I haven’t seen her for almost a year. Yes, the pandemic was certainly the cause of my lack of visitation. I’m apprehensive about what I’m going to see. I really don’t know what to expect.
All masked up. Double-triple protected. Pre- vaccine availability. Face mask, face shield, gloves, antibacterial spray, all the requirements to visit mom in an assisted living facility. I’m armed but not ready for what I’m about to encounter.
My gentle mother with a kind soul morphed into someone terrifying, before my eyes. The look of deadness, emptiness in her gaze. The wild uncontrollable behavior of an unleashed soul without knowledge of right from wrong. Her violence reminiscent of a rabid dog, which ironically was a deep fear that she possessed most of her life. I was afraid of my own mother. I looked into her eyes and tried to communicate and talk to her, fruitlessly to calm her. But she couldn’t see me. Her rage was so embedded. She wouldn’t hesitate to bite, throw objects, or do physical harm. All the while maintaining that lifeless, cold, stare. Those eyes were terrifying. I couldn’t find her in those eyes. She was not there.
Her disease became unmanageable at home, leaving no options other than to seek a safe and caring place for her to live out the rest of her life. Alzheimer's disease has no cure or positive outcome.
Mom entered the facility only 2 months before the covid outbreak. She barely had a chance to acclimate before she no longer could receive visitors. Not many people opted to visit. It seems this disease affects others' desire to reach out differently than most illnesses. People fear what this disease might look like creating avoidance. Even if the person is someone that they loved and respected and enjoyed a relationship with for years, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s seems to be an unspoken pass to never see the person again. All her friends and family slowly faded away with a scant few dutifully inquiring, periodically. It’s as if the victim passed away with no ceremonial goodbye, just a quiet departure forever. In some ways I guess there’s truth to that but in my mind she’s still mom. They're all gone; all the friends and relatives that she spent countless hours speaking on the phone, laughing, comforting, sharing, or socializing at dinners for years and years. Celebrating together in friendship and love; marriages, funerals, bar mitzvahs, births, it all doesn’t matter now. I want to shout from the rooftops, “She’s still here.”
Sidell, a lovely melodic name for a soft, gentle, music loving person. A tortured soul from birth, cheated out of the birthright of two loving parents. Her father, hoping for a boy, to parade his manliness about, had to settle for a daughter. Angry and disappointed in himself imparting that burden on his young daughter. She knew daddy didn’t like or love her, but she didn’t understand why. How could she? He didn’t understand himself.
She observed what a loving father looks like within others’ households, making her even more sad. Bearing witness to the possibilities while observing what she will never have. She lacked the insight to remove the blame from herself.
Her mother, loved her for two but, also deprived of a male presence in her young years brought out a longing for approval and adornment from men. Her husband, incapable of giving love. He was too preoccupied with his waning sense of manhood and his only life focus was to find a way to present himself as a man’s man.
Sidell fought hard through the years to combat this debilitating sense of feeling incomplete and unlovable. She started to fully comprehend later in life that much of her issues stemmed from the lack of parenting and love from a father. She married a man who adored her, which almost made her life harder. She was so accustomed to fighting for men’s love that when his love came easily, she found it hard to believe and took advantage of his generous spirit. She found all sorts of issues with him, even justifying infidelity. But in her heart, eventually, she knew he was the one for her. It was not until her later years that she fully allowed his love to envelop her. Sadly, by then he was dying. She would sit rubbing his head while holding him and caring for his wounds. Finally, she found love and peace within herself. He passed shortly thereafter.
The loss created that hole again and the trauma moved her Alzheimer’s diagnosis from early onset to moderate in rapid pace.
A final injury to her psyche and moving the needle further, was the loss of her first born, her son. He too exists, but not for her. Greedy and unbalanced he used his mother’s high-strung personality and diagnosis against her as an excuse to avoid her rather than facing his truth. His truth, his reality, is that of a pervasive narcissist whose justification to abandon his mother is that he’s somehow her victim. Abandoning her emotionally and financially, leaving her destitute. Another male in her lifetime, letting her down.
I became her only voice. I am her mind. I am her protector.
Unbeknownst to me, she would move into the facility, and I would not be able to visit her for almost a year. So many lives were lost during that time, without the comfort of their loved ones just to hold their hand or simply say, I love you. She managed to survive the mass devastation of her small unit with more than 50 percent of the souls passing away from Covid-19. When I finally was able to enter and visit, many of the residents that I had come to know, albeit brief, were gone.
I finally re-entered this sanctioned building that hides these sad stories behind their walls. Many like mine, more than I could ever know. When I walk through the hallways, I imagine the residents as young and vibrant, knowing they lived another life before this. They are so grateful when I smile behind my mask, they see my eyes talking to them for who they were. I greet them with thoughtfulness, and the respect that they deserve. I don’t want to add to their sadness. I do not choose to view them as they are today.
With the pandemic still looming, the residents remain quarantined from the universe, protecting them from illness outside of the ravages of their own disease. They are too fragile to endure more. I enter tentatively and walk down the long corridor taking in the scent of vanilla that's piped through the vents, soft music playing in the background with pictures of movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor or Henry Fonda placed to inspire memories of happier times, until I reach the lock down unit where my mother resides. I press the secret code into the keypad. The door buzzes and I enter, carefully remembering to close it tightly behind me. Mom’s studio apartment is bright and spacious. It’s decorated with her personal bedroom furnishings for comfort and familiarity. Shades of blue, her favorite. Her unit of 18 lives, all loaded into a hallway of flats, with a dining room and a screened-in patio placed at the end of the corridor. This world, very closed and very small for their own safety. They are secured from wandering, which affects almost all, who don't rely on a wheelchair. She is medicated heavily with antipsychotic drugs. She is always in a sleepy state and sometimes when I visit, I just sit and watch her sleep, unable to awaken her from her induced calm. Sometimes the sadness overwhelms me.
I close my eyes and I imagine a vital woman standing at her piano singing show tunes in her soprano voice, young and beautiful. She loved dressing in beautiful clothes and wearing gorgeous jewelry. I see that mom, the one that had her hair done to perfection weekly without fail, who shopped happily and laughed with hilarity to the point of peeing in her pants and then running to the bathroom screaming, “I can’t hold it.” She was silly and the most loving grandmother and great grandmother on this earth. She offered pure love to all the babies. She needed it and she knew her babies needed it. She knew first-hand the devastation of the alternative. She tried to make good on all the bad. She was quirky and difficult and overly dramatic and sensitive. Bits of that self, still peak out sometimes, behind the drugs and even in her non-verbal state I can see her impish smile behind those darkened eyes. While she sleeps, the tears stream down my face as I don’t know what to do with all the emotions that come rushing to the surface. There’s no solution. I am helpless to help her. But I will always see her as my mom, and I will always visit no matter how difficult and even though she knows not that I am there, or who I am, she will be forever my mom.