Look Look Look–It’s Tiger!

It was a glorious Sunday in June.

I was heading to the nursing home.

And on the radio, the announcers could not contain their glee as they described Tiger Woods in the final round of the 100th US Open:

He’s got the line…

He’s got the speed…

And yet another birdie!

Over the years, I had heard a lot about Tiger Woods — from my Mother. A golfer in her youth, my Mom was dazzled by Tiger’s soaring career, eagerly cheering him on week after week.

And on that glorious Sunday morning, her favorite son was making history:

…that is phenomenal!

…at his most transcendent!

…a clinic of perfection!

Oh GOOD, I thought as I heard the broadcast. We will have a happy day. We will watch the conquering Tiger, and she will be so pleased.

When I got to her room, she was lying on her back, eating potato chips.

What are you doing? Stop! You are going to choke!

I like this. It’s fun.

Why aren’t you watching golf?!

I wrestled away the chips and sat her in front of the TV.

Look Look Look— it’s your Tiger!

She was more interested in the potato chips.

As I danced around the room and pointed at the screen, she gazed in its direction. Where was the expected elation, the cheers, the adulation for her Tiger?

She did not respond — even when the roaring crowd and delirious announcers celebrated one of the most decisive wins in golf history.

I was crestfallen. What was going on? The ingredients had been perfect.

But I was not able to give my Mother a happy day.

When I arrived the next morning, she was reading The LA Times. Grinning broadly, she exclaimed,

Look Look Look at what Tiger did yesterday! Oh Hallie, I am so sorry I missed it!

But Mama, we watched it.

We did?

She quickly looked down. She stared at her hands.

And in a small, sorrowful voice, she murmured:

We did?

(Oh my God, what did I just do?)

Until that glorious June Sunday, I thought I was beginning to understand this disease — the memory loss, the fantastical stories, the flashes of anger — but no one had warned me about this latest phenomenon.

In fact, no one warned me about most of the things that unfolded over the next decade. As I look back, I shake my head in wonder. I can only conclude that because her caregivers were overwhelmed, her disease unpredictable, her prognosis dire, it was ultimately no one’s job to tell me what could happen.

On that glorious June Monday, I discovered that dementia meant more than memory; more than fantasy; more than temper.

It meant that my mother could look at the TV and not see it; look at her sport and not know it, look at her favorite son

And simply not care.

On that glorious June Monday, I realized that this disease would always surprise me. I would never fully understand it. And every time I entered the halls of the nursing home, I would find a different version of my Mother.

But no matter which version I encountered, this is what I know:

She was still my Mother.

And she still loved her Tiger.

And she still loved me.

Is this really happening?

Look at this, look at this…

It’s just not a fair fight…!

A Swift Current  "Eve"  Rodin

“Eve” at Musee Rodin, Paris Photo by Hallie Swift

(All the announcers’ quotes –in bold– are from the actual broadcast, available on You Tube)


22 thoughts on “Look Look Look–It’s Tiger!

  1. I enjoyed this post very much. My friend’s Mother who is current going through all this just told me about an experience that was very similar. She is struggling so much and your posts are helping her. Keep writing.

    • Barbara, I so appreciate your comments…I undertook this endeavor with the belief that our experience could shed light on this disease for people. And help them feel less alone. And while there is beginning to be more written on the topic, I have found that the advice for families is usually delivered in rather sterile lists of “do’s and “don’ts”. In my mind, that is not an effective way of communicating. And so yes, I will keep writing…and hope I find the words to get across my message! Thank you!

  2. So beautifully written…so painful. While my Daddy’s problem is in the “dementia” category, your observations are so helpful. I’m finally able (mostly) to not get angry when my Dad forgets things we’ve just done, can’t remember something I told him less than 5 minutes ago, is totally unwilling (unable??) to do things I think are logical. Keep writing, Hallie.

    • Oh Joanie, I know that frustration very well. I think that because we are accustomed to a rational, coherent dialogue with our accomplished, proud parents, it is incomprehensible for us to believe that they are no longer on top of their game. I used to be exasperated with my Mom; and now I know that her mental lapses were completely out of her control. And when she said odd things, it was the disease saying those odd things. I also think we come from a culture that believes that if a person TRIES hard enough, they will “get it” (remember how they awarded an “A” for effort in school?). There is no “A for effort here”…effort won’t help. It took me a long time to catch on to these things and I can only hope that writing about it here will help people avoid some of the mistakes that I made. Thank you for your comment; I welcome the chance to have these posts open a dialogue among us.

  3. I watched you crying when you lost your mother; your desperation of being an orphan…but I never understood that you really lost her a little bit everyday! Beautiful writing!!

    • I believe that during the struggle with dementia You lose them, but you don’t lose them…and you actually hit on the idea that I am trying to work through for the next post. I think that they are still there…until the very end…as Jodie Foster said in her speech that I quoted on the blog earlier…”Mom, I know you are inside those blue eyes somewhere…” I believe that too, and that is why I think that my Mom’s death brought such a feeling of grief…loss is loss is loss. Thank you for commenting, Hallie

  4. Good times, tough days… every time you talk about our beloved matriarch makes me smile. Enjoy the rest of the weekend my favorite!

    • Hi there, I will relay here (and might repeat as a post some day) one of my favorite stories about the two of you…it goes to how she was often telling me the truth when I thought she was imagining things. Every time a helicopter flew low over the nursing home, she would excitedly look up and yell “Hi Dave!” I thought it was amusing and harmless, nothing more. Then one day I mentioned to you that she thinks you are hovering over her in a helicopter, and you responded…”well that is me…I fly low and buzz her!” I thought I would fall out of my chair…once again she was right when I thought she was dreaming! SO…HI DAVE…I will never doubt you again!

  5. Wow, really awesome. The story keeps me interested and invested the whole time. You have this way to hook me, the reader. I love it!

    • Hi Sheri, thank you. Every time I start writing I am not completely sure where the words will take me…I knew the bones of this story (I remember it like yesterday) but how the telling unfolds surprises even me. That these words keeps you interested and invested is very rewarding and I appreciate your letting me know (and keep letting your friends know too!). Thank you again!

  6. Another home run…Or more aptly, a hole in one. Did you mean to send this on the weekend of the Masters’ Tourney??

    We still have snow! k

    • Thank you. I have wanted to write about that day since I began the blog, as it was truly the moment when I realized there dimensions to this disease that I would never understand. Like all of the posts, it went through several revisions; but yes, as the Masters approached, I realized the timing was interesting…I was revising it until the moment I hit the “publish” button, including completely different concluding lines. I had doubts (was I actually communicating what I was trying to say?) until the very end…the response (including your “hole in one”) helps me breathe easier! Onward, and thank you!

    • Thank you, Denise, for reading my blog and for your comments my the writing. I agree that this is a hideous disease…I don’t think we are prepared for the unfolding epidemic on any level, and that is in part why I am writing…I hope in some small way our experience can help families as they confront this reality. You have made an astute observation that it robs everyone involved; the patient as well as those who struggle to address the needs of their loved ones and those who choose to ignore that anything is happening. I recently overheard a conversation among people making fun of their “demented” family member, with the conclusion “why should we go visit anymore when they don’t know us…”. It is little wonder who in that family lacks dignity and humanity…Thank you for touching on this theme, Hallie

      • That’s a sad commentary that likely reflects the type of relationship prior to dementia setting in…
        You are probably spot on about us as a society not being prepared for the oncoming epidemic. Your blog is a wonderful resource…

      • I hadn’t thought about the prior relationships that way and you are likely right; but I do hope to communicate the idea that –though masked behind the disease– your person is still there. And so I believe efforts to communicate are crucial and vital even though you might think a connection is not being made. I hope to explore this idea in future posts. Thank you for your comment that the blog is a “wonderful resource”…that is exactly what I am striving for…I appreciate your encouragement! All my best, Hallie

  7. I felt this one Hallie and it really scared me too but I am so glad that you shared it with us. I don’t know if you have communicated this or not but did your Mother always know you and Mickey till the end or was there a time that she didn’t know you either?

    • Thank you for your comments…yes, a lot of frightening things happened and I hope my writing captures how (at least in my Mom’s case) new dimensions of the disease unfolded with no apparent warning. There are also times of tremendous grace and love and I hope I am able to convey those as well. Throughout the decade, most of the time she knew who I was…however there was one visit in particular in which she did not know me for 4 consecutive days. I will write about this experience in the future. The following visit at Christmas however, she did recognize me, but other aspects of her personality had been dampened (for lack of a better word). In my Mom’s case, it was not a straight line decline, but rather was full of peaks and valleys. On her last birthday for example, she was sharp and beautiful; even the nursing home staff was astounded at the transformation. Similarly, during my last visit, she was smiling and ebullient. I did not see her however during her final struggle; I had a plane ticket for the following week (after her sudden death). I think perhaps the fact that I didn’t see her in that condition contributed to my shock when I received the phone call. I hope I answered your question. Thank you again, Hallie

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