Shrinking

I was taking M to the bathroom last night and I realized how small her bones were. She’s been shrinking before my eyes and sometimes it startles me when I remember what she used to look like.

She’s always had a hunched back and it’s been getting more and more pronounced over the years. She is folding into herself. For someone whose memories take up so much space, she is taking up less and less.

She’s shrinking.

Her skin’s still firm and she has more color than I do. She has muscles that I don’t even have and I wish I had her calves. She has a strength that is hard not to notice.

She can be so strong; it’s clear when her PT trainer comes over.  If she thinks she’s going to miss her program on EWTN, she can be so speedy! But there are times when she shuffles along and I take slow steps behind her making sure she doesn’t fall. There are the times when she struggles to get herself up from her chair and I give her my strength.

But mostly,
I’m helping her shrink.

I don’t mean to do it. I really don’t. Sometimes I just get so frustrated. It’s the little things that bug me. Some days it’s just so hard to let them go. There’s so much else going on in my life that I forget that we’re hers.  She has us, the sporadic other family members that come visit, her faith, EWTN, reading the newspaper, and playing cards. That’s her life. My life consists of friends, social media, my myriad of books, TV shows, going out, going to school, making plans, looking forward to going on trips, to moving out, my blogs, writing, and everything in between. My life is ahead of me. Hers is behind her.

So…
I’m helping her shrink.

She says, “Oh, you like chocolate? I do, too.”
While I think, don’t you remember?

M wouldn’t come eat the other night. She said she wasn’t hungry. I was alone in the house and I knew she had to eat before 8pm when the night aide arrived. It was a little after 7 and she said, “if we go to the kitchen, will you play cards?” I told her she needed to eat first. And again, she responded by saying she wasn’t hungry.  Then she said that she would come into the kitchen when dinner was ready. Well, dinner was grilled cheese and soup, that doesn’t take long. I told her we had to go now. She finally acquiesced but I felt like I lost the battle.

I don’t like making her do things she doesn’t want to do. I don’t want to give her dinner before playing cards.  But if I don’t have the help in the evening then I start to lose my mind. I need to respect the time that the aide arrives. I hate, more than anything, when aides come and she’s not ready for them.  It makes me feel like I’ve failed at doing my job- making dinner and feeding her before x time. It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Some days it’s not.

I’m helping her shrink.

She used to be the one to feed me.  She would make whatever I asked. There are some eating habits to this day that I have kept because of her. To coerce me to eat cottage cheese, she put M&Ms in it for me.  I still do that. It’s one of the only ways that I’ll actually eat cottage cheese.

Now, I feed her. I make whatever is easiest or whatever we have in the fridge for leftovers.  The extent of her options are when I asked if she wanted her soup in a bowl or a mug. She waits while we decide what to give her.

I’m helping her shrink.

She drums her fingers on the table. She says that she’s pretending to play the piano. I feel like she’s telling me she’s unhappy; that she’s waiting for whatever it is to be over. It drives me nuts. I just want her to stop.

I’m helping her shrink.

She hoards paper goods in her walker basket. I’ve taken the napkins from the kitchen table so she can’t reach them. She used to do the same thing with spoons and we would have to dig through her things so we wouldn’t have to use forks for ice cream. The other day, she put bacon in her basket; leftover from breakfast on a day she thought was Friday.

I’m helping her shrink.

She used to send out cards for every occasion to all of her children, and grandchildren, and even some great-grandchildren. She used to travel to foreign countries and back to her homeland. She used to drive to visit friends and family who lived in many different states. She even would take me to ballet lessons when my parents couldn’t. She used to sew her own clothes.

Now, she sits.

Every day, she sits by the window in the kitchen. Or she sits in her recliner by the television. She used to play hide and seek, take long walks around the neighborhood, and drive.

Now, she waits.

She waits for us to notice her. She waits for us to play with her. She waits for us to give her the newspaper. She waits for us to bring her food.

She sits while we make her coffee the way we think she wants it.

She watches when we go through her things. She sits while we dress her for the day and after an accident. She asks if we wear depends, too.

She waits for family members to call and visit. She forgets who they are.

She croaks when she’s singing along to mass on EWTN. She hums while watching television. She makes herself known.

We’ll be playing cards and she takes too many turns. She plays by her own rules, making it up as she goes because she doesn’t want to admit she’s forgotten how to play. I get frustrated because it’s the same thing over and over again being played by ever-changing rules.

I’m helping her shrink.

She looks at me, trying to place me. She knows I’m someone important but the connections in her brain aren’t working quick enough.

“I’m Elizabeth.” I tell her. “I’ve come home from University.”
“Ohhh, Elizzzabeth,” she says dragging out my name, feeling how it sounds on her tongue.
“Are you married?” she asks, looking up at me.
“No, Mociute, not yet.” I say as I sit down.
After a minute, she asks, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, Mociute.” I respond, shuffling cards and settling in for a long game.
“Oh, that’s okay. You still have time, you’re young.” She smiles.

This conversation is one that happens every time I first see her again when I come back home. By the fourth time this conversation has occurred, I sound emotionless.

I’m helping her shrink.

M is our matriarch. But that means less and less by each passing day.

She’s so small: folding into herself as the years go on. She used to stand tall and I would look up to her. I didn’t used to tower over her. It’s usually a hard thing to accomplish; I’m only 5’3”.

She’s still shrinking.

When I put her to bed, she always tells me to bring her headphones and the TV remote. I tell her, “I know, I know.”

I tuck her in and she says to put the blankets puffed up under her feet. I say it won’t do anything. She’s frustrated that I don’t understand.

Every night, I kiss her cheek and tell her goodnight & I love you. Myliu myliu myliu, she responds. And don’t forget to shut off the light.

I sigh.

Every night, I’m telling her goodbye.

 

Originally posted on Because We’re Storytellers.

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