I’m in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, visiting Mom in the Mennonite Nursing Home.
My mother is 95, eight years a widow. She’s frail and in a wheelchair. Her memory and cognitive skills are greatly diminished. Conversation with her is difficult.
I brought along letters she and Dad wrote us in the early 1990s from Vienna, Austria, while they served informally in a Viennese church, thinking my reading them aloud would be a good thing for us to do together today. She listened intently, almost too intently; she was straining over them. Nothing in them connected. Even the fact that she authored most of the letters eluded her.
Tomorrow we’ll try something else, I think, maybe colouring together, or playing some simple Scrabble.
My experiences with my parents’ aging (and Dad’s death) add an emotional layer of complexity to the business of aging for me. I have much to say about that. But for now I’m in Rosthern with my mother and today in the dining room she took my hand and announced to her table mates, “This is my daughter,” reminding me that when I’m with her, I’m daughter-young. And then I feel my competence and my large stockpile of memory.
“You feel lonely,” she said.
But I had a good laugh with her when she asked me, “When should I put you to bed?” I suspect she was wondering when staff would come assist for her nap, but in the moment of her “word salad” sentence, I was her little girl, her little Dorchen, as she called me in the days of putting me to bed.
I told her I was writing about aging and wondered if she had some advice. What would she say, I coaxed, about being old. That earnest, baffled expression in response, then, “You feel lonely,” she said. “You miss the parties [people] that are gone.”