It seems hard to believe how long Mom has been living in the nursing home – over 8 years now. When I think back to her first years there, I see my mom walking within the secured wing of her facility,visiting other residents by waltzing into their rooms, uninvited. For most families, Tobe was a welcomed guest whose gentle ways were comforting. She added something to their visit and company for their loved one.
Often, the staff got to play a game I used to call “Hide and Seek, Tobe”; this object of this game was to find my mother, wherever she was hiding in the wing. Sometimes, it was in someone else’s bed, sometimes it was actually under someone’s bed (don’t ask), sometimes it was sitting in a chair in the corner of someone’s room, sound asleep. Back then, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Although I saw people who were far worse off, ones confined to wheelchairs or beds, somehow, I could never imagine my mom getting to that point.
Mom also seemed to have an inner sense of which residents were going to pass soon; I really don’t know how she did it. In those cases, mom would sit vigil in the resident’s room, watching over them. Within the week, the resident would end up passing on, gone to a peaceful place. I assumed Mom would be doing this for all of her stay.
Then, almost 3 years ago, we thought Mom was approaching her final days. She had acute renal failure and we thought for sure, that would be it. However, in true Tobe Jane form, Mom rallied and her renal failure was reduced to a normal decline in renal function. The bad news was that from that time on, she has been confined to a wheelchair.
She has never been able to get around in the wheelchair alone, so her days of visiting people came to an end. Her “Hide and Seek, Tobe” was over too! I’m sure the staff was relieved that they no longer had to search for her every day, but I miss searching for her. I miss her seemingly calculated attempts to escape the locked down wing, following unsuspecting visitors through the doors before they locked behind them. I miss those days.
Mom turned 88 this past summer. Her days are spent primarily sleeping with her stiffly contracted arms bent across her chest in her “mega” wheelchair which has cushions carefully positioned around her to try to keep her as comfortable as possible. Although she is mostly unresponsive, it never stops her from eating her pureed meals every day.
When I visit her, I walk her through the long halls of the nursing home where countless people stop to say hello to her; huge smiles beam from their faces as they cry, “TOBE!!!!! How are you?” It is truly comforting to know that so many people care about my mother.
Often, I find a quiet place to sit and be alone with Mom. I tell her all about my siblings, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. Stories of family events, things that happened at work, adventures with friends, conversations I’ve had with her friends, all pour out from me. I sing familiar songs to her and kiss and hug her like she is a small child that I am trying to fill up with all of my love for her. Often she wakes up, smiles, and tries to talk, but that is mostly impossible. On rare occasions, she utters, “love, love, love” or even “nice,” but those words come less frequently. I treasure the moments I hear her voice and know she is trying to tell me that she loves me and all the hugs and kisses.
So, what I’ve learned is that she is still in there. Yes, I truly believe that. She shows it in small, tiny ways, but I still see her in there. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my mother so much. In infinite ways, I miss so much about her every day. I relied on my mother for so much in my life: unconditional love, moral support, counseling, advice. If she had just gotten sick and passed quickly, I don’t think I would have grown to understand myself and life the way I do. Somehow, maybe this was part of her grand plan: to come into my life and let go ever so slowly, so I could learn important life lessons, first hand, along the way. For this, I am grateful. Mom always used to tell me that “patience is a virtue.” Well, Mom, I get it now. Patience is undeniably a valuable asset; I am working on my growing virtue every day.