There is paper evidence of her decline. In July, she paid the bills, recorded the checks, marked the bills PAID and filed them. In August, she paid them, recorded the checks and marked the bills PAID. In September, she paid them and barely marked the bills PAID. As the months of summer passed, her handwriting grew wobbly and veiny: written proof of what she was losing. Had I seen this feeble writing instead of her perfect Palmer method cursive, I would have known.
Instead, I found out when we had brunch with her in mid-October, at her invitation, and she admitted she’d fallen the night before and had to call EMS. She was so frail. She proceeded to fall three of the next four nights. We hired help. The help worried. We added hours of help. Her beloved housekeeper Leonor found Mom on the ground the morning of her regular cleaning day, and when I rushed to meet her at the house, we were both in tears: ¿qué le ha pasado? Leonor agreed to stay the night as long as we needed her. Leonor, who calls Mom “mi Dianita.” Leonor, who’d been making her meals and caring for her far more than I’d known.
Over the course of three weeks, we cobbled together 24-hour care. And yet she (we? I?) needed more: more skilled, more consistent, closer to us. I began to look at personal care homes — basically group homes for older people that have some level of nursing and a high level of service.
We found one: a sweet place in our neighborhood, halfway between the office and the house. We see her every day, sometimes more than once a day. It is a miracle this place exists. She is close and cared for, and that feels good.
And yet she’s so far from us. In such a short time, she’s gone from confusion about her September bank statement to not being able to work a phone to being lost about the day’s events and losing words. I can’t reconcile the dragon lady of my childhood with this docile mother I am now mothering. I just can’t.
I am not giving up on her, even though I’m getting little support that there may something acute going on beyond the cruel progress of dementia.
I feel so guilty for all the ways I failed her and am failing her.
And if she wakes up from this fog and sees her hair, which I haven’t had time to get cut and styled amid her many more urgent appointments, she will beat my ass. It’s one of the things I pray for.