TRADING PLACES

By Janet Roberts, Brookfield, Wisconsin

I went to the memory care center today.
That is fancy language meant to disguise
A facility that houses 24 elderly people
Who are frail in body and whose minds have lost
Vital connections resulting in various states of
Disconnection from reality.
Mother, my mother of 64 years, is in a place
Called Brookdale. A lyrical name for a sad
Dwelling. The residents, like aging birds
Perch on hard sofas and chairs while
Time is marked by bingo games and
Meals that smell of school lunchrooms.
Very few have a sense of awareness,
And some doze with chins touching fragile
And boney chests, while others
Cry mournfully as they seem to re-live tragic
Moments in some imagined past.
My mother has suffered deeply over missing the
Funeral of her recently departed “Mama”
Who died in 1938. She has told me of visits from
Her two elder brothers, who have been dead
For over 40 years. When I visit, her face lights up,
She whispers, “Jannie”,
And then proudly introduces me
As her sister.
I see her thinning white hair, the pattern of
Wrinkles on her small thin body, and the
Distant cast of her hazel eyes. I notice
Her slacks are too short, and know they
Are not hers. I think back to my childhood
When clothes had to be spanking clean and
Pressed and white gloves washed on Saturday night
To be ready for church on Sunday.
I watch as she devours a cookie and then
With finger wet from her tongue captures
Every last crumb. I have also witnessed her scolding
A resident for sleeping with feet on the sofa, and pointing out
In a loud voice a resident who was “bald as an eagle.”
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find things to talk about, and much of the time
Is spent in my repeating questions she has not heard.
I watch the clock, and eventually rationalize my leaving by
Telling myself that she dozed much of the time, didn’t she?
Sadly, she cannot remember that I was just there a few days ago
And so seems shocked I am not staying longer. She often invites me to stay
In the guest room upstairs, which I have never seen, as Brookdale
Is a one story building.
I assure her I will return soon, and she holds out her arms and says
“I love you so much.” I walk briskly to the door, the attendant punches in
the code, and I leave with the familiar mixture of relief and guilt.
It occurs to me later
that even though we have traded places, and
I am now the caretaker that she was before this cruel disease, she exhibits
More grace in her pathetically diminished role
Than I can ever hope to attain in mine.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on January 16, 2010

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