After weeks of being quarantined in her apartment, I have to coax my mother out of the building to take a walk. It’s funny to me that after two weeks of listening to her complain about being, “cooped up” and “in jail” she is so reluctant to come out. I don’t bring this up because she can’t remember two weeks ago. She can’t even remember two hours ago.
I wait outside for her because I’m not allowed to come in. COVID restrictions. She eats three meals a day brought to her room and the only movement she does is from her recliner to her bedroom or to her bathroom. She has gotten very fat. Finally she comes waddling out.
She used to walk around the building several times but because she is so out of shape now and unsteady on her feet she does not go out by herself. She is afraid to go “too far.” I have to convince her that the walk down to Green Lake is the same distance as walking around the building. I know we are supposed to be six feet apart but she cannot walk without holding on to my arm. So I give her my arm and we set off.
I take deep breathes because I have deadlines and due dates rising up and staring me in the face. And here we are walking Toddler Speed. But unlike a toddler who points out dogs and ducks and birds, my mom sees nothing and says nothing. I’m the one who says, “Oh, look at the trees—what color! Have you ever seen the lake so still? Those geese are enormous!”
It’s not that she can’t see or talk, it’s more like she has no enthusiasm for life. Her doctor told me that the social isolation has been devastating for the elderly, especially those with dementia. For sure her dementia has gotten worse since March.
We are walking so slowly that it’s painful to me. I look at my watch. We are not even to the coffee stand yet—one-hundred feet! More deep breathes. Finally we get close enough for me to say, “Mom, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“That would be nice.” She plops down a bench and I run to the little coffee bar.
They allow in only two people at a time. I wait outside. The couple inside are debating about whether they want a latte or just drip coffee. A tall or a venti? I am wearing an analog watch and I swear I can hear it ticking.
I finally get two small drip coffees and bring them back to Mom. She thanks me and then we sit. I point out the colors and the stillness of the water. Because she is a painter, I used to say, “Wouldn’t you love to paint that?” But then it became clear that the question just upset her because she knows she will never paint again. She can’t remember how to mix the colors.
So instead I talk about the coots, mallards, Canada geese and strings of adorable pre-schoolers toddling by. She says nothing. Finally she asks, “What are those shiny pants women wear? You can see every bulge and crack. They’re horrible!” I explain about leggings and she just shakes her head.
We sip our coffee in silence. Everything she does is in slow motion and I find myself jiggling my leg impatiently. I force myself not to look at my watch. Then amid the ducks quacking and kids laughing I hear a voice from deep inside me. You will never regret this time.
I know the truth of this so deeply that I gasp. She looks over at me and I cough and say, “Went down the wrong pipe.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and absorb as much of her “momness” as I can. We sit for a while longer until she declares she is done with her coffee. She gives me her cup which is still half-full and I throw it away. She takes my arm and we walk back at Mom Speed—the speed of a tear.