This story is a little longer than most. Mom had begun to repeat herself and tell the same stories over and over but my brothers and I had accepted the inevitable and attributed her behavior to aging. On this day… I had an inkling that something else might be wrong. Everything was not fine with my mother…
Mom and her husband had been retired for many years. My brothers and I lived nearby and his children lived back east but visited often. Mom and Vince had spent most of their years together traveling between East and West coast with jaunts to the National Parks in between. Eventually, they sold their big house and settled into a large mobile home in a senior community. They had a little chihuahua, a covered deck and a clubhouse with pool and recreation facilities. They were happy where they lived and had a good life–until Vince’s death, 2 months earlier.
Neither of them had ever mentioned memory problems, at least to my knowledge. Though, I had noticed that his designated responsibilities far out-weighed Mom’s. He tracked their doctor’s appointments, paid their bills, did all the driving and most of the cooking. Frankly, I found it easier to believe that Mom had made a good “catch” with this husband, than to assume there might be an issue with her memory. Later, I would come to wonder if he had been coping with Mom’s failing memory all along.
When I arrived for a visit several months after his passing, Mom retrieved a box she’d forgotten to give me sooner, she said. A box the size of a new pair of shoes, overstuffed with envelopes, loose papers, stock certificates and other legal documents, including a medical power of attorney. “What is this?” I teased her. “I didn’t apply for a legal secretary position.”
“Sit down,” she smiled, then plopped the box in my lap. “Oh, I don’t know. Vince told me to give it to you immediately if anything ever happened to him. But I forgot about it until this week,” she shrugged, “so there it is.”
Two months after his passing, I thought briefly.
“How do you like my little home here?” Mom made a wide sweeping arc as she swung around like a ballerina, then waited for my reply. “What do you think, a cute little place, huh?”
I removed a rubber band and cover-sheet marked with my name from the top stack of legal papers, trying to keep the contents from spilling out. “I like your little home, Mom.” I smiled. “I’ve always thought it was ideal. Low maintenance, nice and roomy, and all of your friends are nearby.” I wondered why we were discussing this again. They’d lived here for 10 years, at least.
Yet, she’d stated the same thing, almost to the word, every time I visited for the last 2 months. “I’ve always liked this place. It’s a lot less work than the big house,” I reassured her in case Vince’s passing had resurrected memories of her former home. “I’m glad you sold the house and moved here.” I swallowed the slight annoyance at having to tell her the same thing over and over before I went back to sorting papers.
Insurance policies; personal, home and auto. All labeled neatly. The title to their home, cars, travel trailer. A list of their payments and income for each month…I was puzzled by the detail, surely Mom could have given me most of this information.
“I have a wall to wall closet and 37 dresses.” She stood in front of me now, reaching for my hand. “Come look.”
I puzzled a frown, Mom’s behavior had me confused. She’d been in this mobile home for 10 years, I’d seen her closet a hundred times, she’d already forced me to look at her 37 dresses at least 8 times this month. This was so odd! “Mom…” I looked at her. “I’ve already seen your 37 dresses, remember. You showed them to me last week.” And the week before that, and the week before that, I thought but didn’t say.
She puzzled her brows together and pretended to recollect. “Oh? I already showed you my 37 dresses? I must have forgotten. That’s right!” she suddenly remembered. “I did show them to you.” She turned and walked toward the kitchen, clearly disappointed. “I think I’ll make some tea for both of us.”
I felt suddenly guilty. She had taken such pleasure in showing those dresses and I’d brushed her aside without thought. “It’s fine, Mom.” I stood, “Come on, I want you to show me your dresses again. You may have a added a new one since I saw them last.”
Mom spun around quickly, “My dresses?” she broke into a broad smile. “Did I tell you, I have 37 dresses? You must come and look.” The tea was forgotten and she was headed toward me. “Come see. Come and look.” She took my arm and off we went, traipsing down the hall to her bedroom. “Come on, come see. I have 37 dresses.”
My mind tried to make sense of it, my stomach hurt, and I made a mental note to mention this behavior at her very next Dr.’s Appointment. So many symptoms missed at the time–are so clear in hindsight.