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Who’s the mom now?
Sunday, October 7, 2012
By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor
When I was a little girl, my mother and I used to play a game. I was the mommy, and she was the little girl.
We enjoyed the change in roles. What a treat it was to give orders, such as “eat your vegetables,” to the one who always gave orders to me — and how it tickled me to see her obey!
Every now and then, she’d tell me, I would grow up and she would be an old lady. She would be feeble, and I would take care of her, like a mommy. That was pretty hard to fathom.
Years have gone by. To her endless delight, she became a grandmother. My mother had slowed down through the years, and my 3-year-old daughter brought her much back to life.
This spring, my mother was hospitalized. My sister and I met at the hospital and maintained a constant vigil.
Our mother was in and out of it. When she was awake, she was in such pain and confusion we just prayed she’d go back to sleep.
By about 1 a.m., she was mostly awake. There would be no sleep for any of us until about 9 a.m.
She didn’t know where she was. She thought “they” were out to get her. She was talking crazy. We tried to calm her, but we were scared.
How could we bring comfort to our mother, who was in intense physical pain as well as, more frightening, not being herself?
Was this a turn for the worse? Had her “real” self left her, with only this confused stranger remaining? Would she be like this for the rest of her life? She always was terrified of ending up unable to live a normal life.
She asked us the same questions over and over. Ceaselessly, we answered them, the same answer in different variations, hoping one would make sense to her, over and over.
She was in too much pain to be hugged, but we tried keeping our arms around her.
She was thirsty. We held water to her mouth for tiny sips.
This mother who raised us, taught us everything, was incoherent, not understanding anything. At about 3 a.m., I looked into her eyes and said, “Mom, relax. We will take care of you. We are the mommies now. You just be the little girl.”
At that, her eyes flashed with understanding. It was the first we saw of our mother’s personality. Herself again, she gave us a weak but genuine smile full of love.
Just as suddenly, the recognition was gone. She was a frightened stranger again.
A week later, she had come back to herself mentally, and her body had recuperated. She was sent home. We returned to our homes drained, exhausted, older and wiser.
Stepping back into the house where I live was strange after a week in the surreal environment of hospital living. I was still teetering between the two worlds, trying to get back to normal.
My 3-year-old was thrilled to have me back. The first thing she wanted to do was have a tea party. What a nice way to get back into the routine.
“Thank you, Mary Evelyn,” I said. “I would love a cup of tea.”
“No,” she replied, with a smile and a glint in her eye. “You are Mary Evelyn. I am the Mama.”
That was startling. We had not played that game before.
“Here you go, sweetie,” she said, handing me a plate of invisible food. “Eat your strawberries and drink your tea. Mama will take care of you.”