‘Mom, do you know my name?’

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By Janice Elizabeth Berte

Margaret Correa with her daughter Janice Elizabeth Berte in Boston, 1993
Photo/ Janice Elizabeth Berte

It all started out so innocently when I visited my mother years ago, and I would notice that asking her basic questions was becoming increasingly difficult for her to answer. A few times I got scared, and decided that a doctor’s visit was in order. At the hospital, I dreaded the “D” word which came out of the doctor’s mouth – “She has the start of dementia.” Luckily for years, she didn’t have major issues until her seventies. We would go to the mall and she would get lost quite easily which resulted in me having to walk arm and arm with her.

Presently, she is in her mid-eighties living in an Alzheimer’s unit. This particular weekend when I visited her was one that lying in bed seemed a better choice than dealing with life’s realities. The rain was never ending yet I yearned to visit my mother, but felt deep pains in my heart knowing it was going to be a jarring visit. Normally, our get together would have been a typical one with flowers in tow and new pajamas, but her health has changed and it is now at a high level of this dreaded disease. I prayed before I left my house hoping that when I arrived she would be okay, and no news would have to be told to me as I entered into the nurses’ station. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Once there, the scatter of nurses walking around checking their patients, cleaning staff mopping floors and doctors’ were viewing their charts made my visit seem so normal. However, I knew that this condition was not normal by any means, and there was no cure for it.

As I approached the nurses’ station, I asked for my mother’s nurse and said my name. The nurse mentioned that my mother wasn’t eating, and the disease had caused her brain to lose the connection to eat. The facility used CBD (Cannabidiol – it is the second most active ingredient of cannabis (medical marijuana), and is derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. These CBD drops were placed under her tongue to activate her appetite, but that didn’t work and I felt uncomfortable with that approach anyway.

In my mother’s warm and sterile room there was a scattering of stuffed animals, dolls and cards lying on the window pane. My mother is now at a point where she finds great comfort in holding and talking to a baby doll. This interaction between the doll and my mother brings calmness and peace for her. At first, it was alarming to see my mother chatting to a doll, but this made perfect sense when the behavior was explained to me by her nurse.

As I carefully sat on my mom’s bed, I greeted her with a hello, and gently kissed her forehead. She didn’t respond, but looked at me with her sunken in eyes and frail body. I then asked her if she knew my name, and she shook her head, “No.” My heart was racing, and I suddenly cried so vehemently, and quietly she said, “Don’t cry.” I tried to wipe my tears immediately, but the tears kept flowing and flowing.

Once my crying jag was ending, my mother would talk about how she missed me and that I lived on Main Street. I do not live on Main Street, and I’m not sure she was speaking about me, but the sentiment was beautiful just the same.

As the hours went by in the morning, I needed to finish my day with errands, but dreaded leaving the facility. All of the nurses and doctors said to me that my mother could pass this weekend or could go on for another year. The notion of not knowing her fate keeps me frantic every day, and fills me with great anxiety. Every phone call I receive is nerve racking and I loathe the sound of any phone ringing.

For now, I choose to look at this old picture of her and me going on a boat cruise in Boston. My mother loved the water, and she looked so beautiful and happy. I pray each and every day that God gives me the strength to look at her without crying, and cherish the little time we have together.