Dear Mother

By Karen Brode

Dedicated to my dear mother, Hazel Hawk.

January 12, 1992

I stood at the kitchen counter slicing carrots for soup. I don’t know what is happening to you. You are changing in front of my eyes, and I want to grab onto you and pull you back to normal.

You used the microwave oven last week, but now you don’t know how to use it. I don’t understand.

February 10,1992

When I took you to the neurologist yesterday, he told us to start looking for a nursing home for you. You looked at me and winked as if it was a big joke. And it is. I have no intention of you ever going to a nursing home.

April 5, 1992

You came to our house to spend the night. I look forward to these visits. When Brandon was little, it was the highlight of his week. Brandon would run out to your car and help you carry in your things. I’ve reminded Brandon often that once someone loves you as much as you loved Brandon, it doesn’t go away – ever.

June 28, 1992

As time goes by, I see that you are getting worse. I feel shadows and darkness gathering closer to me. Even on days when the sun is shining, the light seems murky and eerie and not like real sunshine at all. Yesterday, I got in my car and drove with no destination in mind. I screamed in my car where no one could hear me.

I have begged God to not let this happen to you. Or if it has to happen to you, I beg God to take you now before you get any worse. I know I can’t stand for you to get any worse.

July 13, 1992

Today I made some calls to local nursing homes. I have finally reached the point where I know that this is our only option. To leave you in your home would be negligent.

August 7, 1992

I went to your house tonight. It is the last evening you will ever be at home. You had several trash bags in your living room. You were putting things in the bags. I looked in one and found a pitcher, a puzzle, and a picture of me from high school. Each of these items started with the letter “P.” I still try to make sense of the things you do.

After I went home, you phoned me. It was the last time you would ever call me. You wanted to know if you could go home.

August 8, 1992

You went to the nursing home today. I watched you walk down the sidewalk into the nursing home. My heart ached when I remembered my promise to myself and to you that you would never go to a nursing home. I had hoped and prayed that God would intervene, but He did not.

I felt nauseated when I smelled that distinctive smell of nursing home.

You sat on your bed. I gave you some cookies to eat and hung up your clothes in the closet. There seemed to be so much more of an explanation I should make to you.

You were all I could think of as I laid in my bed and sobbed into the night.

August 9, 1992

When I woke this morning my first thought was that you are in the nursing home, and I must go and get you. I was certain that you felt as if we had abandoned you. You probably didn’t even know where you were.

When I arrived, I saw that you had tied your Bible and your purse up in one of your dresses making a kind of knapsack and put it under your bed.

I sighed and knew then I could never rescue you from this.

August 14, 1992

My heart sank when I arrived today.

You said, “Thank goodness you are here! I’ve been waiting all day.”

You had all of your clothes out on the bed, and your purse in your lap. You were getting ready to go home.

I was never a good liar. You always knew if I was even stretching the truth a little.

But I forced myself to say, “Just a little longer. Maybe just one more week and you can go home.”

Of course you saw through that. Even in your state of mind you could tell I was lying.

“Where are my car keys?” you asked. “I know you have them. I want them back.”

I panicked. I was on the verge of tears. I wanted more than anything to give your keys back. To have you whole again.

But I couldn’t answer you. Instead, I looked to the distant window. We were both free out there once.

You waited until your silence caused me to look back at you. Then you stared me right in the eye and said, “I know what you’re up to. You just want to get rid of me.”

You might as well have slapped me. I stood in your doorway and felt my legs tremble. I never wanted this for you, for us, but I would never convince you of that. It would be along time before I would ever know peace again.

I edged out of your doorway and into the hall. All I wanted in that one moment was to be away from whoever it was that you had become.

August 18, 1992

The nursing home called to tell me that you had gone out the door and started walking down the road. They wanted me to come talk to you. They said that if you kept doing that, they would have to put you in restraints.

When I got there, you shrugged and said, “I wasn’t lost.” You pointed somewhere only you could see. “I was only going across the field to visit Mama.”

You laughed, like I was making a big deal out of nothing.

I drove down the highway screaming again after I left you but it provided no satisfaction. It didn’t make you any better.

September 7, 1992

Your sister, Opal, called me from Arkansas today. She told me to bring you home from that nursing home. She hasn’t seen you. She can’t comprehend what has happened to you. There’s no way to explain in a phone call what has happened to you. There’s no way to explain what has happened to you if I had days and days.

September 14, 1992

Today was your first birthday in the nursing home. Gary, Brandon, and I took you out to eat at a restaurant. While we were eating, I asked you what you had done that day. You said you had made some pies.

Tears ran down Brandon’s face. He remembered the times he had made pies with you when he was a little boy.

As Gary helped you back into the car, I told Brandon that if I died suddenly or before I was old, he should get down on his knees and thank God that he would not have to endure seeing me like this.

September 20, 1992

The first time I saw you in a posey vest restraint, I didn’t think I could stand it. I wanted to rip it off you and take you out of there. But where would I take you?

October 21, 1992

You broke your hip yesterday. Seeing you in physical pain is so hard now because you don’t understand what has happened. I have to keep explaining to you that you broke your hip, and a few minutes later, you ask me again what happened. Doctors and caregivers dismiss you and direct their questions to me. If only there was something I could do to make all of this go away for you, I would do it.

October 22, 1992

You had hip surgery today. When you were in surgery, I thought maybe you would die a peaceful painless death and all of this would be over. But you woke up to your confused upside-down world.

December 6, 1992

It’s almost Christmas. Brandon has been in several track meets but I have not attended any. It seems to be all I can do to absorb what has happened to you. I thought after the first Christmas with you in the nursing home, I would have a pattern to go by, but this Christmas fills me with dread. How will I ever get through the rest of my life? Does it ever get any easier, Mother?

December 24, 1992

It’s Christmas Eve. It seems like a cruel joke, actually. All the glitzy decorations and the songs I used to like seem wrong and mean.

I started crying in Wal-mart. I had to leave my half-filled grocery cart in the aisle when “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” played over the sound system.

We gave you your presents and sat with you for awhile. You asked me the same questions over and over and I tried to be patient with you. I know you can’t help it. You wanted to know where my father is. You asked again and again why your parents have not come to visit you.

When we got back in the car to start home, I waited for the tears that always come, but I was too weary to cry.

January 12, 1992

I hate coming to see you, Mother.

March 4, 1993

Today, I helped you up out of the wheelchair and you stumbled, but then you took small steps as I held tightly onto you. You weren’t walking well, but it’s progress! I looked at the elation on your face and felt such joy in my own heart. You are getting better and coming back to us instead of always floating farther and farther away.

For the first time in so long, I felt hope.

April 2, 1992

Today is Brandon’s 17th birthday. We talked about his birth and first few days in this world. When I got to the part about Gary and I bringing Brandon home from the hospital to your house, my voice broke. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I wanted this to be a happy time for Brandon. I described you coming out into the yard and meeting Gary and wrapping Baby Brandon up in your arms and carrying him into your house. You gave him his first bath and your arms held him when he whimpered in the night. Your voice comforted him during those first few days of his life. He learned so much love from you mother. It’s a lot for all of us to lose. A whole lot.

June 7, 1993

I used to think Aunt Winnie was so silly to make so much of family, but here I am feeling the same way. I feel so alone. I keep thinking that there is someone I have overlooked – someone who would help me – if I could just think of who it is.

August 11, 1992

I haven’t seen you in almost a month. Brandon was in a wreck on August 5th. We heard the sirens in the distance and a feeling came over me. You know how those feelings are. I knew that it was Brandon – deep in my soul.

My legs were jelly when I saw the wreck. I ran screaming across the field to get as close to him as I could. I walked right up to the car past the paramedics and looked at him but he didn’t know I was there.

He had several life-threatening injuries, but he was alive. My Brandon was alive. He didn’t die in that wreck. It’s all I could think about – how close I came to losing my future so quickly on the heels of losing my past.

September 12, 1992

Brandon was in the hospital for almost two weeks. You were just a few blocks away in the nursing home, but you might as well have been on the moon.

May 28, 1992

Brandon walked across the stage and claimed his high school diploma tonight. He still limps a little, but he’s alive. When he was little, I thought the days would never end and he would never settle down and go to sleep. Now all those days are gone. You told me this time would come, Mother. Now I would love to have some of that other time back. Is that the way you feel, too?

February 18, 1996

Your sister, Jewel, died today. I didn’t tell you. I know that she was your favorite. You told me that she always took time to read stories to you when you were a little girl. I’m glad you had such a sweet older sister. When you get to heaven, Jewel will be there waiting for you. 

November 24, 1996

Another Thanksgiving has come. Brandon helped me with cooking. I know you probably cannot imagine it, but Brandon is 21. Sometimes it seems as if everything stopped when you got sick and that Brandon will be forever 16. But time has marched on.

October 7, 1997

I came to visit you at the nursing home today. But of course it wasn’t you I saw. It was what is left of you. You were sitting in the dining room holding your doll. I pretend that the doll is a baby because I would do anything to make your life a little happier. There are times when I can’t cry. Those are the worst times. I feel as if I don’t have any more tears. It doesn’t make any earthly sense to me that you have kept on living all these years.

December 25, 1997

As I looked about my house tonight it was filled with laughter and fun and relatives, but you were not there. I try so hard not to grieve for you constantly because your body may live a lot longer and I have to pace myself.

Your sister, Opal, died last week. I sent flowers to Jewel’s funeral, but I just couldn’t make myself send flowers to Opal’s. You would be ashamed of me, I guess.

You have lost so much since you have been sick, but you are blissfully unaware.

May 24, 1998

I so wish I could come and sit down and talk to you about everything that has happened. There are so many things I need to tell you. Brandon is getting married in August. I know that to you, Brandon is still a little baby, but in reality he is a grown man. You have been there every step of his life, and I don’t think any of us know what to do without you. Life is so much harder than we ever thought it would be.

November 1, 1999

I feel as if I have been at your funeral for six years. I don’t know if I will ever adjust to you not being you. I don’t want to remember you like this! At times when this facsimile of you talks, I listen close and strain to hear what my real Mother would say. My heart yearns to share this burden with you. Would you understand how painful this has been? Would you be surprised at what you have become and the anguish and sorrow your illness has caused? There are no rituals or traditions to follow in this long goodbye. There is only grief and sadness every day. There are no days off, no closure, no time to grieve and move on. Your death is a living death and you don’t even know that you have died.


Karen Brode is a senior contributor Jet Planes and Coffee. She grew up in Denison, Texas and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

Momma

By Karen Brode

I stood at the kitchen counter slicing carrots for soup and gazed out the window above the sink.  I had always thought of myself as the kind of person who would take care of my mother if she needed care.  But now that the time had come, where was I?  I was crouched in the corner with my hands over my eyes hoping someone else would take over.  I felt ashamed of my helplessness and inability to take charge of the situation.

I had a feeling of shifting sands, of things moving beneath my feet, and it seemed all I could do to keep myself balanced.  After many nights of lying awake mulling things over, I had decided that if Mother was still Mother, I would be able to take care of her, but who was Mother these days?

Last September the neurologist had confirmed that he thought she had Alzheimer’s Disease.  It felt as if a a heavy anvil fell across my back as he said the words.  He must say things like that every day so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for him.  I listened to his projections of what we could expect to happen to her in the future, but it didn’t seem real.  These things weren’t going to happen.  I wouldn’t let them happen.  I didn’t believe she would get any worse.  She was just a little forgetful, that was all.  That doctor didn’t know anything!  He told me I should start looking for a nursing home for her, but that was ridiculous.  She winked at me when he said it, as if she, too, understood that it was ludricrous for her to even think about a nursing home.  I wasn’t going to put my mother in a nursing home as long as I had breath in my body!

The phone rang late one night in early November.  It was Mother and she said, “I don’t know how much longer I can handle this.  These people come in here every night and they make so much noise I can’t sleep.”

“What people?” Were people bothering my her?  I rushed to her house to try to better understand what she meant.

She explained that every night after she went to bed, people came into her house to sleep in the back bedrooms.  They left before she got up the next morning, but she heard them during the night going to the bathroom and getting drinks.  It wasn’t that she minded them sleeping back there, it was just the noise she couldn’t stand.

I stared at her with fear and disbelief.  I explained that her doors were still locked.  No one could’ve gotten in.  I truly thought if we worked hard enough to dispel these issues, she could be okay.  I believed if I was somehow able to to say just the right words, she could be the way she had always been.

Her housekeeper called on a windy afternoon in March to tell me that Mother was planning to get in her car and try to find my father.  He was sick and he needed her to take care of him.  My heart broke in so many different places that afternoon when I had to explain to my own mom that Daddy was dead, had been dead for a long time.  She agreed that he had been dead, but now he was back.  She had seen him and he was sick, and he needed her to take care of him.

I looked into her face and wanted so badly to find the woman who had been my mother.  I was scared and I wanted her to come and help me handle this!  I looked about the living room and saw the chair she had rocked me in when I was little.  I could never have imagined that someday I would live out my worst nightmare here in this room that contained so many happy memories.

I thought wistfully of the days when my son, Brandon, was little.  Momma had come to spend the night with us once a week.  She had never missed one of his school plays or a soccer game.  Almost every childhood memory of Brandon contained his Gigi.

My husband, Gary, and I had brought Brandon home from the hospital to Momma’s house and my heart swelled with bittersweetness as I remembered her coming out into the front yard to take Brandon from Gary’s arms and carry him into her house.  It was her arms Brandon felt in the night comforting and cuddling him when he whimpered during that first week.  Her loving hands bathed his little body for the first time.  Her voice calmed and soothed him and it was she who rocked him in that same chair in which she had rocked me.

In better times, I had often prayed that Momma could live to see Brandon grown, and she had.  He was seventeen now.  When I thought of Brandon’s childhood, it seemed that those days were bright and sunny while now the days were dark and cold.  During the past year, the shadows and darkness had been gathering closer and closer.  Even on days when the sun was shining, the light seemed murky, an eerie and not-like-real sunlight at all.

Things got worse as summer neared, but still I held onto the hope that maybe she would just miraculously snap out of it and get back to normal if we gave her enough time.  By May, she needed constant care, and I went to her house several times a day.  She had begun unplugging her refrigerator every morning, but she thought someone else did it.  Small tasks had become overwhelming to her.  My once immaculate mother had stopped taking daily baths and it was getting very hard for her to get to the bathroom on time.

I had begun to worry about what she might put in her food if no one was watching her.  She no longer wanted to take her medicine for high blood pressure.  Reasoning with her was not an option.  Even with the housekeeper coming during the day, there was still suppertime and evening to concern us.

Sometimes she was almost herself, and I clung to those moments.  I wanted to believe they were real and the rest of it wasn’t.

She stood at the kitchen window looking into the backyard.  She remembered planting the trees out there, but the house wasn’t her house.  She wanted me to take her home.  That hopeless, helpless feeling overwhelmed me as I tried to calm her and explain that she had lived there 35 years.

We took Momma to the nursing home on August 8, 1992.  I had hoped for so long that God would intervene, that God would spare me this day of sorrow, but He did not.  Tears ran down my face as Momma left her house for the last time. For as long as I live, I will have the memory of her walking down the sidewalk into the nursing home and not really understanding what was happening.

I went back to the nursing home everyday that week.  On several occasions I would wake up in the night and think that I should just go get her and take her to my house.  But as much as I loved her and wanted her to be okay, I couldn’t make her okay anymore.

My grandparents had been dead for many years, but she often told me they had been there to see her.  By that time, I had stopped trying to explain reality to her; it had no place in her  life now.

My mother walked out of the nursing home and started across the field thinking she was going to her childhood home.  When I saw her sitting in a wheelchair with a vest restraint to keep her from wandering off,  I didn’t think I could stand it.  But I had already stood so much.

We bought her a baby doll for Christmas. She keeps the doll sleeping beside her or in her lap.  There are food stains all around the doll’s mouth where she has attempted to feed it.  Her adored grandson, Brandon, went to visit her and she looked into his face and asked who he was.  Alzheimer’s is such a mean disease.

At times when this facsimile of my mother talks I try to listen close and strain to hear what my real mother might’ve said.  My heart yearns to share this with her, to ask her what to do.  Would she understand how painful and sad it is?  Would she be aghast at the horror and anguish her illness has caused?  I will never know.

There are no prescribed ways to handle any of this.  There are no clearcut answers.  The only answers I can find are the ones that come to me after tossing through another sleepless night.  My mother is gone, and in her place is a little child who needs to be cared for and watched at all times.

She is gone from us as surely as if she had died, but there has been no funeral.  There was no moment when she was here and gone the next.  There is no time to grieve or to move on.  Her death is a living death and she doesn’t even know that she has died.

_____________________________________

Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.