The texture of love
Sun-cooked car beneath my palms. Pea gravel on my knees. Love, I’ve discovered, has many textures.
Last week, my sister called Mom’s house to tell the caregiver she was on the way to pick them both up. The caregiver said, “Your mom went to bed already.” It was 6 p.m. The coloring books, the grocery store flyers, the scissors had been put away. My mother’s brain no longer compels her to color or snip junk mail for hours on end. When the brain says stop, she stops. Nothing more to do but sleep. When my sister told me this, dead leaves whispered beneath my feet. My heart stuttered. The days grow shorter, the tunnel we walk more narrow.
Mom needs to be kept active, to get some kind of mental stimulation, none of which is the care agency worker’s job. Her job is to cook a meal for Mom, to help her with toileting needs, to help her get up from the couch if she can’t do it herself. Medicaid won’t pay for more than that — and only for two hours per weekday of it, at that. There are people with greater needs, we are told; because my mother is mobile, can walk, can laugh (though less and less) her needs pale by comparison.
I asked the home aide once, “Did they tell you anything about Alzheimer’s patients when you started working here — about what the disease is and what it does?” They hadn’t. Not for aides to know why someone needs help, only that she needs help, and how to help. I got books — Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers, (a mouthful in Spanish: Plan de juego de el Entrenador Broyles para Cuidadores de Personas con la Enfermedad de Alzheimer), and The 36-Hour Day (Cuando el dia tiene 36 horas). Two copies of each, one for the aide, the other for the cousin who helps us with Mom. “Read them,” I said, “so that you will know what I’m talking about when we discuss my mom.” The aide said the books were interesting; my cousin said they made her cry.
Some days, the questions crowd everything else from my mind: Were it not for the hours she spends at daycare where she socializes with more than her family, would my mother’s brain atrophy more quickly? What will happen when we can’t care for her at home? We toured one place, my sister and I, a place that might accept Medicaid. The woman who showed us around was all business; that is, fifteen minutes after we started, she had to move on to someone else’s problem, someone else’s mother. But this is my mother, I wanted to shout at the curves under the dress, at the rose-cremed smile that didn’t reach the eyes — my mother! Still, I understood, reminded as I was of my news days: my camera trained on a man carrying a dead child washed up out of a creek after a storm, on a woman pacing the sidewalk in front of the house where family members were murdered. I could not function if I’d thought of them as my child, my family — mine.
No, mine is the crunch of green fruit that puckers my mouth, the rippled cloth on the table that won’t lay flat under my fingers. I prefer love when its texture is pressed linen, mirrored ocean. Some days, my greatest wish is to feel the slide of ripe apricot against my teeth.
© 2011 Beatriz Terrazas