She stood in the middle of the room staring at the bedspread on her bed. It was the same look that she gave everything and everyone. The sparkle in her eyes that was once her trademark was gone. Snatched from her by this cruel disease. It has a name: Dementia. It robs the minds of its victims, creeping up behind them, throwing a blanket over their memories, extinguishing the light of life from their souls.
I tell her my name and give her one of her favorite treats, a donut with pink icing and coconut. She takes the bag from my hand, and in one fluid movement removes the doughy indulgence, placing it on the table by her pink leather recliner. She sits down and takes a bite. A cheer erupts from the television -- it's cricket season. For a moment, her eyes meet the screen then return to the sugary gift.
On her first trip to Los Angeles she insisted on visiting a real American donut store. I had no idea how much she liked donuts; they weren't exactly a common thing where we lived as kids. I'm guessing she'd seen people eating them on movies, and figured that to go to the U.S. and not have a donut would have been sacrilegious. To my mum, it was the caviar of fast food.
It's been six months since my last visit, and I'm so grateful to be with her. I read cards from my sons, tell her about my new cat, our dog, work, my husband, the weather, but it's a one-sided conversation. She looks at the clock and I'm concerned that I'm boring her, but realize that it's time for her to get ready for lunch. I hug her goodbye and she shuffles off to her table. This program is repeated the following day, but I add in a walk, and the next day I bring her back to her home for a family dinner.
Singular words are whispered and communication is frustrating, but her emotions are lifted the moment her great-grandchildren enter the room. Their connection is strong, they make each other laugh and no words are needed. This is how they know their great grandma, the lady they hug, the one who blows the New Years Eve whistles with them. The noise makes me smile, just like it did when I was a kid.
There was a time when my siblings and I bought presents for my mum and dad on New Years Eve, for it was the night they were married. It's been nearly 20 years since my dad passed away. The night passes without mention of their anniversary, but I wonder, if like me, my siblings are remembering special dinners, pretty dresses and two people in love, toasting with champagne and dancing together.
Mum gets up from her chair, picks up her purse and walks with her walker toward the front door. This is her sign that she wants to leave. he doesn't look back at any of us, or at the paddocks that are hers, or the cows or the birds. I notice her raise her head when she passes the rose garden she planted. Everything is in full bloom, fragrant and full of color.
Later that night, I hear the whistles and booms of fireworks and excited voices drifting across the valley through my open window. I'm reminded, once again, that it's a special evening. Closing my eyes, I picture my mum and dad dancing with contented smiles, looking into each other's eyes. Together, and in love.