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  • by Carolyn Lackey

She's Still Patting

I've been going through old pictures over the past few weeks pulling "The Best of Meems" for future use. It's best to do this now while she's still here. When she is gone, every single picture of her will become one of "The Best of Meems."

As I thumbed through hundreds...HUNDREDS...of pictures, I realized that it hasn't really been that long since Meems was a-blowin' and a-goin'.


84 years old

This picture was taken in June during a trip to San Francisco. Meems was still walking and talking. She navigated the sidewalks of San Francisco with a scooter so that we could get more "mileage" out of her. In August, just as our youngest son, Reed, was moving into his freshman dorm at Baylor, I packed up her house of 32 years to move her to Lubbock. The aging process was catching up with her. She needed to be near me.


85 years old

On a Caribbean cruise.


86 years old

In Hawaii. Her last big trip.


87 years old

Posing for her Christmas card picture. In July. She loved that spiked hair. This was the beginning of her "sleepy season." She slept until 11AM each morning and then took long winter's naps every afternoon.


88 years old

She could still remember some of the words to Away in a Manger. She began sleeping most of the day away. We figured it up one time. She was probably sleeping 20 hours out of every 24. Her already bad memory was getting worse. Most days she unable to remember what she ate for dinner...breakfast...lunch. It goes without saying that she had fully entered the "repeating everything 100 times" phase.


89 years old

One night she wandered down to the front desk of her independent living facility in her nightgown during the wee hours and told the security guard that some people had kicked her out of her apartment. He went and investigated then waited in the hall outside her door for about an hour. Just as soon as he settled back down at the front desk, she tiptoed up and said that the people had returned and locked her out. I decided that the time had come to move her to another type of facility. She was considered what they call a "flight risk." There was a looming possibility that she might just up and leave the building on a trip to nowhere in the middle of the night. This picture was taken on her first day in a memory care facility. "Is this where I'm going to live until I die?" She needed assistance with bathing, transferring from a chair to her walker, and general daily living. According to her, "half the people in here (memory care) are crazy." I never asked her which was her tribe.


90 years old

She could still play Bingo with lots of prompting and help finding the numbers on the card. "B-17!! Helen, look at this column and tell me if you see the number 17! Well, looky right there! That looks like a 17 to me! Does it look like a 17 to you, Helen?!" "Yes." "OK, then, cover it up with a poker chip!" It took forever to take a good picture of her. "Look up! Smile! Wait, don't look THAT far up. Smile! Look towards me." Repetitive stories. No sense of time of day. Sometimes when she wanted to show off, she would sing the National Anthem at dinner. "See! I know something!"


91 years old

She slept all day. Sometimes she fell asleep during meals. The stories that she told over and over were pared down to 2 or 3. She loved to tell about falling asleep at breakfast and spilling coffee in her lap. She slept through Bingo but still managed to win from time to time thanks to her vigilant Bingo buddies. She had no idea what time of day it was. On rare occasions, she would have what we called "awake" days. Her blue eyes would be wide open. She could sing a few bars of the song she sang at her high school graduation. Her smile would be brighter. She generally had something to say. "I fell asleep drinking coffee..heh...heh." She lost over 20 pounds in about 3 months. After about a 2 week period during which she pretty much didn't open her eyes, Hospice was called.


92 years old

When I popped in for my daily visit this afternoon, I knew that she would be asleep. I actually enjoy the sleepy visits. I can sit by her in silence and pet on her. When I first sat down on the bed, I said, "Hey! Remember me?!" No response. I told myself not to panic. A day will come when she won't remember me, but today would most likely not be the day. She continued sleeping. After a bit, with eyes still closed she whispered, "I'm cold." I rearranged her covers and used her comforter to wrap her up like a little burrito. "Better, Mom?" No response. She was back to frown sleeping. Alan tells me that I'm also a frown sleeper. Once I float into a deep dark sleep, for some reason my mouth settles into a deeply furrowed frown. Apparently, I get that from my mother.

I sat there patting her back gently. Then, I leaned over to kiss her goodbye. Without opening her eyes, she pulled her right arm out from under the covers, wrapped it around me and began patting my back.

Besides being frown sleepers, we are also hug patters. Not sure why. Putting an arm around someone just doesn't seem to do it. To truly love on someone, you have to add soft patting.

Still patting, in a surprisingly clear voice with eyes still closed she asked, "Was I a good mother?" Bingo! She knew I was her daughter! "Yes! You were the best mother! You raised me right! You made life fun! You were the absolute best mother." By the time I finished lauding praises over her, she was back to frown sleeping.

According to Hospice, she could go any minute or live for another year or so. No one but the "man upstairs" is sure what will facilitate her march towards the bright light. My theory is this: She will slip more and more and more deeply into sleeps that will be similar to anesthesia. In that relaxed state, either her heart or her lungs or both will get all relaxed and slowly forget that they have a job to do. They will put their feet up on their desks, throw their hands behind their heads and slip off to sleep with her. And then, she'll turn that sleep frown into a huge, brilliant smile and sashay towards the bright light like a pageant contestant on the runway. Wave from the wrist, Helen! Wave from the wrist!

I'm not feeling morose by any means. I'm not sad. Several dear friends are mourning a parent or two right now. I'm the lucky one. OK. I'll admit it. When she clearly asked me whether or not she'd been a good mother, I sat there for a bit watching the rise and fall of her chest just to make sure her time hadn't come. Those words sounded like textbook "last words" to me. As of 7:29PM, they have proved to not be her last words.

My husband likes to explain things using a large dose of words. He generally pauses after a couple of minutes and says, "The point I'm leading up to is..." I chuckle inwardly every time he does that. Chuckling outwardly would be a bad idea. Consider that free marriage advice. About the chuckling.

I, on the other hand, NEVER use those words - "the point I'm leading up to." I tend to get straight to the point. Well, I never used them until now.

The point I'm leading up to is that seeing old pictures of Mom picking peaches in her back yard in Waco, hiking in Zion National Park, and making chocolate pies reminds me that just yesterday she was "Full-On Helen."* With dementia, the changes in Mom have been rapid...then, slow...rapid...then, slow. I have no idea when the day will come when she no longer speaks. Or, opens her eyes.

But, when she stops patting. I will know.

Good news: She is no longer a flight risk.

*That's my little wink towards my young friend, Meredith, and her mother, Full-On-Cindee.

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