worked here then and was able to be with him every day. It tore me up, seeing his mind go. I hope your mother will have one of her good days while you're here. She becomes coherent and conscious of her surroundings about every third or fourth day. When she does, she asks to help sweep the floor and wants to help cook the meals."
She released me and looked me in the eyes. "Your mother is well cared for here. When she is herself, she is quite happy to be here. I call your brother when she is having a good day, so the family can come and visit with her. Of course, she doesn't remember that they have visited, but it helps them to see her on her better days."
I said, "Thank you for your kind words."
"You're welcome. I know what you're going through, and I totally understand how hard it is," she said.
"I'll call before we come to find out how she is doing," I said.
"Okay," she said. "We'll see you tomorrow."
Rick put his arm around my shoulders and walked me out of the care center. As soon as we were outside, Rick pulled me into his arms and held me tight. I buried my face in his chest and let the tears fall. When the emotional storm had subsided, I lifted my face to his and kissed him.
"Thank you for being here for me," I said, trying to smile.
"I love you, Babe. I'll always be here for you," Rick said. His expression told me he was worried about me.
"I know. That's why I love you so much," I said, rubbing noses with him.
JJ ran up to us and said, "I'm hungry. Can we go now?"
Rick laughed and said, "Spoken like a true Lernier." He ruffled JJ's hair. "Yes, we are going to get you something to eat. I saw a Burger King and a McDonald's as we came into town."
"Or, we could eat a picnic lunch," I suggested. "We still have bread and lunchmeat in the van."
JJ groaned and made a face. "May we eat out this time? We've been eating sandwiches for the last three days."
"By eating out, do you mean fast food?" Rick asked, raising his eyebrows.
JJ nodded his head. "I want chicken nuggets."
"Okay, we'll do fast food," Rick said.
JJ pumped the air with his fists. "Yeah!" He ran back to the van, where the rest of the children we waiting for us. "We're eating out for lunch!"
Josh high fived his twin. "Great work, bro.!"
Rick laughed, and said, "Don't celebrate too much guys! It's only fast food."
Rick unlocked the van and we piled in. Rick drove us out to a fast food restaurant, where the twins managed to satisfy their appetites. It still amazes me how quickly they can inhale their food. From there, we drove to Gary's home. They had moved into town from the farm a couple of years ago. Their home was a split level in a nice quiet neighborhood, not far from Mom's care center. Rick pulled the mini-van into their driveway and parked it. Gary and Jessica came outside to welcome us.
Gary hugged me and said, "The care center called us to let us know you had been to see Mom."
"She wasn't doing very well," I said.
"She doesn't have very many good days, anymore," he said. He turned to Rick and gave him a hug, as well. "We're glad you guys arrived here safely."
Jessica gave us both a hug. I tried not to bristle at her touch. I was still angry about what had gone on between Mom and Jessica, a few months ago. Jessica had moved in with Mom in an attempt to keep her in her own home. Jessica and Mom had never seen eye to eye. Jessica did things her way, but would fight with Mom during Mom's moments of clarity. In part, I blame Jessica for Mom's current condition. Intellectually, I know that Mom's illness has caused her memory loss; but Jessica's treatment of my mother during that three week period didn't help matters.
I forced a smile to my face, and said, "Thanks for putting us up in your home for a few days."
Jessica said, "We're very happy to have you."
"Let me help you with your luggage," Gary said.
Rick smiled, and said, "Thank you for your offer, but I think we've got the luggage covered. Everyone has to take in his or her duffel bag or suitcase. That only leaves the food supplies. If you want to grab those two bags out of the van, I'll bring the ice chest."
Gary picked up the two bags Rick had pointed out. The rest of us grabbed our gear and followed them inside. A while later we were talking to Gary and Jessica in their front room. I asked, "Where are Miriam and Jack?"
Gary said, "Jack went up to Saskatoon to visit with Miriam last week. I called them to let them know that you're here. They should be here in the next few hours."
I nodded my head. I've made the trip from Swift Current to Saskatoon many times, and knew that it takes about 3 hours to drive the 272 km. (169 miles) between the two cities. "How are they doing with their studies?"
"They are both doing very well," Jessica answered. "Jack loves the University of Toronto. He will begin his third year there in the fall. He is majoring in chemical engineering. Miriam has been accepted into the medical college at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She wants to become a neurologist."
Gary turned to David. "What are you majoring in?"
David said, "I'm majoring in mechanical engineering. I want to go into robotics or the aerospace industry. Utah State University has a research laboratory that works with the space program. Next week there is a small satellite convention that is being held on campus." He stopped and looked over at me and Rick. "I was hoping to convince my Dads to drop me off early at school, so I could attend the convention."
Rick said, "We'll have to see how things are going here, before we decide to leave early."
David continued, "I was on the robotics team at my high school the past two years, and I really liked it. The first year we built a robot that threw basketballs into a basketball net. Last year, we built a robot that could throw Frisbees and could climb a jungle gym."
Basketball Robot Frisbee Robot
Gary said, "That sounds like it was really fun."
"It was," David said. "My Dad was one of our mentors both years. JJ got to come with us this last year, because Dad was a mentor."
Gary looked over at us and asked, "Did they really allow JJ to go to the robotics competition?"
"Yes, they did, but as the team mascot. He couldn't drive the robot or make any of the repairs," Rick answered.
"We had six weeks to build the robot after we were given the details of the competition," David said. "We didn't win the competition, but we had fun. Dad took me down to Virginia Tech last summer to see their robotics program. I met the professor and got to work with their robots."
Gary asked, "What made you decide to go to Utah State?"
"I like their engineering program because of their work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the space program. I've participated in NASA's Inspire program for the last three years. I've been to Wallops Island to see satellites launched into orbit and toured the Wallops Island Flight Center. I want to build satellites and rocket ships. Dad arranged for me to talk to the director of the NASA research center at Utah State. Dr. Herbert seemed to think there was a good chance I could work with their team," David explained; displaying his enthusiasm and passion for the space program.
Gary looked impressed. He turned to Rick, and asked, "How did you manage that?"
"My boss knows the NASA administrator, and he put me in contact with him. The NASA administrator arranged for us to talk to Dr. Herbert. David is scheduled to have lunch with him next week," Rick said
Jessica asked, "Ashley, what are your plans for college? You're a rising senior aren't you?"
"Yes, I'll be a senior next year. I've already been receiving tons of junk mail from colleges and universities, trying to convince me that their institution is the one for me," Ashley replied.
"Do you know what you want to study?" Gary asked.
"I don't know, yet," Ashley said. "I'm good at art and music. However, I don't want to be a starving artist or musician. So, I haven't decided what I'll do."
Rick said, "Ashley is good at math and science. She also knows how to hold her own in an argument or debate." Rick laughed. "Just ask her brothers!"
David agreed. "I've learned never to argue with her, because she always wins."
I said, "I think she could be a lawyer. She also writes really well, so maybe Ashley should become an investigative reporter or something like that."
Ashley shook her head. "I don't want to be a journalist or a lawyer. I'm taking a medical professions class next year. I want to look into being a doctor or a nurse. I think that Johns Hopkins University would be a good place for me to study medicine; if I decide to go that route with my studies."
Jessica asked, "Where is Johns Hopkins?"
"It's in Baltimore, Maryland," Ashley said. "I really like chemistry and biology. Maybe I'll go into bio-chemistry."
Gary said, "If you go into the medical field, you'll be carrying on a family tradition. We have three nurses in the family, already." Gary voice was husky with tears as he corrected himself, "I mean we had three."
Our sister, Nancy, had been a nurse. She had passed away nearly two years ago from multiple sclerosis (MS). It had shocked us to learn she had MS. They had tried several different treatments, but none of them seemed to work for Nancy. The disease progressed rapidly and she died within two years of learning she had the disease. Rick and I were concerned that she could have passed on the disease to the twins, since she was their birth mother. The doctors have reassured us that neither of the twins has MS. Nancy left behind her husband, Cory, and two little girls, Randy and Jessica, who were 6 and 5 at that time. Cory is struggling to raise the two girls on his own. I expect to hear any day now that he has found a new wife.
"I know," Ashley said. "In part, that is why I'm considering it.
We spent the next few hours catching up on each other's lives. The twins were outside playing soccer in the back yard. We heard the front door open, and the twins came running into the front room.
JJ said, "Jack and Miriam are here!" They turned around and ran back outside.
Gary smiled. "It seems the twins are pretty excited to see their cousins."
"They've been talking about playing soccer with Jack for weeks," I said, laughing.
Jessica said, "I'm sure he'll love to play with them. He plays soccer for a local recreational league in Toronto."
The twins soon returned with Jack and Miriam. We stood up and hugged them both.
Jack said, "It's good to see you guys."
I held Jack at arm's length. "You've gained a couple of inches in height."
Jack grinned. "Yeah, I'm 191 cm (6'3") now."
Gary said, "I grew a couple of inches after I graduated from high school, too. I remember it surprised Mom and Dad. They thought I was all done growing."
I released Jack, and stood back to give him the once over. His grin got even wider, "Do I pass?"
I laughed. "Yes, you're a gay guy's wet dream."
Rick said, "I agree with Glenn, Jack. You're a good looking guy." He turned to Miriam. "However, I think that Miriam has you beat in the good looks department."
Miriam blushed, "Thanks, Uncle Rick." Miriam's dark auburn hair and emerald green eyes matched her mother's. She had Gary's pert nose and generous mouth; however, at 163 cm. (5'4"), she missed out on Gary's height. Miriam's fiery personality more than makes up for what she lacks in height!
"Gary and Jessica, you did well. You have two very beautiful children," Rick said.
Jessica smiled, and replied, "Thank you, Rick. We think they're rather special."
Miriam tucked her arm through Rick's. "You have to be my favorite uncle. You always know how to make me feel wonderful." She looked over at me and said, "Uncle Glenn, I wish you hadn't found him first."
I laughed. "Actually, I didn't find him first. Angie did, but I was second. She didn't know what she had."
Rick met my gaze, and said half-serious, half-jokingly, "For your Uncle Glenn, it was love at first sight. He just couldn't resist my good looks and my charming personality!"
Gary said, "Yes, we know. Keith told us how he had to practically perform mouth to mouth resuscitation to revive Glenn from his catatonic state when he first met you."
Our cousin, Keith, had introduced me to his roommate, Rick, when I visited Atlanta for the first time.
Miriam laughed. "Were you really that smitten with Uncle Rick?"
"Yes, I was pretty taken with him. You would've been, too, had you seen him like I did that morning," I said, remembering that very special morning.
Jack said, "I know what that's like. The first time I saw Lindsay, I was completely awestruck by her beauty. However, she wouldn't even give me the time of day, let alone go out on date with me."
Miriam said, "Who would blame her? You made such a fool of yourself, it's a wonder she didn't run away from you."
There was a knock on the door, and Gary left the room to answer it. He returned with my brother, Eric, and his wife. We greeted them with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Eric said, "I'm glad to see you guys. You're both looking good."
"Thanks," Rick said, putting his arm around my shoulders. "I've had to work hard to keep Glenn in shape." He patted my flat stomach. "We maintain a pretty rigorous work out program."
Eric smiled. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up."
I turned to Laura and asked, "How is life treating you?"
Laura said, "I'm doing pretty well. I'm glad you came, and I hope Mom has one of her better days while you're here."
"I hope so, too," I said. I turned and looked at their children, as they came into the room. "Wow! You have all grown a lot, since I saw you last."
Phoenix said, "I grew three inches this summer."
"And so did I," Maria said. The two of them could've been mistaken for twins. They were exactly the same height, and they both had golden blond hair, blue eyes and round faces.
Phoenix frowned. It wasn't cool for a twelve year old boy to have his ten year old sister matching him in height. He was the older brother, after all! "But I'll be taller than you before long."
Maria grinned. "I know, but for now, we're the same height."
Max, not to be left out of the conversation, pushed his way between his older siblings, and said, "I've grown, too."
I looked Max over and said, "You have indeed, Master Max. It looks like you'll eventually be even taller than your Dad when you grow up." At eight years old, Max was tall for his age.
Max beamed and ran over to me, hugging me around the middle. He peered up at me through the long blond hair that hung over his brilliant blue eyes. "I love you, Uncle Glenn."
"I love you, too," I responded, giving him a hug.
He turned to Rick and said, "I love you, too, Uncle Rick." He gave Rick a hug, then, he asked, "When can we play kickball?" He looked up, expectantly, at Rick.
Rick said, "As soon as you can get a couple of teams organized."
Max shouted, "Hooray! I knew you would play kickball with me. Jack will you play?"
Jack said, "Sure. I'll get the ball."
Max soon had us organized into two teams. We went outside to play kickball.
Later that evening, we sat on the deck in Gary's back yard and enjoyed the sunset over the prairie. It was one of those warm August evenings that I remembered from my childhood growing up on a dry farm, not far from Swift Current. My parents would often sit in their screened in porch and watch the sunset. It was at that time of day that I would sit next to my mother in the porch swing, and she would tell me stories about her family, or we would talk about the events of the day. My older brothers would challenge Dad to a game of chess, and Nancy would draw sketches or write in her journal.
I miss Nancy very much. Her death left an empty place in my heart. Of all of my siblings, I had always been closest to her. We had played pranks on our older brothers, and we were always together. It came as no surprise to me when Nancy agreed to be our surrogate. She lived with us during the pregnancy, sharing with us all of the ups and downs of carrying twins. Soon after the twins arrived, she married Cory, and moved to California with him.
Eric noticed that I was feeling melancholy. He asked, "What's going on?"
"I'm just thinking about Nancy, and how much I miss her. Watching the sunset reminded me of her," I said.
Eric nodded his head. "I miss her, too. Have you heard anything from Cory lately?"
"No, I haven't. I've been wondering if he has found a new wife," I said. "He's too young to remain single the rest of his life."
"I don't know about that," Eric said. "I'm not sure I would remarry if Laura passed away."
Laura said, "Let's not talk about such sad things. We need to concentrate on the good things, and enjoy the time we have together."
We spent the next few days enjoying our time with our family. We took the boys fishing and boating on Lac Pelletier. Josh and JJ were very proud fishermen, since they both caught several fish. We went to the mental care facility every day to see my mother. Every time we went, we found her in the same chair, staring off into space. Nothing we said, or did, seemed to reach her.
On our last day in Swift Current, I convinced Gary that we should bring Mom to his home for a family dinner. From the moment she got in the car, she seemed to become more alert. By the time we reached, Gary's house, she was talking to me and asking me about the children. We helped her into the house and settled her into her favorite rocking chair, which Gary had brought over from her house.
Mom said, "I'm glad everyone came to see me today." She looked around at all of us and smiled. "Jack will you play some music for us?"
Jack grinned and replied, "Sure, Grandma."
He sat down at the piano and began playing some old show tunes. We gathered around the piano and sang many of Mom's favorite songs. She joined in, adding her soprano voice to ours. After an hour or so, we helped prepare dinner, while the grandchildren talked with her.
I stood in the doorway, watching Mom look at Ashley's drawings. This time, she said, "Ashley, these are beautiful. You are such a talented young lady."
Ashley said, "These aren't my best work. I did some of them at school last year, but the others I drew on our way here."
Mom said, "They are still very well done. You should be proud of your work. Are you still playing the violin?"
"Yes, I am. David brought his violin with him. He plans to audition for the university orchestra," Ashley said.
Mom looked over at David and asked, "Will you play for me?"
"Yes, I will." David stood up and retrieved his instrument from his room. He soon returned and began playing for Mom.
Jessica came into the room and said, "I've managed to plug up the kitchen sink."
Eric asked, "What did you do?"
"I put the potato peels down the disposal and it clogged the drain," Jessica said. "I know I shouldn't have done that, but I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing."
Eric grinned, and said, "I'll fix it, since I'm the plumber in the family."
When Eric hadn't been able to find work in his field after he graduated from college, he became an apprentice to a local plumber. He eventually became a journeyman plumber, and started his own business. He stood up and went out to his car, returning a few minutes later with his toolbox. He got under the kitchen sink and took the pipes apart to clean out the trap.
As he was working, Josh came running through the kitchen with a cape billowing out behind him. He shouted, "Ninja Plumber to the rescue!"
Hearing him, I laughed and said, "Eric, you need a ninja outfit to wear while you work!"
Eric looked up from his work and grinned. "Instead of a shield, I'll carry a toilet lid!"
I laughed, and said, "I could just see you running down the street in your Ninja outfit, holding a pipe wrench in one hand and a toilet lid in the other."
Laura guffawed, "You could join the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!"
Eric laughed. "It would be pretty fun, actually. Maybe, I'll change the name of my business from Nielsen's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning to Ninja Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning."
Eric finished cleaning up the mess he had made under the sink and put away his tools. He stood up and washed his hands in the sink. As he turned to pick up his toolbox, Josh returned. This time JJ was with him, also wearing a cape.
In unison, they shouted, "Ninja Plumbers Rock!" They ran past us and into the family room.
Eric looked over at me and said, "They remind me of us when we were little."
"That they do," I agreed.
I returned to the family room and sat next to Mom. "Mom, I wanted to tell you I love you very much, and to thank you for everything you have done for me and our family."
Mom looked at me, and said, "I love you, too, Glenn. I've only done what I thought was best for you."
"I know, Mom, but I wanted you to know that I recognize the many sacrifices you made for us over the years," I said.
"You have married well, Glenn. Take care of Rick. I know he loves you and the children. It makes me happy to know that you've got a wonderful husband and family," Mom said. "Your father finally admitted that to me, the week before he died. Despite all of his faults, I still love him, Glenn. He talks to me all the time, now."
"I'm sure he does Mom," I said. Not sure if I should encourage her hallucinations or not.
"Where is Kyle?" she asked. "Did you leave him at home?"
"No, Mom, we didn't forget him at home. He is attending college in Brazil at the Federal University of Paraíba. He is doing very well there," I said.
"Oh," she said, looking confused.
"We're leaving tomorrow to take David to his university. He's going to study engineering at Utah State University," I said.
Laura came into the room, and said, "Dinner is ready."
"Mom, are you hungry?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied.
I helped her get up and placed her walker in front of her. She shuffled along, pushing the walker ahead of her. I pulled out a chair for her, and made her comfortable in her chair. The rest of the family gathered around the table.
Gary asked, "Mom, who do you want to say grace?"
Mom said, "Will you do it?"
Gary said, "Yes, Mom."
After he said grace, we helped the children fill their plates, and directed them to eat outside on the deck, while the adults sat around the dining room table. We talked and enjoyed the food and the company. After diner, Jessica and Laura brought out ice cream and cake. It was a perfect end to a perfect meal!
Looking around the table, Mom smiled and said, "It's wonderful to be here with my family."
Rick said, "Yes, it is." He leaned over and gave me a quick kiss.
Eric wolf whistled. "It's good see that you two still love each other, after all these years."
Rick grinned and said, "We're still young enough to enjoy each other. Unlike someone else we know."
Eric laughed. "It couldn't possibly be me."
"Well, you are two years old than I am," Rick said, grinning.
Laura said, "He is, but he's still pretty good in bed."
Eric blushed. "Laura…"
She laughed, and said, "It's true. I think we should share our good news. We're expecting another baby."
Eric was blushing even more now. "Congratulations!" We chorused.
"When are you due?" Jessica asked.
Laura responded with the date and said, "There will be nearly nine years between Max and his little sister."
Gary said, "We're very happy for both of you."
Mom said, "I can't wait to see the new baby. Please bring her to see me when she is born."
Laura said, "I'll make sure to stop by with her."
We cleaned up the kitchen and the dishes. I looked over at Mom and saw that she had fallen asleep. Gary said, "It's time to take her back to the care center."
We woke her up and Gary said, "Mom, it's time to go."
She had that vacant stare again. She didn't respond as we helped her up. It was clear to me that she didn't know who we were. We called the children inside to say goodbye to their grandmother. Each of them hugged and kissed her. Then, we had them stand behind her chair and took a few photos of them with her. Afterward, we helped her to the car, and I accompanied Gary on the return trip to the care center.
"Is she always like this?" I asked, trying to contain my emotions.
"Yes, she has very few good days," Gary said. "We were fortunate that she was coherent for as long as she was today. She will have a really bad day tomorrow, if things go as they have in the past."
"How long do they think this will go on?" I asked.
"She could continue in this state for many years to come," Gary said. "But, then again, Parkinson's disease can be very unpredictable, as we've seen."
When we arrived at the care center, we helped Mom out of the car. She held onto her walker as she shuffled slowly up the sidewalk to the front door of the facility. We pushed the button for admittance, and the door swung open. The doors were always locked to keep the care center patients from wandering off. Most of them suffered from severe dementia, and would quickly get lost if they weren't accompanied by a member of the staff, or a family member. We guided Mom to her room, where a nurse was waiting.
It was Sandy. She smiled and said, "I'm glad your mother had a good day while you were here."
"So am I," I said.
"It's time to get you ready for bed, Eva. You need to say goodbye to your sons," Sandy said, gently helping Mom sit down on her bed.
Gary hugged her and said, "I'll see you tomorrow, Mom."
He moved aside to let me sit next to her. I put my arm around her shoulders and I kissed her cheek. I said, "We are leaving tomorrow, but I will call you." I looked up at Sandy. "I'll call to find out how she's doing. If she's having a good day, I'll talk to her."
Sandy nodded her head. "I'll be glad to help you talk to her if she's able to respond to you."
Gary said, "And we'll let you know when we have her home with us."
I nodded my head. I hugged her, as the tears rolled down my cheeks. I knew that this might be the last time I would see my mother, or, at least, the last time she would be the person I knew as my mother. I managed to speak the words, "Goodbye, Mom. I will always love you."
She stared blankly at wall in front of her, unaware of me or her surroundings. I stood up and wiped the tears from my face, as I followed my brother out of her room.
Gary put his arm around my shoulders. "It's okay, Glenn. We have all been grieving for the mother we've lost. Her body is still here, but her mind is gone. We will continue to care for her as long as her body keeps functioning, but I'm afraid the person we knew as our mother is not there anymore."
We walked out into the parking lot and climbed into Gary's car. "Will you call me if and when she has a normal day?" I asked.
Gary gave me a quick glance, before responding. "I promise to call you, but, please, don't get your hopes up, Glenn. It will only make it harder for you if you think she'll return to normal. The doctors have warned me that her short periods of sanity will grow increasingly less frequent, until they disappear completely."
I heard my brother's explanation, but my brain refused to process the information. Emotionally, I can't accept that my mother is really already gone. We rode in silence for the rest of the short trip to Gary's house.
I climbed out of the car and walked numbly into the house. Rick met me in the hallway. He took one look at me and pulled me into his arms, holding me tight. He didn't say a word, because he knew exactly what I needed.
First Robotics - http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc
Wallops Island - http://www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/home/index.html#.UivlnnfD_IU