NEEDED by B. Lynn Goodwin
“When are you planning on going to the grocery store?” my mother asked after our trip to the hairdresser followed by a late lunch at Emil Villa’s. I’d taken her back to her condo, helped her open her mail, and I thought my day was over.
“I’ll go right now.”
“Don’t go now. You don’t have time.” I did though, and we both knew it. I hated being reminded that I had no life.
“When would you like me to go, Missus?” I asked with all the patience I could muster. She was Missus and I was Person, names that kept us unique and reminded us that we loved each other, even in trying times.
“I don’t care. Go tomorrow or the next day or whenever you want to.”
We did this dance every day. She needed help; I needed space. She feared I would abandon her, while I feared that her blood pressure would soar, causing another stroke.
It would be four years before I knew that Alzheimer’s was eating her brain, robbing her of logical thought, and returning her to the emotional dependence of a child. I had no idea I was engaged in a psychological battle with a woman who was losing her ability to think logically. I put on my patient face and said, “I’ve got time and I want to go now. What would you like me to bring?”
She looked up with vacant, pleading eyes. Four years later I would call them Alzheimer eyes. “Can we look at the list?”
She’d spent all one afternoon sitting at a wobbly card table typing the list, letter by letter, then going back and XXXing out her mistakes. I offered to type on either her typewriter or my computer while she dictated, but she said, “I have to do something for myself.” Watching her struggle with the scraps of memory lurking in her brain made me want to scream. I dug my fingernails into my crossed arms until little red half-moons dotted my elbows.
I found the typed grocery list in a stack of old Saks catalogues, but nothing appealed so I breathed deeply and said, “Why don’t I see what’s in the freezer?”
In my best Vanna White imitation, I pulled out each item, turned, showed it, and called out its name. If I read the names while I looked in the freezer, she couldn’t hear me. Besides my Vanna poses were entertaining, and I loved her approval, though at 48 I should have been far too old to care.
Crisp fall air filled my lungs as I scurried to my car. I never realized how stale the air in her kitchen was until I escaped to the real world. I looked up at the bare spots already showing on the trees. I didn’t know yet that Alzheimer’s speckled her brain with holes in exactly the same way as fallen leaves made holes in the trees. I only wondered if this was the last year she would see the leaves turn.
If I had known about her disease, maybe I could have stopped trying to be the perfect daughter. Maybe I could have loved her for needing me instead of craving her approval. Maybe I could have recognized that I was an adult daughter, doing what needed to be done.
When I came back from the store, she thanked me profusely. “I don’t know what I would do without you, Person.”
B. Lynn Goodwin is a freelance writer, editor, teacher, former caregiver, and the author of You Want Me To Do What? – Journaling for Caregivers. She is published in numerous anthologies, e-zines, magazines, and blogs. She facilitates journaling workshops for caregivers and publishes Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com. A longer version of this piece was originally published in Voices of Caregivers.