“All I have left is my skin.” That’s what Mom told me today when we were sitting outside. It wasn’t the easiest visit with her. As my husband Lorin says, every visit costs. It costs me emotionally, if in no other way. I may leave elated after a good visit or depleted after a not-so-good visit. Today was the latter. I brought Mom the usual coffee and potato chips (no Wendy’s cheeseburger and vanilla Frosty today, at her request), and a pair of Clark’s sandals, that were a little tight around the toes.
Mom was really happy to see me, but she was distressed. She has never really been happy, but it’s worse when you have Alzheimer’s. We drank coffee, ate cookies and watched the last 15 minutes of Lidia’s Italy, her favorite cooking show.
Then she said, “I’ve lost all my bobby pins.” To be accurate, I scrounged together 5 in the top drawer of her bureau.
I was not surprised. Mom has been losing things more and more: first it was the Yardley English Lavendar soap, which I bring her in 4-packs (one bar is put in her bureau, and the other three go to the nurse’s station for safekeeping), now it’s bobby pins. Oy vey! The bobby pins cost about $2.99 for a package of 90, so it’s no big deal. But she’s down to 5 pins in 2 weeks. She says she doesn’t know where they have all gone. I think she throws them in the trash can. Only The Shadow knows.
The bobby pins dominated our visit. Where they went, who took them, how could she keep losing them? All I could say, was “I don’t know.” I told her it was not a big deal, that I would buy her another package and put half (or less) in her bureau drawer and leave the rest with Miss Bell at the nurse’s station, along with her soap. This seemed to calm her a bit, but the agitation was still present.
I had a really good talk with my stepmom today. She says that I have done all I can for mom, I couldn’t do any better. But today it doesn’t feel that way. Once again, I feel I have failed her. I am not able to “fix” her. Mom wanted to go outside, so I got what I call the “hall pass” from the nurse and took her out. I wheeled her for a couple blocks, then she said, “Erica, are you there?”
I said, “Yes.”
How could she think I had disappeared?
I kept one hand on her shoulder for the duration of our ride after that. She had gauze wrapped around her right wrist from an abrasion, and the handles of her wheelchair were now swathed in fleece to prevent continued abrading of the skin. She looked like a suicide attempt.
She said she wanted to stop and sit outside Park Gardens, so we did.
“How is Mary Ann?” I said. Mary Ann is her only surviving sibling, and she has leukemia.
“She’s alright,” she said.
“I wish I could trade places with her,” she said.
Does she know she has leukemia, I thought.
Mary Ann, the youngest of the sisters, is a very upbeat person, a typical (sorry if I’m being stereotypical) Midwestern, who never complains. Mom’s family hails from Wisconsin, and they are known for their stoicism. Mom’s favorite sister and best friend, Rony, died in 2009.
I didn’t know what to say.
“The trees are beautiful,” Mom said, “and there’s a breeze about.”
“Yes,” I said. I was running out of positive things to think or say.
“Why couldn’t I just go?” she said.
Again, I had no real answer, but said, “Don’t worry so much about the bobby pins.”
“They must wonder how I’ve let myself go,” she said.
“Who do you mean?”
“Everyone,” she said.
“Do you want me to put some makeup on you?”
“No, it doesn’t matter.”
I applied some chapstick to her lips.
“You still have beautiful skin,” I said.
“Yes, but’s that’s it. All I have left is my skin.”
Then it was back to talk on the bobby pins.
"You'll fix it, you always do," Mom said, with a smile on her face. I told her I'd do the best I could.
That's a tall order. I can't fix it, but I wish I could.
In the end, isn’t our skin all we have left? We have what’s inside, but too often no one sees that. For a woman of 82, my mother does have beautiful skin. She took great care of it all her life and pushed me to moisturize starting at age 30. I don’t think my skin will ever be as supple as hers, though. I tend to think it’s what's underneath that truly matters.