As I take my stint on "Mom watch" during this marathon vigil that I share with my brothers and sister, I realize that I'm getting a rare glimpse into the elusive person that is my mother. In those moments suspended between sleep and wakefulness her behaviours and words reveal her driving concerns.
There is always work to be done: laundry to be hung to dry; sheets to be folded once the sun's rays and summer breeze have evaporated every droplet of moisture. She clutches them near to her chest taking in the fresh air scent that permeates their fibres.
On another vigil she scolds my father with a squeeze of my arm as I lay beside her, "You have to have something to eat. You can't go all day without anything to eat. Come on I'll make you some tea." and rubs my arm vigorously, her whole body sighing with a deep, relieved contentment that finally allows her to sleep; secure in his arms.
As her condition improves I sit in a chair out of Mom's view to invisibly observe and keep her safe; a beeper goes off in the Alzheimer lady's cubicle in the other corner of the room. Mom, who has been silently looking through the ceiling, dreaming with eyes open, begins to focus and stir with agitation. I go over to the other woman's bedside and pull the call bell. Mom sees me in the distance. I walk over to her. "I have to answer the phone" she says, struggling to get out of bed.
Our voices fade the bell's irritating cadence into the background and the sound of the nurse coming in, attending to this other patient laying silent in deep sleep oblivious to the activity around her.
"No, it's alright someone got it already."
"Is everyone O.K.?"
"Yes. We are all O.K. and so are you." I gently stroke her shoulder and arm.
"Is Dad sleeping?"
"Yes. He's sleeping." Stroking her slower and lighter; her body eases.
"Who was that on the phone?"
"Jude, she called to say hi and give you her love." Lighter and lighter my voice and strokes.
"Oh." she nods; her face softens.
"It's late and you should go to sleep."
A present and earnest look comes over her face, her eyes become animated as she holds my gaze and in a motherly tone sternly, lovingly asserts "then you should too."
We smile at each other and softly make a pact to do so. Her eyes close and I slip back into the chair in the shadows.