{On Minding My Mother: “Give Me Just a Minute”}

IMG_1631Last month, while visiting with my mother, 92, we danced the dance we’ve adopted since her dementia diagnosis about two years ago. We change it up as appropriate, depending on how she’s feeling and how I’m handling how she’s feeling. Some days it’s jazz like, where we make it up as we go along with a lot of zigging and zagging and very little rhythm. On other days it resembles a waltz, with smooth and deliberate steps. Always, one of us leads and the other follows. For the most part it starts out like this:

She looks at me intently for several seconds before breaking into a smile that cracks my heart a little more each time: part surprise, part gratitude, and still, thankfully, part recognition. All the while I’m smiling back at her, trying not to panic, resisting the temptation to burst forth with, “Surely you remember me, your favorite daughter!”

“Oh sweetheart,” she says, coming close to hug me. “I didn’t know you were coming.” Which is often true, as I’ve been advised by counselors to say “I’ll get back as soon as I can,” instead of “I’ll see you tomorrow,” in case my plans change and Mother is left hanging, waiting for me to drop by. (I live in Tennessee and she’s in Mississippi in a residential facility.) Just as sure as I told Mother I’d be there on a certain day, at a specific time, she’d be lucid enough to hold me accountable. And trust me when I say you don’t want that kind of guilt weighing on you, getting a call that says, “Your mother is waiting for you. She’s anxious that you’re not here when you said you’d be. And she’s all dressed up. With her purse in her lap.”

On this particular visit I could not recall the name of another resident while Mother and I were talking. I’ve known the woman forever, grew up with her children, and yet I couldn’t bring her name to my mouth.

“You know, Mother,” I said, pleading and pointing toward the hall. “The woman who lives just up the way from you. The one with the—“

“Give me just a minute,” said Mother, interrupting me and holding out her right hand in a “stop” position. “Let me think.”

She came up with the name shortly thereafter and presented it to me without fanfare. Just another mother helping her child.

8 thoughts on “{On Minding My Mother: “Give Me Just a Minute”}

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts about your mom tonight. I especially liked her response – “But if you were,” she added, turning to look me straight on, “you were the best mistake I ever made.” on your way to Wood’s Hole 25 years ago. I, too live in the moment with dementia with a 90 year-old mother-in-law I adore and a dear elderly neighbor I’ve become very close to this past year. I agree with you, we feel the need to tell our stories.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you’re able to be with your mother-in-law and your neighbor. I’m thinking about trying to work with older people somehow, as I feel called to that population now. I think of Henri Nouwen’s “wounded healer” philosophy, right? Now that my mother is in this situation, I feel led to learn, and do, as much as I can.

      1. I also feel called to the older population. I haven’t read The Wounded Healer, but I can see your connection as I read some of Henri Nouwen’s quotes.

        I’ve just started doing graphic design for the NYC Elder Abuse Center. They found me through my blog. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’m compelled to follow this direction now.

        You have, too, with your beautiful writing.

      2. Sorry for the tardy response! I’ve been traveling and was offline for a bit. I think that’s great that you are following where you feel led. I hope to soon report that I’m doing the same thing. I’m meeting this week with a senior living community to talk about leading a writing group there. I love Henri Nouwen because he encourages us to use our tender places to help others. And thank you for your kind words regarding my writing.

  2. Amy, I so know how all this feels, lived it with my Mom. Bless your heart , it is so not easy.

  3. I just love “give me just a minute.” My 99 year old grandmother says that. I felt something so good reading this post as always Amy Lyles.

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