Filling the Silence

There is not a lot of calm in my life.

Someone is always talking, whining, singing, bickering, interrupting, playing, reading, crying, complaining, yelling, laughing.  I live a blessed but noisy life.  In a way, I think it propels us forward, some sort of soundtrack to our daily routine.

This past Thanksgiving, I picked up my mother to celebrate the holiday at our home.  It had been a long time since she had left her nursing home.  I can recite a number of reasons for that.  It is not particularly close by.  She seems more comfortable in her own space.  Now there are incontinence issues.  While all that is true, another reason, and one of which I am not proud, is that it is easier on me to visit her and then leave.  We can look at her pictures and talk about who everyone is.  Sometimes, we call a friend or family member, after she recognizes him or her from a photo and smiles fondly.  We share a snack with the kids.  We sit outside on nice days.  Then we say goodbye and hug, after I initiate it, and a staff member taps in a code to allow us to exit, leaving Nana behind until the next time we visit.

After consultation with my mother’s caregivers, we determined that it would be appropriate to take my mother to my home to celebrate the holiday.

While my mother cannot always explain that I am her daughter, her face still lights up when she sees me.  I believe that she recognizes that I am her person, there to be with her.  She was excited to leave the nursing home.  I showed her my car, opened her door, buckled her in, and drove the 40 minutes, chattering on about the weather, my children, Thanksgiving, and explaining who she would be seeing for the holiday.

The visit went probably as well as it could.  She was not particularly interactive and needed so much direction.  She enjoyed some food and seeing my nephew.  We FaceTimed with my aunt and my brothers with their babies.  During the visit, there were a few occasions where she attempted to initiate a conversation, but after getting out maybe three words, she lost her train of thought.

Shortly after the meal ended, we made our goodbyes and I loaded her back in my car.  She was tired.  I was tired.  And there was quiet.

This was not a comfortable silence for me, sitting in my car next to my mother, once and for so long my hero, my best friend, and now so different.  Talking with someone with dementia is an exercise in patience, love and frustration.  She does not remember that she has grandchildren, or much about her own children, and after a long day, I did not want to regale her with stories about people she could not recall.  We cannot have much of a conversation about what she does in her home, because she does not remember what she does in her daily life.

After some thought, I started telling her about herself.  In the moment, she really enjoyed hearing stories about her efforts in dealing with a strong willed daughter.  I told her how she handled herself in an emergency, on the side of the road with a seizing child, whose brother climbed out of his carseat and set the car in motion.  I talked about her experiences in law school at 35, a single mother with three small children in tow, happily searching for change which may have fallen under the vending machines in the student lounge.  I told stories of her dating exploits, mentioning exes who impacted our lives in wonderful ways and those who overstayed their welcome.  I talked about her love of and experiences with classical music, ballet and opera.  I explained that she was a champion for hundreds of women who needed assistance in untangling their families, often with little money, trying to make better lives for their children.

In my busy, noisy life, I do not take much opportunity to reflect upon the person my mother used to be.  It was a true gift to share stories of my mother with my mother, bringing her joy in that moment and giving me part of my mother back, for just a car ride.

8 thoughts on “Filling the Silence

  1. Thanks for sharing Jenna. Glad that you found a way to connect and make that uncomfortable moment a wonderful one.

  2. Jenna, I’m so glad to see you’ve joined Jenn in writing here. 🙂 This was really powerful to read–thank you for sharing it. I can’t imagine dealing with a parent who has dementia at this point in my life. You gave your mom a gift by talking about her, and I bet you gave yourself one, too. I hope you and Brian and the kiddos have a happy happy holiday!

  3. Your mom sounds quite awesome – just like her daughter! Much love to you and your family. This was a beautiful story to read. xo

  4. What a wonderful idea to tell your mom stories about herself! This is something that you should share with everyone caring for people with dementia.
    This was so touching and so well-written. I loved it (even though it reminds me of my worst fear, now that I am in my 60s).

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