Her New Happy

A substitute hospice nurse came today, and shared some wisdom that I am pondering. She was kind and wonderful, as all the hospice people seem to be. I think it’s in their contract. Or their DNA, or something.

Anyway, after Christy checked Mama’s vitals, and took care of a toenail concern, she asked how things were going and if she could do anything else to help.

And I sat there, feeding Mama the rest of her lunch. Mama had settled down again after some howling while her toe was being cared for. And I wondered what else the nurse could do to help.

I said, “I wish I could do something to make Mama happy again. She used to smile and laugh. I used to be able to do things to give her moments of joy. And now she’s either yelling and upset, or she’s quiet and blank looking. The best we get is a small closed-mouth smile once in awhile. Nothing I try seems to make a difference as far as making her happy.”

And I realized again what a helpless feeling that is. And I wondered again why I hadn’t done more when I could have given her pleasure just by being with her. Why didn’t I take her on more outings when she could still get in the car and enjoy that? Why didn’t I spend more hours talking to her and singing with her and filling her up so she was overflowing with love and joy when I could? Why didn’t I do more when what I did still made a difference to her?

I ask my husband this sometimes. And he answers, “Because you have your own family and husband and children, too.” And he reassures me that I spent lots of time with Mama. And maybe I did. But of course the “I could haves and I should haves” taunt me now.

And now nothing I do seems to impact Mama positively. I can still make her holler and protest, by changing her or moving her or doing anything with her she doesn’t want to do at that moment. But I don’t know how to add one iota of happiness to her life anymore. I don’t know how to give her pleasure. Nothing I do brings a smile.

I explained some of this to the nurse. And then she said something that I’m still thinking about.

She said, “Alzheimer’s eventually destroys the part of the brain that allows people to smile and laugh. So you need to know that quiet and calm means happy.”

She added, “It took me a few years to learn this. But look at your mom now. She is content. She is peaceful. This is her new happy.”

I sat and looked at Mama. She had finished her whole lunch. She was resting comfortably in her recliner. No one was taking her vitals or washing her toe anymore. She let me hold her hand as she relaxed under her colorful blanket. Dad had just reminded her, a few minutes earlier, “I’m here, Nina. I’m right here.”

Her face still looked emotionless. But maybe she was content. Maybe this was her new happy.

I stopped at Mama’s rose bush on my way home. I’d already brought Mama a rose, but when I held it for her to smell she thought she was supposed to eat it. I’d left it there in some water near her, in hopes that the scent of it might waft over and give her some pleasure.

But I looked at the roses again now. Because I wanted something for myself. The blooms were all overly opened and falling apart already. I couldn’t find any that looked just right. So, I finally picked a bud, gingerly so the thorns wouldn’t prick. I took it home and put it in a cup.

It hasn’t opened up big and beautiful. It’s tiny and humble. But it smells sweet. And something about having Mama’s rose here on my desk makes me happy.

In a quiet, peaceful way.

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