My mother wouldn’t speak to me today. At least not when I spoke to her. Twice she started to rattle off in Punjabi, a language I understand but am not nearly fluent in. Her words were quick and low, hardly audible, and the sentences incomplete. She’d hardly look at me, even, instead staring off, or, more often, nodding off, even as I applied makeup, showed her the flowers and the giant balloon I had brought her to celebrate. The photo album – pictures of her with her parents and siblings in Tanzania, pictures that usually engage her and bring her to life – only held her interest for a moment.
I tried to straighten her fingers, increasingly bent and stiff with contractures. I wiped away a bit of scrambled eggs from breakfast that was stuck to the top of her foot. I tried to engage, but celebrating Mother’s Day is a now just another day. The card, the flowers, the balloon are not of interest. In fact, they may confuse her.
And then it dawned on me later in the visit that my mother, who has late-stage dementia, likely no longer knows who I am. There are some days, increasingly rare, when she seems to have a flash of recognition, when I’ll tell her my name and she will repeat it to me. Today was not one of those days. Today there was hardly a grunt of acknowledgement, hardly a glance at my face, before she looked away.
We’re lucky to have the means and resources to care for her, to have her in a memory care community where she has a nice room and activities. And we are lucky to be able to hire private caregivers to spend several hours with her throughout the week. And I was grateful to hear that one of them is so attentive to her that even the full-time staff, some with years of experience, noticed.
I’m grateful that my mother is not just cared for but loved, not just by her family, but by people we have enlisted to help. She may know them better than she knows me now, despite my efforts to visit her as often as I can. I’m her daughter, and even on those many, many days when she does not know me, I’m grateful.