Lately, my mom has been falling a lot. I spent Halloween in the emergency room with her. She lives in an assisted living home and every time she falls, they send her to the hospital by way of an ambulance. This particular time, she had fallen backwards and hit her head on something. She had sliced the back of her head open and needed four staples to close it. During the day, our conversation went something like this. Mom: “Go home, I’m all right.” Me: “No mom, when they’re done, I’m going to take you home.” Mom: “I’m not staying here?” Me: “No mom, you fell this morning and hit your head. You’re in the emergency room. When they’re done, you’re going home.” Mom: “I fell? I don’t remember falling?” “Yeah, mom. I know. But you fell.” (She touches the back of her head.) Mom: “Oh yeah, my head hurts.” Me: “That’s because they put staples in.” Mom: “Oh, what happened?” Me: “You fell.” Mom: “I fell? I don’t remember falling.” Me: “Yes mom, you fell. You’ve been falling a lot lately. You’re 92 years old! You’re lucky you haven’t broken anything.” Mom (without missing a beat): “That’s because I’m so close to the ground.” (Mom is a petite woman.) I smile, because it was funny, and because she said something funny. Mom has Alzheimer’s, so the jokes are far and few between.
A week later, she fell again. This time I was at a funeral and couldn’t meet her in the emergency room, but my younger brother was there. Her blood sugar was low and she ended up staying in the emergency room from 10 a.m. until a little after 6 p.m. By the time I got to the hospital, she had already left. So I rerouted and met her at the assisted living home. At the end of the day, the aides at the home put all the memory care residents in the “cinema.” The lights are turned down low and an old movie is on a big screen at the front of the room. One by one, the aides take the residents to their rooms or apartments and get them ready for bed. Mom was in the cinema when I got there. She looked up and saw me there. I said, “Come on mom, I’m going to take you to your apartment.” The woman sitting next to her said, “I wish someone would say that to me. I wish someone would come and take me away.” My heart went out to her. Memory loss is a terrible and lonely disease. Back at mom’s apartment, I turned the television on and we sat together on her couch. I put her legs up on an ottoman and I put a blanket over her to keep her warm. Then I watched her. She looked so small, so frail. I put my arms around her and hugged her. “I love you, mom.” “I love you, too,” she replied.
When I was growing up, mom didn’t like to be hugged. She didn’t give hugs. Every night I would politely kiss her good night, but that was as far as the show of affection went between us. It wasn’t just me, mom just didn’t like to be touched. I’ve researched our family tree, and along the way, I have tried to figure out if anything in her childhood made her that way. From all accounts, her dad was very warm and loving. I don’t remember him because he died when I was a baby. I do remember her mom and she was not a hugging type of person either. She was a bit of a trouble maker, actually. Stirring up problems in her old age between my aunt and my, then, teenage cousin whom she lived with. Grandma did make great scrambled eggs, but other than that, I didn’t know her very well. We spent most of my childhood visiting my dad’s family. Mom told me that Grandma’s mother lived with them when she was a little girl. Her grandmother was afraid of the sound of thunder and every time there was lightening, she would lock herself and my mother in a closet because she was terrified. That must have been frightening for my mom.
Anyway, I suppose the biggest reason I have found for my mom’s lack of hugging was her own mom’s lack of hugging.
So here I am hugging my mom . . . and she smiles at me, feeling comforted by my hugs. Maybe, I have been waiting all of my life for the chance to hug her and have her receive that hug without pushing me away. As a mom, myself, I have never stopped hugging my own kids. But getting to hug my mom is like filling a life-long hunger. I tuck the blanket around her and kiss her cheek. “I love you mom.” She smiles and replies, “Love you too.”
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy