Monday, May 11, 2009

Blind Love

Yesterday, on Mother's Day, we visited my 90-year-old aunt, and sat with her in her living room. My daughter had baked her cupcakes, which she ate with relish. My breath caught each time she raised her fork. I silently rooted for her to find her mouth and not stab her cheek, willing the cake not to fall off the utensil on its precarious way up.

My aunt's hands are crooked now and her fingers numb. Her tongue is also numb. When she speaks, you can barely understand what she's saying, though I can tell by the light flickering in her eyes that the thoughts are flowing fluently in her brain. Her lips move, but she doesn't know the sound is mostly unintelligible. I lean in and try to make out what she's trying to tell me. I grab the random words that come out whole and string them together, repeating them back to her, trying to fill in the gaps.

No, no, no, she says. And tries again.

Her circumstances are so reduced. Yesterday, her daughter sat across the room, eyes glued to the TV, in her nightgown at 5 in the afternoon. (Not judging the nightgown. I have days like that.) She was home and she was sober, but that was it. She did not engage her mother.

The home attendant, with whom my cousin verbally fought last week (it was a big dust up that required calling in my aunt's case worker to help smooth things over), mostly stayed in her room, talking on her cell phone. I didn't fault her. She's a mother, too, and she was away from her family on Mother's Day. Besides, my aunt looked clean and cared for, and after she ate the cake, the home attendant brought her a damp paper towel to wipe her hands.

I wondered what it must be like to just sit all day. Hardly anyone comes by other than my family and my other cousin, the poli sci professor who's doing this eldercare walk with me. When my aunt's son does come to visit, he and his sister argue viciously, leaving their mother in tears. I know. I get the phone calls. "Come now, come now! Things are bad over here!" and in the background, I can hear my two cousins going at it.

They have no love for one another. Instead they fight over their mother's assets, which she put me and the professor in charge of, because she did not trust either one of her children. She let them get away with so much. She became too frail and disillusioned to hold them accountable, and she shielded them, fiercely and irrationally, when other members of the family tried to step in. But they never seemed to give her back the same blind love and loyalty that she showed them. It is such a sad story.

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