Normality. This word can cause a safe feeling. It supports nothing strange or out of character, but instead, what is expected. Although this can be very different for each of us, it still makes us feel as if things are going as they should go or as planned. But when something happens outside the blanket of normality, it can be life changing.
This week my Uncle Tom came from New York for a short visit. He came to visit his sister, my mom. We have kept in touch and he reads my posts about her, so he had an idea of how she was doing, but through an outsider's perspective rather than through direct experience.
During his visit we really had only one day to visit Mom and get to spend some time with her. I was worried because you never know what kind of mood she will be in when you visit, and we had a one shot deal. A few days earlier, I went to visit her and she was agitated, yelling at the TV, and wouldn't talk to me. I tried and tried to approach her that day. I engaged and re-engaged her about seven different times, but to no avail. She was mad at the world, so I had to throw my hands up and retreat. I was hoping we wouldn't have that kind of day for Tom. I was worried, and I wanted things to be “ok” for him.
As luck would have it, we were blessed with what I would call a great day. We had a little bit of confusion when I first approached her, but after a little cajoling with some animal crackers, Mom perked up. I got her photo album out, and we all sat together to look through it. I had hoped that the pictures with Tom and my mom together as kids would perhaps create a spark in her memory. Alas, that flame may have been forever extinguished. She talked and responded, but she showed no recognition of what she was seeing. She rambled on incessantly as we looked through the photos. We looked at the pictures over and over and repeated ourselves, but our words made no impression on her. I felt Tom's pain as he wiped away his tears as he realized that his beloved sister was lost to him.
We decided to take her out to lunch, which she loves. Tom walked her to the car, the two of them arm in arm, smiling, talking. While driving there, Mom continued to talk and tell stories. I interrupted her to try again to help her recognize her brother. I said, “Mom, your brother Tom came to visit. He flew on a plane all the way from New York to visit you.” As Tom voiced his enthusiasm for being there, I could see that she was surprised to hear his voice. Where had it come from? She didn't realize that someone was in the back seat. She could only see me. She turned around and said jokingly, “Who is that man?!” Tom answered that he is her brother. Then she said something else that didn’t make sense, and followed up with, “Wow, there's a man back there. As the young ladies say, Woo woo!” And we laughed. We were able to take a painful situation and laugh about it because, honestly, it was funny.
On to lunch, where we all sat, talked, and did a lot of laughing. Because she has no filters, she would notice almost anyone who walked past and would comment on them. We had no worries about what she was saying though, unless the passerby could interpret what she meant by, “The guy with the boobidy boodley boos.” We were glad that we could find joy in a hard situation and yet sadness lingered. Tom held back the tears he could, and he wiped away those he couldn’t hide.
We followed lunch with a walk and more sitting and chatting, but finally it was time to go. Mom was tired. I wanted to make sure that Tom at least remembered his visit with his sister as a somewhat positive one. I didn't want him seeing her when she was tired and aggravated. That didn't need to be his new normal with her.
Throughout the day I realized that what my mom has become is now “normal” to me. The mood swings, the nonsensical talk, the confusion, and the lack of recognition of those who love her. All of this is also intertwined with her smiles, her love for dancing, the moments she calls me “hon,” or the times she actually has some clarity. All of this is my normal.
Although I was so very happy that Tom and I had such a good day with her, I know that this day was hard on him. This was not his normal. His normal was a sister who loved to take care of her baby brother. A sister who would be there for him whenever he needed her. He tried to prepare himself for what it would be like. Heck, I tried to prepare him for what the visit might be like, but you can never really be prepared for seeing someone you love be replaced by someone who is but a fragment of the person you once knew. An imposter.
We came into the day hoping for just a moment or two of clarity. There was no clarity, no spark of recognition, just a nice day spent with a nice man. As the day came to an end, we saw that the glimmer of hope for a little brother wanting his big sister to remember him was extinguished. And as he hugged her goodbye and told her he loved her, she hugged him and replied, “It was nice to meet you.”