24: I Yelled at You Today

24: I Yelled at You Today

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

I Yelled at You Today

Patience is also a form of action.

~Auguste Rodin

I yelled at you today. I had gone to the kitchen to start dinner. What was I, twelve feet away? And you called out, “Where are you, where are you?”

“I’m right here in the kitchen,” I answered angrily.

“Oh,” you replied with a sigh of relief.

I yelled at you today. This time I was in the bathroom.

“Where’d ya go? Pat? Pat?”

You called my name over and over.

“I’m in the bathroom,” I shouted at the top of my voice, knowing full well you couldn’t hear me, certain the neighbors could.

I yelled at you today. You poured apple juice on top of your pasta. God, what a mess.

I yelled at you today. You spit out your medicine. You’d never done that before.

I yelled at you today. You could see our car from the living room window and kept hinting for a ride. When I tried to explain that we had already been out, you looked at me as if I were trying to trick you. I hate it when you think I’m lying to you. Even though I know you can’t help it, I hate it.

I yelled at you today. I had just finished dressing you for day care and left to answer the phone. When I got back, you had your nightgown back on and were wearing my oversized walking shoes. If that wasn’t enough, when we were finally ready, as I zipped up your coat, you announced, “I have to pee.”

At last, we were almost out the door. I put your favorite red hat on you. As I pulled it down over your ears, you smiled. “Thank you, Mama,” you said and then instantly realized your mistake. You covered your mouth with your hand, your eyes wide with surprise. “That’s what’s happening, isn’t it?” you asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “And it’s okay, it’s okay,” I repeated, trying to reassure us both.

But if it’s okay, why can’t I simply take the time to tell you I’m leaving the room and I’ll be right back? Why yell when you make a mess at mealtime? I have to clean it up anyway. There are times when I can hardly get my own vitamins down; why do I always expect you to be able to swallow yours?

Tonight, as I tucked you in bed, we sang your favorite lullabies together. I think you enjoy this part of the day best. “I love you,” I said and kissed you good night.

“I love you, too. How is it we’re together?” you asked.

“Well, to begin with, you’re my mother.”

“Oh,” you said, surprised. “Isn’t that lovely?”

“It depends on how you look at it,” I said, and you laughed. I thanked God you still had a sense of humor. “I’m sorry I yelled at you today,” I apologized.

“You did?” you asked. But tonight that confused look was missing; instinctively I could tell you did remember.

“So, you’re letting me off the hook,” I said with relief. You reached up and moved the hair from my forehead.

“It’s okay, honey, it’s hard.” And then you took the corner of your top sheet and wiped the tears from my eyes.

• • •

I didn’t yell at you today. In fact, I haven’t yelled at you all week. I’m finally taking the doctors’ advice and the advice of family and friends. We won’t be living together anymore. The guilt and grief is so overwhelming. I can hardly think straight. I’m tired, Mom, so very tired. After our ritual of nightly lullabies, I laid my head on your chest and sobbed like a baby. You cradled me in your arms and I knew you understood. Instantly, I began missing you more than I thought possible.

I visit you almost every day. Sometimes you remember my name, sometimes you don’t. But you’re always excited to see me. Today as I approached the dining room, your eyes were wandering, allowing me to sneak in and sit across the table from you. I waited for you to notice my presence. When you finally did, you smiled and asked, “Say, aren’t you important to me?”

I got up from my chair and walked over to you. “I sure hope so,” I said. After kissing you on top of your head, I added, “Because, God knows, you’re important to me.”

• • •

A year has passed; you’ve become weak and bedridden. Time for you is only a matter of days. The waiting is difficult. My two sisters and I are with you day and night. Today your favorite aides wait with us. I hold your hand and for the last time sing your favorite lullabies. “I’ll be all right,” I promise. “You can go now.”

Your eyes close. Within minutes your breathing stops. The head nurse listens for a heartbeat. There is none. One of the aides walks over to the window. “We must free her spirit,” she tells us, and, as is custom, opens it. Goodbye, Mom.

During our last few years together, I learned so much about you, so much about myself. Thank you, Mom, it was a pleasure. And an honor.

~Pat Tomlinson

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