Well, Mom’s been in the hospital since Sun. She’s 88 years of age and has been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s for a number of years now; a diagnosis I question, perhaps the term dementia would be more appropriate. But this is a description we “normal” people give to behaviour observed from our own vantage point and points of reference. Even that doesn’t accurately describe the world as she or even we experience it.
The first day in hospital she was very sedate, her body quite still from pain; but during the night it was a different story. Her hands sought out things to grab, usually landing on the IV or catheter tubes or to pull covers and gown off her body. She squirmed around til she was angled at a diagonal on the bed; her legs and feet alternately pushing down it or extending towards the floor, “I just need to get my feet on the ground” she repeated over and over.
I understood. Once, during an extended car trip, experiencing great distress, I said those very words, “Stop. I just need to get my feet on the ground so that I can walk around and feel the earth under my feet, otherwise I feel like I’m getting dizzy and disconnected from everything around me; I might as well be at home watching it on T.V.” I was not surprised when, once she’d maneuvered so that her legs dangled over the side of the bed with her soles hovering over the earth, she became calmer.
I would deflect her arms away from the tubes gently interjecting my hands or arms in the way for her to grasp and move in the air. It seemed to me that her daytime stillness built up such energy in her body that it just needed to move to discharge it while her brain tried to make sense of it all. How often I had experienced physically restless, fitful nights of sleep after 8 hour days of modeling where I’d maintain the same position for hours so that the artists could capture it on the page, canvas or in clay. During some sessions I would “feel” a limb move about in the air or reposition itself only to glance down and see, unbelievably, that it was still in the same position and had been motionless the whole time; only the undisturbed focus of the artists could convince me of that fact.
I later lay beside her that night and I watched her arms flowing movements; reaching to pluck things out of the sky or clear away something blocking her way; folding invisible sheets noticing that, “I think they are dry though maybe they’re still a little damp.”
Both of her arms reach up and she talks of having to get up a staircase that she’s climbing and her legs move up and down in response. And then, after her body has been quiet for a while, and I’ve begun to doze she squeezes my arm “all the neighbours are here, can you see them?” her face brilliantly beautiful, shining in amazement.
“Yes, yes I see them.” they are reflected in her face.
It is a few days later. Mom is sitting up in bed after having had a calm and restful night. She is alert and appreciates the beauty of the cut, spring flower arrangement I bring closer to her; flowers sent by her sisters with the note, “with oodles of love”. We even talk a little about Helen and Dot.
Mom’s eldest daughter, my sister, Judi is hiking the Camino in Spain. Jude’s voice was filled with emotion when we finally were able to talk over the phone, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be so far away and unreachable at a time like this. She asks me to relay her love to Mom and this seems like the perfect moment.
“Jude’s walking the Camino,” I say.
Mom seems puzzled; the word Camino probably threw her.
“Yes.” She nods and awaits with great interest the rest the story. Now I can proceed and I do so in a conversational banter.
“Yah, Tildy’s in Spain. She’s hiking, walking a trail called the Camino…”
Mom’s eyes begin to fill with sorrow and her brow furrows. “Oh, that’s so sad. It’s so awful.”
“Awful. No, Mom it’s a good thing.” She looks at me like I’m heartless and I finally twig.
Speaking much more slowly, enunciating as clearly as possible as I hold her gaze, I repeat, “No… Mom… SHE…. IS…. IN… SPAIN… NOT… INSANE… IN… SPAIN.”
Her expression shifts as she takes in what has been said. Then the corners of her eyes begin to crinkle, as do mine, and we break out into hysterical laughter and our hearts become light again.