5:30PM, I am entering the activity room to start my evening program. Dinner is barely finished. The tables are getting cleared. Among the noises and motions a nursing assistant approaches me, pointing to D. she asks: “Can you walk around with her? – Would it be a good idea to take her visit her “mother”? –I don’t think so.” I walk close to D. Her face is flushed and tense. She is trying to wiggle unsafely out of her wheelchair demanding: “I need to see my mother!” I look at her in the eyes: “Come with me. –Where are we going? –Dinner is over. They need to clean the room. –I have spent a lot of time here and I have not seen my mother. It is time to go see her.” Listening to D. while pushing her wheelchair I am hesitating. Shall we stay on this floor, with the hurried atmosphere of the after-dinner or take the elevator down to the calm hallway to enjoy the view of the garden and the birds? We take the elevator. I ask: “What does your mother do at this time? –Nothing. –Would she watch TV? –Yes, sometimes. –What does she like to watch? –She likes music. She likes the news, sometimes the games when they sing. –When was the last time you saw your mother? –It has been a while, a few days. That’s the problem. –What is the problem? –She wants me to stay with her.” D’s face has become very serious. She tightens her fore-arms against her torso, elbows bent at ninety degrees in a kind of military freeze. “She does not want me to see anyone else. I have to stay with her.”
Since her admission nearly two years ago ( https://soul2soul-seniors.com/2015/07/02/i-need-to-see-my-mother/ ) D. often asks to see her mother, to spend time with her. Choosing T. as mother figure in her environment has brought D. some moments of solace. But since 2015, T’s health is slowly deteriorating. She spends more time in bed, out of sight. Sometimes I take D. to visit T. We sit together by the bed and D. tries to engage T. while questioning the situation: “Why do they keep her in bed so much? Does she recognize me? She does not want to talk to me?” T. is mostly non verbal. This has probably facilitated the ambiguity of the relationship but it frustrates D. The eyes of T. go back and forth from D. to me. I sometimes have the feeling that T. is asking me: “Why do you bring this woman and her complaints to me? I have my own daughter; I don’t need another one, especially now that I am tired.”
I am glad that tonight the nursing assistant encouraged me to really listen to D. instead of going for a quick fix (the substitute mother). As every deep emotion and need, what D.’s feeling is complex. She wants to be a good daughter. She also wanted to be a good mother but D’s only son died in an accident in his 20’s. This was the start of D.’s chronic depression. Probably the grief of “What if…” amplifies the guilt of not doing enough for her own parents.
We talk together calmly. There is no more urgency in D’s voice and behavior. We are two adults considering life’s challenges. I relax, enjoying her smile, the warm light and the colorful cockatiels in their cage. I propose: “Let’s go back together. –Back where? –Where everybody is. I will stay with you.”
The activity room is now calm. We join a small group. I read a story about an old school clock. D. stays involved as the participants reminisce about time, deadlines, chores and recess.