At least two years have gone by since I heard my mother call me Jeff. The usual greeting is Hi Honey or My Son, My Son. It has been a very, very long time since she has spoken the name Jeff or Jeffrey. I think it’s quite possible she may never say it to me ever again. But I understand.
The phone calls keep getting shorter as her attention span narrows. I called her the other day in the late afternoon. Sometimes I say Hi Mom, to give her a fighting chance. She seems to recognize my voice, or it’s familiar enough. The call lasted forty-five seconds.
Jeff: Hi. How are you?
Mom: What’s doin?
Jeff: Oh just looking at some old photos of you and Doris Polley?
Mom: Oh she was quite a gal (her preferred term of endearment). We had a LOT of fun together.
Jeff: How did you meet her?
Mom: (She gets quiet and stammers.) I don’t remember.
Jeff: Oh Mom I’m sorry. I didn’t need to make you feel bad for trying to remember.
Mom: Alright…. Click.
Poof! She is gone. Her limit is reached. There’s nothing else to be said. No more thinking. She simply cannot continue.
A phone call with Mom is an attempt to lay out a conversation path for her. To mention people like Doris Polly, Feen McGall or Hokie Lilholt. Madlyn Miller, Naomi Gregg or Carmen Curran. She will brighten up at the sound of each name, yet doubt she can recall the person. There is no time to make a connection for her. It’s just seconds. I’ve heard her draw a blank, time and time again. My words must be chosen carefully to help with this navigation. “Do you remember?” is off limits. I can’t say the “R” word anymore. Honestly, I don’t think she even knows how to remember. Those doors simply do not open. Not locked, but probably rusted shut. At best, she does some window shopping in her mind and there’s not much in the display case that she recognizes. No longer the capacity to bring forth those images of the past.
And you know what? That’s okay. I think she’s happy. She’s content, she’s not fighting with those marvelous caregivers where she lives. If the immediate present is all that she can muster, well, so be it. I don’t look at it as though she has forgotten her whole life. It’s just that her whole life now resides between a moment ago and the one not yet arrived. She’s truly in the moment, one she has forgotten and the next, she can’t quite catch up to.
I’ve been mailing cards lately. A card or note doesn’t require being able to remember a damn thing when reading. She can look at the colors and design, the pretty picture on the cover. Open it up and on the inside somebody has written a message just for her.
And quietly, she says to herself. I think I know that name….I think I might.
December 2021 - Jeff Raught