“What was once enjoyed and deeply loved,
we can never lose,
for all that we love deeply becomes part of us.” —Helen Keller
These days I find myself adjusting to a another new normal. With the Coronavirus ever-present, imagining a Covid-free society feels like fleeting hope. The debilitating effects of this pandemic remain mind-boggling. For families with loved ones living in care facilities, the forbidden, personal contact has not only contributed to a decline in their mental and physical health, but their families are also suffering similar effects. Regardless of how creative we are, nothing replaces human touch. We need it. Human contact is “essential.” Unfortunately, these days, or until a vaccine proves positive, the act of human touch remains off-limits.
Eight months have passed since I freely visited my mother. After the onset of the Coronavirus, Mom became a flight risk and transitioned into memory care. To date, her cognitive decline is significant. Her activities of daily living require more than gentle coaxing. However, there are positives. She adjusted well to her new environment. Mom enjoys walking. Her caregivers tell me she roams the unit freely. I find a sense of solace in knowing that she is safe and secure, unable to escape into the dangers of the outside world. Her days are structured, something Alzheimer’s patients need. With each passing week, month, her world grows smaller, and I, like so many others, am not there to share her journey. Essential workers care for her. They feed, bathe, and prepare her for bed. For now, they are her family.
Once a week, I FaceTime with Mom. Our visit is short, only a couple of minutes. That’s all her attention permits. Mom no longer knows me; although she does recognize my name, she does not remember our relationship. She asks about my mother, and she always asks about my husband. I find it amusing that she has no clue who my husband is, but she’s gracious even in her demented state. Before Alzheimer’s stole her memory, Mom always asked about my husband. I accept that her asking is a conditioned, repetitive act. Her neurologist said as much when he diagnosed her with mixed dementia several years ago. I questioned him when he said she could no longer live alone; he said it’s not safe for her. When I shared that she still knows how to do her laundry, he said years of doing so conditioned her. “It’s a repetitive act,” he said. Much has changed since we walked out of his office. Mom has transitioned into different facilities twice. Each equipped with more skill to handle her Alzheimer’s.
As I watch her decline from afar, I remember the story about the rich man in the Bible. It’s not the rich man I think about, but the great chasm that separates him from the one who loves him the most. I think of the Coronavirus as a great chasm, separating my mother from me. Some days the pain of knowing that I cannot be with her during her vulnerable days is almost too painful to bear. But, I trust my God. I trust that our separation is God’s gentle way of bruising my heart rather than breaking it with a single blow. So many do not get to have a long goodbye with their loved ones. In a way, and depending on how you look at the circumstances, I’m one of the lucky ones. I am saying goodbye to my mother a little at a time.
This year has brought many life-changing, painful obstacles. We long to hug and be hugged. We desire to converse face-to-face instead of behind a mask, a computer screen, or plexiglass. We ache to see each others’ smiles, don’t we? Of course, we do. There are so many questions and so few answers. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing but death and taxes, so they say. But of one thing that I am sure of, and that is that I have always been, always will be, and at this very moment, I am still my mother’s daughter.