The weekend arrives and I concede to Baba’s wishes of visiting Mom at the nursing home. I hope that once she sees how bright and airy the facility is that she will not worry as much. In fact, I’m hoping Baba doesn’t blame me anymore for placing Mom. Baba’s idea of a nursing home is a dark and dingy institution filled with crazy people. She believes that it’s a place where one drops someone off, leaves him or her, and never returns. Not unlike, “Someone flew over the cuckoos nest”.
“Your Mom does not belong in there. Why can’t I move in with your Mother?” She begs over the phone.
“It’s a lovely home Baba. You’ll see. Mom has her own room and it’s decorated with her own photo’s and furniture.” I reply, ignoring her pleas.
I pick up Baba at 12:30 at her apartment. I estimate that this gives us enough time to arrive at Mom’s new home after lunch.
I notice she’s waiting outside the lobby in the pick-up area. My first thought is that she looks exhausted. Her usually thick grey hair seems to have thinned out greatly. She is wearing her brown and beige dress (that looks two sizes too large for her) with tan open toed shoes. “My bunions hurt, these are more comfy for me, I can’t wear closed shoes”, she continually tells me when I ask if she doesn’t have a more comfortable pair. She carries a cane in her right hand while keeps her purse cupped on her left arm. I rush out of my car to open the passenger door for her.
“Oh Paula, I can do it myself. You don’t have to help me in the car.” She says.
“I know Baba, I guess it’s just force of habit for me.” I smile; take her cane while I help her into the seat.
The drive is quiet. I can’t think of anything to say. I feel Baba’s heartache as she sits silently and blankly stares out the passenger side window. Neither one of us could have foreseen this future. All three generations (Baba, Mom and myself) are duelling with the demon called Alzheimer’s, but in different ways. Mom had always been Baba’s rock. Following Dad’s death seven years ago, Baba had suggested Mom and her live together, “two widows with many years left”, she’d remark; Mom kyboshed that idea immediately. I think Mom wanted to try living on her own. At the age of twenty-eight Mom went from her family to marrying and moving in with Dad. She never lived alone, or at least lived independently. I keep thinking that if Baba and her had lived together, maybe she wouldn’t be where she is today. I shake my head and think, “yeah right, like living with someone can stop Alzheimer’s”.
We arrive and I pull up to the entranceway. I help Baba out of the car and notice her looking around.
“This is not what I pictured.” She simply says.
I nod, get back into the car and park.
I quickly walk back to Baba. She is still holding her cane scooped on her right arm.
I take her cane and say,
“Baba, here, don’t forget to use this.”
We enter through the first set of automatic sliding doors. A binder sits on a small table set up before the main entrance. A sign taped to the glass says, “All visitors must sign in when entering and sign out when exiting.” I bend down, take the attached pen in hand and sign the book. Baba says nothing.
I punch in the four-digit code in order to open the sliding glass door into the atrium. I explain to Baba about security and how this is to make sure some of the residents don’t leave unattended. I used the word “unattended” because the word “escape” may confirm Baba’s fears of an asylum.
We enter into the bright and clean sunlit atrium. To the left are tables and chairs set-up for visiting, to the right is the reception desk. It’s quiet as I take Baba’s right arm in mine and walk her over towards the left side of the nursing station for Mom’s section.
A keypad rests above and to the right of the fire door. I punch in another code that I’ve memorized. I tell Baba that we have to be careful opening the door as there may be someone on the opposite side and we don’t want to hit them. I withhold the real reason; we don’t want anyone to bolt out the door, in other words, escape.
We walk through the doorway and notice a few residents walking around. A personal support worker recognizes me and tells me Mom is in the dining room. I’m torn as to what I should do; do I take Baba to Mom’s room and sit her down, then fetch Mom? Or do I take Baba directly to the dining room? I look down at Baba and notice she is out of breath. This is new for her. I wonder if it’s because she’s anxious or whether there is a serious health issue she is not telling anyone about. I’m not sure she will be able to walk down the long hallway to the end where Mom’s room is located. The head nurse appears around the corner. I smile and introduce her to Baba telling her she is Mom’s mother. The nurse senses my apprehension or notices Baba is in distress when she suggests Baba borrow a wheelchair.
“It will be easier for your grandmother. That way you all can visit and she can be comfortable.” She says as she runs into a room and fetches a common wheelchair.
Baba says nothing and doesn’t refuse the wheelchair. I’m hit with the realization that all my time and energy has gone into Mom, which in turn has meant I’ve ignored Baba’s needs over the last while. My eyes tear up, as my guilt boils over. Baba is not only my grandmother; she is my friend, my second Mother. How can I have been so selfish and wound up in Mom’s issues and mine to have not checked on her more often?
My thoughts are interrupted when Baba sits down in the wheelchair. I push her down the hallway towards Mom’s room. Baba looks straight ahead and says nothing until Mary (a resident) walks over to me and gently places her hand on my arm.
“And who do we have here?” Mary asks.
“Hi Mary. This is my Mom’s mother, Josephine.” I tell her. Why I don’t say, “she’s my grandmother” is beyond me.
Baba perks up. She smiles and puts out her hand to shake Mary’s. Is it the Scottish accent I wonder? Baba’s first husband was from Edinburgh, so I’m thinking the accent is familiar to her.
They chitchat and Baba brightens up. I look at both and ask,
“Can you wait here for a moment while I get Mom from the dining room?”
“Of course dear, I’ll keep Josephine occupied.” Mary laughs.
I turn and glance back at Mary (who is now sitting on her walker directly in front of Baba). It looks like they are getting along. They both smile and touch each other on the arms gently. What are they talking about, I wonder. I begin to relax and am relieved it’s Mary that Baba is speaking to (there are many other residents here who do not speak and are further along in their Alzheimer’s). I’m happy Baba has met one of the residents here and my hope is that she is more comfortable with Mom’s new home, or at least, less anxious.