I had two other remarkable encounters with Noreen. I’ll tell you one now and another for another night.

My siblings, Heather, Otto and Lizbet, are all here with me. We have been dividing up dishes and knick knacks in the kitchen all afternoon as we start to clear out Mother’s things before we sell the house. We’ve had our tense moments but really everything has been quite civil. The worst is, that over a twelve year period as I looked after mom, I replaced things that broke with my own possessions that are mixed in with mom’s goods. That has led to some tension and misunderstandings when I tell them that it belongs to me, not mother.

It has been a tiring day for me. I’m saddened to see “my” household goods being dismantled in front of me. I would rather have stayed in this house and continued on. It’s not possible. Everything has to be divided up equally and none of us can buy out the other to be able to stay here, so great are the house values in this city. So I will need to move. My life is changing. I must leave here, but I have no idea where I will be going. It’s disquieting.

I’m not complaining. I actually feel rather positive about it, knowing that I have large vistas in front of me. Many choices are out there for me to take, to redefine myself, to reinvent myself, really. A butterfly emerging from a cocoon – that’s me. Where I will alight, who knows!

So the second story of Noreen will have to wait for another time. Here’s the first:
I used to take two large bouquets of flowers down to the residence and give one to Mom who just adored flowers. The other I split up in small bouquets for some of our favourite residents. Noreen came into Mom’s room on one of these occasions and asked if it were Mother’s birthday. I said no, and asked her if she liked flowers.

Her face lit up. Oh yes, she said, she loved flowers. Mom was asking me for things and wanted her privacy. I had too many demands on me, the flowers, Mom’s needs and then the the things I had to do. I chased Noreen out, telling her that I could visit her later and that I would come to see her just as I was leaving. She was very understanding and went away to continue her eternal pacing of the hallway, grasping her walker and tiptoeing as she always did on the balls of her feet.

So when I had finished getting Mother into bed for her afternoon nap, I put together a little bud vase of delicate, white baby’s breath and a few tall lavender coloured branches of another rather delicate “filler” flower. These are the kind that make you think you’ve got a full bouquet when really you only have three or four specific bright coloured blooms.

I took them down to her room where she was fumbling with her key at her door.

“I don’t know why they keep changing the locks on me,” she complained.

“Do you want me to try?” I offered.

“Sure. If I can get in that’s all that matters.”

I tried but couldn’t get the door handle to budge either. I looked up to check, and of course, it wasn’t her room. No wonder she couldn’t get in!

That was easily fixed by moving down one door and retrying the lock.

That problem being out of the way, I offered her the flowers.

“For me! she exclaimed with a questioning but thrilled kind of smile.

“For you.” I affirmed.

“Come in,” she offered. “Please come in.”

It was late. I wanted to go home and have some time to myself. Just a little bit of down time. Nevertheless, I acquiesced. Noreen, like so many others in the residence, never had company. For her, it was doubly difficult and lonely because she couldn’t remember anybody that she met, nor remember if she had spent time with them.

She had impeccable manners. She offered me a chair in her spare surroundings. She sat on the bed. We talked about flowers and how much she liked them. For someone like Noreen, I can spin a pretty good conversation without a lot of return commentary, though I did not need to worry. We talked about gardening and bouquets. Then I asked her about her drawing and painting and told her about mine. We made a plan to do some drawing together (which I haven’t gotten to yet, so busy I was with Mother). Then we talked weather; that also fills up the conversation basket.

I asked her about her family and she told me she had a son who visited from time to time. I then told her about my two nephews, my brother and I living together. She asked where I lived and I described where it was. That drew a blank but it could have for many people who only know the city a little bit.

In all, I must have stayed a half hour. She was pleasant and cheery. She followed everything I had to say and responded with clear answers, pitching in a bit of her own colour and personality. There was not a bit of memory loss that came into play. She thanked me for the flowers and asked me to come to visit any time; she had enjoyed the visit so much.

I left her in wonderment, puzzled that this woman lives in the moment and converses as if nothing was wrong with her memory at all; and then five minutes later, she doesn’t remember that she has had the conversation, may not even remember who you are, or that you have just done something for her such as bringing the flowers.

A coda on this story, I offered her some flowers a month or so later, since she derived such pleasure from them. “But, ” I admonished her pleasantly, ” you are going to have to give me the vase back from last time I gave you flowers so that I can fill it up.”
“You gave me flowers?” she asked in a bewildered voice. “I have a vase of yours?”

“Noreen, take me to your room. Let’s see if you have a vase that we can use.”

Sure enough, the vase was there, the baby’s breath and the lavender coloured filler had dried and were still on her table. She gave me the vase and I filled it for her again.


2 Responses to “Noreen”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Kay – it is as if you described my mother-in-law when she was in the early stages of Alzheimers. Can you imagine living day to day with a loved one who is in this state? My father-in-law most simply could not cope with the difficulties of short-term memory loss which impacted their ability to deal with the simplest daily rasks requiring attention and memory as well as co-operation. While he was incredibly patient and loving, the constant reiteration stressed him badly and seeing little option he basically wore himself to an untimely death.

  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Mrs Stepford,
    It often happens that the dying elderly wear out their care givers to the point where the care giver dies first, leaving the other with no one to care for them. It’s a sad ending, this dying business.
    Repetition is certainly an irritant in listening to the elderly, if you let it be. I learned to let it roll off my back as much as I could. It didn’t work always, but sufficiently to help my own sanity.
    On the nth time of a story told, I would simply mutter under my breath, ’87” or some other random number, representing the number, fictively, of times I’d heard the story repeated. Our family favourite was,
    “Do you remember the blizzard of ’32 when I walked to the school in Oldenburg to let the children in…..
    We might have been up a far as 2083 on that one.

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