For the second time in three months, my mom is in the hospital. For the umpteenth time in 16 years, my mom is in the hospital. This time it’s different though. Courtesy of coronavirus, I’m not allowed to see her. No one is. And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this right now, but it’s devastating. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that I also cannot call her, cannot FaceTime her. You see, something has rattled her brain. She still knows who I am, but the rest of her thoughts are delirious and paranoid. She is only half there, if at all, seemingly off instead in some demented wonderland of her own that lacks wonder altogether. That tells her instead that her whole family is dead. A phone call yields nothing.
There’s something quite bizarre and saddening to have to listen to your mom, the woman who was your primary caregiver and has loved you all your (her) life, tell you that she’s eaten your cats. And then when you try to redirect her by asking what non-delicious food the hospital served her for dinner that evening, she answers flatly “cat”. A laugh slips out of you in spite of yourself, and you feel half guilty. Strange too that something inside of your mom is causing her to target that which she knows you love best, your cats, almost as if to provoke, incite, or inflame. Is that the ultimate goal of the ulterior minds that are drawn out and unshadowed by old age, to hurt?
The doctor says I don’t know. The doctor says we’ll see. The doctor says maybe it’s dementia or maybe it’s delusion caused by deep depression. The doctor says I can’t call you all the time to talk about your mom (we didn’t ask her to; and yet now not only are we not allowed to see her, to merely inquire about her care and progress is apparently approaching transgression). The doctor says take her to a dentist yourself if you think it could be a tooth infection (despite the fact that my mom is in no shape to simply be transported to a dentist, despite the fact the doctor would know there is nary a dentist available in a pandemic).
From the time she had a stroke almost 16 years ago, my mom has been a medical mystery numerous times, serving up many a Dr House style enigma without anyone to solve it and without the benefit of having everything wrapped up neatly within fifty-five minutes. But those times were different because she knew I was there for her. Now I can’t see her to understand how she’s doing; I can’t call her and tell her I love her and have her understand. She hangs on the phone merely breathing, as if waiting for a long lost dial tone. All I can do is hope upon hope that this isn’t permanent, that this isn’t the beginning of a downward spiral. But.
I keep thinking of the last time I saw my mom only a few weeks ago; it was a different world then. She climbed the stairs of the coffee shop when there was no other seating, despite having a cane, despite it being challenging. By her own choice- my mom has been climbing metaphorical mountains since before I ever knew her, since before she propelled me into existence. I can’t remember what we talked about, just daily things that are almost almost obsolete now I suppose, but I remember feeling relief, thinking phew, she’s okay again now. She had seemingly fully recovered from a similar incident two and a half months earlier wherein she fell into a delirium. At one point then she looked at me and smiled joyfully and told me, “when you were little you always knew exactly what I wanted.” It was a strange and cryptic message that I couldn’t quite decipher, but I imagined being tiny and clasping her freckled face in my tiny hands and serving her imaginary tea in tiny pastel plastic teacups. As if that could have been exactly what she wanted. In some ways it might have been because for almost as long as I’ve known her my mom has told me “all I ever wanted was to have children”. This a desire that I cannot relate to, that I suspect was caused, perhaps wholly, by her having lost her own mother at the tender, malleable age of ten.
So the person that I most want to talk to about what’s happening on the shores of this unknown time is unavailable, stranded in a stark off-white room far away from me. And after long grey days working in healthcare during a semi-apocalypse, I come home flattened and exhausted and alone. I can’t call my mom for relief, and as of right now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to again. All I can do is lie on my couch, and think back to January of 2019, when my mom and sister and I went to Maui. It was our first time there, and I’d just ended a ten year relationship. I thought things were tough then. Turns out, it was far from the crest of the wave.
But I am so grateful for that trip, especially if it turns out to be the last one that I get to go on with the person I wish would live forever. Maui. I don’t think I’ve ever come closer to heaven. I cried when we got to the hotel, overwhelmed at the luscious beauty of the tropic foliage, the sound of the Pacific Ocean, and the scent of the island air. My mom and sister thought something was wrong, but actually it was the closest it’s ever come to being right. I wish now that I could be marooned with them again, sequestered in a single hotel room looking out onto endless waves and holding onto the hope of the future. I wish I could look down from the balcony again and espy my mom, tiny and so far below, walking around the hotel grounds and having an adventure all on her own.
Oh yes, now I remember what my mom said when we had coffee. “I used to think that when I retired I’d travel all the time,” she said. My heart broke even then, knowing that her disability, health, and lack of money had and would continue to prevent that. Except for Maui. My heart breaks even harder now, whatever’s left of it that is, knowing that we are possibly standing on the edge of an abyss, somewhere she never wanted to go, and where she may have to go alone.