The following was written in 2015.
There is something about swimming with my mother that allows me to release with her. Her hair, slightly wet, is tucked behind her ears and her gentle hazel eyes twinkle. Tiny gold earrings hang from her ear lobes. Her skin appears almost ephemeral – the reflection of the turquoise water mixes beautifully with the pale peach of her ageing skin. I climb into her arms and she rocks me, her grown second born, in the warm water. I melt into her. With the water caressing me I’m willing to release my defenses against her. Her descent into dementia has been steep and fraught. But here she appears strong and competent, elegant and gorgeous; the mother I once knew.
The mother today refuses to wash her hair, butchers the spelling of even the most obvious words, and sprinkles salt in napkins to tuck away for later. She has little to no idea that people look at her askew. She believes nobody notices.
She holds her head steady, nose slightly tipped upwards, and gently tightens the skin around her temples with a subtle adjustment of her gaze as she listens to her physician discuss her disease progression. She tolerates listening but defers to very little, insistent that her self-knowledge supersedes objective observation and professional opinion. She believes a cure from snake oil and saffron will be found within the year.
Three plastic containers of thyme, dill and marjoram sit on her counter awaiting sprinkling over a freshly grilled salmon. Fluffy grey mold blankets all three. Her pension to waste not is exaggerated under the cloak of dementia. She refuses to waste even the tiniest bit of plastic wrap so puts pomegranates, half eaten sandwiches, partially eaten yogurt in the fridge uncovered so the rinds curl up sadly and the yogurt protects itself with a hard yellow crust. All are left vulnerable to the spores floating off of the rotten limes.
Nobody knows how badly things will go in the coming months to years. She could die from food poisoning. She could get lost on the roads behind Rio Ridge while chasing a sunset. She could befriend a charming young door-to-door salesman, guided by the ‘gut’ that she holds in irrationally high esteem, and get sucker punched financially.
But worse than the mold and the scenes in my head of her lost on a dark road is the sadness of knowing her dementia can be a cruel excluder. It can shut a person out of a world in which they’re no longer able to navigate and in which they are no longer wanted. This was a woman who delighted with her intellectual glow and adventurous spirit. A woman who men fell hard for. Whose friends adored. But memory only has roots in those who once touched her earth.
I am distant from my emotions these days. I retract from allowing myself to be too moved by the human condition. Yet here in these waters I almost cry. I wrap my arms around her neck. And, imaging myself a toddler in the shallows of a warm Indian Ocean, I find our forever.
Calla died May 30, 2018 from complications of a fractured hip.