I don’t remember

Noreen walked on the ball of her foot and her toes, holding her red framed walker before her, her lithe body tricking the unobservant about her age. She might have been taken for forty, but was in fact sixty-five years young.

In Mother’s residence there were just over one hundred intermediate care, long term and palliative care residents. There were just about as many reasons for individuals to be there. I acquired a great affection for many of them and hope to keep visiting while I can. Some never have visitors. Some never remember the visitors they have.

Several of the residents had a habit of answering “So So” to any inquiry about how their day had gone. Simply a word of hello would brighten their day, but an inquiry after their health or their spirits would elicit a more in-the-moment response.

Noreen was one of these. I would ask her what she had done during the day and smile a little impishly, “Oh, not much”, hesitate and then continue a bit vaguely “Well, you know… ” trailing away, as if you really should know what she had done with her day.

When I first got to know her, she would ask “Do I know you from somewhere?” and every day I would tell her, “No, my mother’s here, so I come every day. I just see you in the halls here.” That would reassure her and with a smile she would go on her way.

Occasionally I would find her standing, baffled, waiting for someone to help her. Once, she was standing in front of the elevator with a new friend who was as Alzheimerish as she was.

“Are you going upstairs?” I asked.

“I really don’t know, ” she replied. “Do you know where we live?”

“Yes, you live on the fourth floor. Would you like to go there? That’s where I’m going now.”

She exchanged a look with her companion as if to say, “Should we?” and then to me, “Sure! ” her face wreathed in a new smile. ” Can you show us where we live”. And so we took the elevator to the fourth floor.

I directed Bob down the East hall and he went shuffling along. Noreen’s room was the first one to the west of the elevator. I showed her her room then bid her good night, using her name.
“How do you know my name?” she accused in a pleasant way.

“Your name is written on the door, ” I said and she looked at me admiringly and replied. “Well, aren’t you clever!”

We had had this same conversation about her name every day for three months now.

Always pleasant, always active, her smile did quite a lot to bring pleasure to some of the residents. At the same time, there were some who felt inopportuned because she could never remember anything.

At dinner time, she might respond to you that she was not coming because she had just had dinner. Then moments later, tell you that she was famished; they hadn’t given her dinner. Often she would come done “late ” for dinner not realizing that she had eaten her dinner and finished it only fifteen minutes prior. The kitchen staff knew her and would give her a half sandwich to eat just to get her out of their hair as they were trying to clean up and go home.
In the summer months, a paid companion came to take her for walks. She loved the outdoors but was too forgetful to be able to go out alone. She was in good physical shape and could walk a good distance, but she couldn’t remember where she lived nor how to get there. With a dose of good weather and some temperatures in the thirties Celsius, she began to sun burn.

I stopped to speak to her and suggested that she get some sun screen. Her arms were more than tanned. They were raw red and peeling. Not only must it be painful, but too much sun could be damaging for the skin. I chided her about it a bit. I told her that all she needed to do was to tell the reception desk and they would get some for her. The receptionist would record it against her account. “Oh, do I have one of those?” she asked; “I didn’t know,” as if someone had neglected to tell her.

By the end of this conversation, she said “What was it I was supposed to get?” “Sunscreen,” I replied. “And why do I need it?” and I explained again. Within a fifteen minute conversation, I patiently went over with her, her need for sunscreen, what it was, how she could obtain some, and then she would finish off with “And what was it I was supposed to get, again?”

Finally she must have sensed frustration. She said “I’m just not getting it, am I? I’ll get something to write it down on.” Off she went and came back with a sketchbook and a pencil. She flipped open to the second page and said “I’ve got the notebook, but I can’t remember what I was supposed to be writing.

“Now, what was it I was supposed to get for you?” she asked.

“No, Noreen. Not for me. For you! … Sunscreen. You need to get some sunscreen”

So I wrote it in her proffered sketchbook. I couldn’t help but notice the very observant drawing of a coniferous tree. It was a lovely drawing and I said so. I asked her if she had done it and if she liked to draw. Her face lit up. Yes, she loved drawing! I made a mental note that sometime when I was free, I would come back and spend some time drawing with this woman who lived only in the immediate moment.

At Christmas, there was a big party held for the residents. Every resident attended if they could, and family was issued an invitation to join them. Mom and I went, of course. I liked to encourage her to go to as many events as possible to keep her spirits going. She felt she had no visitors although Otto and I visited every day. Others came, my sister-in-law, Otto’s new girlfriend (who was just super at entertaining Mother), some church visitors, old school teaching pals, and other family members. I wondered if her thirst for visitors was partly fueled by her short term memory forgetting that the visitors had already come. Events gave her something to talk about.

Mother and I were sitting at one of the card tables that served as dining tables during the day. Across the large dining hall, I could see Noreen swinging her legs like a young school girl, happily smiling as she watched a very middle eastern looking Santa Claus make progress towards each resident, presenting them with a gift and pausing for a family snapshot. Beside Noreen was a fortyish looking young man that could have been her boyfriend if I didn’t know better.

Later, after everyone sang the old, familiar Christmas carols, delicious food was served, buffet style, on a long series of folding tables that had all been dressed up for the occasion. The kitchen staff had outdone itself with specialties in savories and sweets.

I got up to get my mother and me a plate of tidbits, hoping I could persuade her to eat just a little bit more. Noreen and her son were at the buffet table at the same time as I was and she introduced him to me. A nice young man, solicitous of his mother, and glad of some friendly banter.

Mother had not been eating; her tolerance for excitement and over-stimulation were short lived. She began to sag, saying “Just take me up to my room. I’m so tired I need to lie down. I don’t want to spoil this for you. You can come right back down and enjoy the festivities.” So we went and I helped her into her p.j.’s, helped her with brushing her teeth, and called a care aid to help her with her nightly ablutions. She was tired and was almost asleep before we got her in between the sheets.

I played her some of Schuman’s Scenes from Childhood on the keyboard and when I heard her evenly breathing, I slipped out to go home. A good hour had gone by.

I met Noreen in the hallway as I left. Of course I could not go by without having a bit of conversation with her. Tonight I had something different than the weather or her daily activities to fill the conversation. I could ask her about her son.

“Well, Noreen. It was nice to meet your son!” I beamed.

“My son?” she asked. “Where did you meet my son?”

“Downstairs at the Christmas festivities”, I replied.

“Was he there? she asked, a bit perplexed.” I didn’t see him.”

“Yes, wasn’t that your son sitting beside you while the carols were being played?”

“I don’t think so. I haven’t seen him for months. How did you know it was my son?” she mused, a bit baffled. “If he was there, why would he not come and see me?” Her eyes looked at me very quizzically. She wasn’t doubting my word, but she couldn’t make sense of it.

“I was sure it was your son with you,” I insisted.

“I don’t know,” she said, her inflection rising. “I didn’t see him. I wonder why he would come for the festivities and not come to see me?”


2 Responses to “I don’t remember”

  1. bluedragonfly Says:

    This is so wonderfully written. So poignant and moving, sad yet also with such hope in it — perhaps ‘bittersweet’. I feel lucky to have gotten to know Noreen through your writing.

  2. Type 1-2 Diabetes Causes Cure Care Info Says:

    Really nice site you have here. I’ve been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: