We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to
I go back to
I knelt by my mother’s side
Her smoldering eyes
drilled right through me as
she unleashed a torrent of accusations;
a scorching, vitriolic indictment of
Her nurse put her arm around my shoulder
You need to leave. You do not deserve this.
But it’s my only chance…
You need to leave.
The nurse quickly led me to the back door
shaken and dejected
in the blinding glare of the Southern California sun.
This raw, tormented incarnation was a new twist
-at least for me—
in the trajectory of my mother’s disease;
I had never seen her
in the full grip of dementia’s vise.
I had grown accustomed to many aspects of
even harsh diatribes;
but I had never witnessed
the searing black vortex
which enveloped my mama—
the dementia horror show.
But even though I saw it,
I didn’t accept it;
I did not try to understand the disease; and
I dared not imagine
what it was like for her.
I buried the actual words my mother said that day—
I cannot remember a single cutting recrimination that
stung so deeply and
caused her nurse to push me out the door.
Retreating to my own fantasy world,
I continued to discount the staff’s reports of
my mother’s increasingly volatile, aggressive behavior–
they moved a roommate
for her safety;
or warned another resident’s family
about my mother’s fierce outbursts
against their elderly matriarch.
They must be exaggerating, I silently intoned;
in my mind, my mama was the innocent – always.
And I was incensed when another resident accosted me in the hall:
Is that woman your mother? She’s awful –she yells through the night and we can’t get any sleep!
My mother…is not awful–she can’t control—she has dementia—this is not her!
But it was her.
And again and again
I simply refused to admit
what was happening.
It would have been so much easier—for everyone
if I had only accepted
the vicious truth.
But then one day
an exhausted charge nurse
pulled me aside—
my mother’s screams
had filled the halls of the nursing home
in the darkest hours of the night.
And with her revelation,
I could no longer deny
of my mother’s disease–as
night after night
dementia took her
back to black.
Hallie, I need to know something…
did your mother lose a baby?
Did your mother lose a baby?
Because every night, we give birth.
Every night–your mother wakes up– screaming–she’s having a baby.
The nurses surround her.
And every night,
her baby is dead.
Hallie, I need to know–did you mother lose a baby?
There was…um…between my sister and me…
Then that explains it. Your poor mother loses her baby
we’re trying to help, we’re doing everything we can– but
I hope—for everyone– this ends soon…
There you have it.
That’s all you really need to know.
Dementia is a horror show.
I see it so differently now than I saw it then;
I didn’t want to know
any of this.
Then and now
I cling to
another memory of us–
we gaze at the view
from the nursing home garden;
we speak in silence as
the sun sets
red gold purple orange turquoise blue
across a glimmering city.
She even invented a word for
our dramatic evening skies–
Dinnerscapes, she called them
(and how did her demented mind,
I want to know,
capture with one word
the landscape of our dimming day)
I cling to
but that’s the Technicolor version
of our story.
In the end
the horizon always fades to black.
And I must finally face
the one truth
I refused to accept
all those years.
My mama lived through hell on earth.
It was called dementia.
She was not awful,
except she was.
You do not deserve this.
Opening lyrics from Back to Black Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson composers, copyright 2006 Universal Music