76: The Man in My Mother’s Room

76: The Man in My Mother’s Room

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

The Man in My Mother’s Room

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

~Chinese Proverb

The desk has been shoved into a corner, its chair removed. The regular bed no longer reigns in the middle of the room, but has been reduced to a less important position closer to the window, a hospital bed serving as its companion. A recliner with giant arms competes for space. This piece, designed half as a sleeper and half as an ejector seat to help propel its occupant forward, is covered with sheets and a blanket.

The recliner plays a central role in the new dynamic here, alerting visitors to the troubles within these walls.

My mom is resting in it as I enter the room. Her eyes are closed, and she seems neither awake nor quite asleep. It is a condition that has become all too familiar. This room, this state of half being, is the place she inhabits with increasing frequency.

“Madam, your son Rob is here.” My mom half opens her eyes.

“Rob?”

“Robert. I’m right here, Mom.” I put my hand in hers and squeeze. She is surprisingly warm, and she squeezes back with a strength that acknowledges not only my presence, but also the depth of her feelings for me.

I try to talk with her, to keep her awake. It is only 5 p.m., but this has become her new bedtime. She has exchanged night for day, and sleep now comes at all the wrong hours. One of my roles is to keep her up just a bit longer, as we try to reset her clock, little by little.

I chronicle my day, and then a few seconds later I do it again. I make the smallest of small talk, trying anything that will keep her mind occupied. It is often a losing battle, and she drifts away.

In the background, there is the unmistakable voice of the 1940s. The boy from Hoboken is crooning in those gentle soothing tones, telling stories of love and tenderness. Suddenly, my mom raises an arm, acting as conductor to the band accompanying Sinatra. Then she begins to sing, in a clear voice. She recalls perfectly each syllable, each note. After several minutes, she grows quiet.

“Mom, did you ever see Sinatra perform?”

“Oh yes,” she says. She is now more fully awake.

“It was really quite a few years ago.” For a person who has lost any concept of her age, or where events occurred on a time line, this is an aberration.

“Do you remember who went with you to hear him? Where was it?” I know when her eyes move up and to the corner that she is searching her memory bank for clues. She tries to recall specifics but they’re gone.

She begins to sing again, and I accompany her. I remember some of the words from the days I stood next to my dad, at the piano, reading over his shoulder as he played Sinatra in our living room. I squeeze my mom’s hand to tell her how nice this is, and she reciprocates.

In a bit, she is silent. But I can sense how much she is enjoying the music. She conducts again in perfect rhythm. I stop trying to intercede and just let her have this time to herself, with Frank.

There is a man in my mom’s bedroom, filling her mind and giving her comfort. She and Sinatra are in harmony. She is happy. And so am I.

~Robert S. Nussbaum

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