After antipsychotics no longer chase her terrifying delusions away, my mother returns to full Memory Care. Her response is to retreat into extended isolation.
And her world turns quite gray.
The door to her room remains closed, sometimes mysteriously locked from within. I find her in bed and unresponsive. I wonder is she avoiding the entire world or just me? She refuses meals in the dining room and with food delivered on trays, her small room takes on a perpetual funk of thick creamed soup.
Holidays are difficult. With bright decorations lining the walls and Silent Night playing the halls, families arrive to gather up their loved ones. My mother lays in bed, curtains drawn with a heavy weight of sadness seeping from each corner of her room.
“Mom, it’s Thanksgiving. I cooked a big meal with lots of your favorites,” or “It’s Christmas, you love Christmas.” Sitting on the bed, I plead to the still outline under the covers.
No response, no movement.
With the arrival of the new Medical Director I fear she will be deemed “unfit” for the facility. I know home is no longer an option and wonder where will we go?
Weeks pass as I avoid Dennis, assuming responsibility for the top Memory Center position. Childlike, I believe as long as I stay under the radar, my mother will be able to stay put.
It’s illogical dementia caregiving rationale, I know.
One day I arrive to her open door. The door isn’t propped or latched. It’s just open. I enter to find her in bed, but with the sound of community invading her space, the air in her room becomes less dense.
Then not only is her door open; her curtains are too, bringing bright sunlight into the room. It’s peculiar, this airy room with my semi-catatonic mother at its epicenter.
But what’s more peculiar is the orange.
The orange sits on her side table, right next to her Lazy-Boy recliner and directly across from her bed. Crisp citrus scent cuts through the stillness.
Each and every day, there’s an orange.
It takes time, but my mother slowly reconnects to this world. Her eyes open, pupils focus, she finds a bit of stamina and then her voice. Dennis enters her room, his baldhead shiny, his polo shirt pastel. And he picks up the daily orange.
Across from her he sits; slowly peeling long rounding strands of orange skin while chatting away. Some topics she can relate to; others are just chatter but it doesn’t matter. Dennis finds the key to unlock her deep depression: a combination of calm, compassion and an orange.
The fruit moves her from lying to sitting to walking. She advances from her bedroom to the dining room and then the sunroom. On the other side of this transition, she’s different. Her eyes have lost a trace of their luster; her resistance and defiance have dulled a bit. She’s given more of herself to the disease.
Is it heartbreak or relief that I feel? I share time with her each day, so why couldn’t I reach her the way Dennis did?
It’s a theme that reappears throughout her illness; how much easier it is to see dementia from a distance. Regardless of the physical or emotional proximity one is to the other, mothers and daughters don’t normally maintain distance. They’re forever connected through a tether, one that some days can feel just a bit too tight.