Saturday was bright and sunny as we went to Mom and Dad’s apartment for the last time. The charity has come and picked up the furniture. Now, we filled up the cart with the last load of bits and pieces, I vacuumed the entire apartment while Mike washed down surfaces. Once I was done, I walked back into their former bedroom and tears softly welled up. They don’t come so suddenly in a rush anymore. Now it’s a gentler flow. We loaded up a cart, gave the poinsettia to one of Mom’s friends, and went downstairs to say goodbye to the friends they made over the past five years. Everyone asks after Dad. I tell them he’s doing the best he can under the circumstances. We promise a visit when my sister-in-law comes back into town and then we’re off to empty the car and fill our house halfway to the ceiling with boxes.
We drop off the keys and access cards the next day after church and after dinner go to visit Dad. He’s in good spirits but very confused. He’s still unclear about Mom, although now when we tell him she’s gone he’s not as surprised, nor as upset. He realizes he’s heard that before and now wants to know the details of their will. Then we skip to Mother again and for a few minutes we go around and around. I pull out a photo album I made of the time a few years ago that he, Mike, and I went for a ride on a B-17. This was the type of plane he was a gunnery sergeant for during World War II. This brings back memories. Both of the war and of that day. The memories are a bit scrambled, but pleasant and gets the conversation off things that worry him. But when we’re done, he’s back to being confused and worried. To the point that he asks about Mom’s husband. But when I point out that would be him, he throws back his head and laughs and says he’s glad I reminded him of that.
And so we’ve transitioned to a new phase of the journey.
It’s 5:30 a.m. and the phone is ringing again. Mike is so exhausted he doesn’t hear this time and I don’t hear his sister stirring, either. This is an answer to prayer because I want them to be able to rest. I get up to take the early morning shift.
I’m not quick enough and the answering machine is getting it, but I’m not concerned. It will ring again and as I reach the bottom of the stairs, it starts. I’m thankful he’s forgotten about the cell phones. Mike’s is in the bedroom and it’s jolted him awake several times already.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Uh, well…uh, is this Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s Donna.”
“Can I talk to Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s 5:30 and he’s in bed. He needs to sleep and I’m not waking him up.”
“Oh. Uh. Well, do you have a minute?”
“Yes, Dad,” and I sit on the stairs. It will be a while.
“I’m completely bewildered. I can’t find Anne.”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“No, Mike’s mother. Anne. Your Anne has died.”
“My mother, Anne?”
“No, Dad. Your wife.” His mother’s name was not Anne.
“How did that happen.”
“Her lungs wore out, Dad.”
“Where was I?”
“You were holding her hand.”
“Here in the house?”
“Yes, Dad, the apartment. You were holding her hand, I was reading the psalms to her, and Mike was stroking her hair.”
“Did she suffer?”
“No, Dad. It was peaceful.”
“Why can’t I remember?”
“Your memory has been bad for a few years, now.” He will accept this from me. He called Mike a liar last night.
“I can’t remember any of this.”
“Is Mother with you?”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“Was there a funeral?”
“No, Dad. It will be Friday.”
“What day is today?”
“What should I do?”
“Go back to bed, Dad.”
“I found a note here. Did something happen?”
“Mom’s gone, Dad.”
“I have to go get her.”
“You can’t, Dad. She’s died. We’ll have a private viewing today. Your daughter came to town yesterday and spent the day with you and we’re going to go see Mom one last time.”
“At 11 o’clock.”
“Will I go?”
“Yes, Dad. We’ll come get you.”
“Has there been a funeral?”
“Has something happened?”
And on it goes for another five minutes or so. Suddenly he’s done and hangs up.
I go to make a cup of coffee and clean up the kitchen a bit.
The phone rings.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.