My mother hasn't recognized me for a while now. I've blamed myself, of course, more than her dementia. If I'd visited more...if I'd left more pictures...if...
A few months ago, one of the nurses who has worked with the elderly for quite some time told me that her condition, unlike Alzheimer's, is cyclical. He predicted she would recognize me again at some point, and she did today.
I strolled into her room at the nursing home with my pumpkin spice latte, prepared to sit and drink it and converse with her as a stranger. I could probably chart her illness by the number of times Starbuck's has welcomed pumpkin spice in and out of season.
"Do you recognize me?" I asked.
"Sure I do."
She's masked her lapses for so long now I've become accustomed to white lies. "I remember that name but I can't put a face with it," is her most common.
"I've visited and you haven't recognized me," I explained.
"Maybe it's because you don't come by very often."
"I've been in Omaha."
"Maybe it's because you don't have as much on your chin."
I rubbed my goatee. "I've got about the same amount of facial hair I've had for a long time," I said.
"Well, you need to keep it."
This from the woman who tormented me about my beard in college until I shaved it to shut her the hell up about it. I, uh, still have a few issues. Doesn't everyone?
"In college, you weren't too wild about my beard," I said.
"How long were you in college?"
"That's quite a while."
"Most people go four years. Some people go longer. You went to college four years."
"Do you remember college?"
I remember her remembering college. She had five Saturday classes, slept on a sleeping porch with wet hair, mastered organic chemistry, preserved her lab implements in pristine shape only to have them stolen by boys who had not and needed replacements. Upon protest she was repaid her lab implement deposit just the same.
"Not much," she said.
"You know who I am?"
"Who do you think I am?"
Ah, ha, can't play a game with a direct question, eh?
Wow, it wasn't masking, and the nurse was right.
We pulled out her scrapbook called Gathering Memories created by hospice workers with information gleaned from me.
In the pages of memory
Once we got past the calligraphy "G" in gathering she thumbed through it. My father's name did not jog her memory, but she remembered their last dog and knew the clipping a worker had used was not really his picture.
Since Samson's picture was a fake, so too must be the picture of herself snapped at Valentine's Day while she wearing a red hat and drape. The person in the picture was old. Couldn't be her.
And the person in the nursing home bed couldn't be my mom. But it was.
Time is not gentle nor kind. Time is just time and life is what it is. At least she knows my name again, for a while.