Bittersweet

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Every Sunday I visit my mom at her care facility and take her some fresh flowers. She was an avid gardener with between 30 and 40 rose bushes at one time and our house always, well maybe not always but frequently, had fresh flowers of some sort. I love the way she lights up when she sees them and how happy she is to see me.

Anyone who knows my mom will tell you she is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. She is the epitome of southern hospitality and grace. You could offer her dirt to eat and she’d go on and on about how delicious it is and how much she appreciated you giving it to her.

“Bless your heart, this is the best dirt I’ve ever had. Thank you so much.”

Her caregivers are enamored with her and treat her very well. So far her dementia has not soured her sweetness; I’ve heard many stories of people who become angry when they develop dementia or Alzheimer’s. Not my mom.

She’s been in the facility for nearly a year and has shared a room with another woman. It’s kind of like a college dorm suite. Each person has their own room, and they share a “foyer” as well as a restroom. My mom’s suitemate was not as lucky as my mom. Often when I visited she was sleeping, other times she was at lunch or in the common area obviously confused. She, as many dementia patients can, was able to focus briefly and did ask me once or twice if I was a florist or gardener. (On a side note, there’s another lady that grins happily and waves at everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, when they enter the facility.)

Two weeks ago I was changing out my mom’s flowers and from the other side of the room I heard my mom’s suitemate talking with a caregiver about how sad she felt and that she wanted to kill herself. To say I felt awkward was an understatement.

Today I arrived to swap out the old flowers with new ones my mom was at the game table having an apple with some caramel dip and the group was setting up for BINGO.

“Hi Mama,” I said tapping her shoulder and leaning in with the flowers.

“Oh, hi Mike…OH, those are beautiful!”

“I brought them to switch out with the old one’s in your room.”

“Oh, o.k., that’s very nice of you. Thank you for doing that for me.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

“I’m lucky to have you to take such good care of me.”

“You’re just saying that because I brought you flowers.”

“No I’m not,” she says with a grin.

“Alright, I’m going to go change out your flowers and I’ll be right back.”

As I enter the suite I notice one side has completely changed. I finish fussing with the flowers then ask one of the caregivers about my mom’s suitemate. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting the answer I did; I should have known. She had passed away.

“O.k. Mama, I’m done with your flowers…”

“I-24,” says the BINGO caller.

“….look, you have ‘I-24’ on that card there.”

“Twenty-four,” says my mom as she places a chip on the space.

“Anyway, I’m going down to the ranch for a few days, I’ll see you as soon as I get back.”

“Oh, you’ll, um, that sounds like, uh, a good time there.”

“G-46…G….46.”

“Look, you’ve got that on both cards.”

“Forty-six.”

“O.k., you have new flowers in your room and I’m heading off to pack for the ranch, I’ll see you soon.”

“It was really good to see you; thank you for being so good to me.”

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past year it’s that our daily trials and tribulations simply don’t matter as much as the care we give one another.

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