Mean Girl


google images

It felt like high school except this girl isn’t in the A-list clique and no one roots for her bad behavior. Her name is Serena, and she’s a resident at the Actors’ Home in New Jersey. She has a shock of wild frizzy red hair, piercing green eyes and pointy nails.

It was Saturday afternoon, a gorgeous sunny day. Several residents were outside with their aides or family members enjoying the long-awaited sun. Serena stayed indoors.

She held forth, as if she were a fire and brimstone preacher, addressing the group at large or anyone who would listen. Most of the residents were gathered around the nurse’s station in chairs, wheelchairs or standing with walkers.

“You wouldn’t believe it by looking at him, but he came into my room in the middle of the night, stripped, and dumped his dirty diaper on my bed!” she said, pointing to Raymond, who was passing by.

Raymond shook his head and frowned, “No.”

“He looks so innocent, doesn’t he? Well, drop dead!” she said, looking straight at Raymond.

I scanned the other residents’ faces and saw signs of discomfort and alarm.

“She’s mean,” I said to my mom.

“She’s always like this,” she said.

Serena started following Raymond in her wheelchair. “I said, ‘drop dead’! If you died, I’d be celebrating.” She cackled, self-satisfied.

Raymond said, “Don’t say that,” and shuffled away from her, down the hall.

“Hey, nurse,” she said to Rosalinda, “I need someone to change me.”

Rosalinda said, “I’ll call a CNA.”

“But it can’t wait.”

“I’ll tell Ming, she’s with another resident right now,” said Rosalinda.

“Ming’s finished with that resident. I saw her leave the room.”

“She’s still working.”

“What, am I supposed to wait all day? I’m soaking wet!”

“Calm down, Serena.”

“I won’t calm down. I see what’s happening here. She’s trying to avoid me. I don’t miss a trick.”

“Ming will be with you as soon as she can.”

“You wait all day, and no one changes you. I’m lucky if they change me morning and night. It’s appalling.”

The mood around the nurse’s station was growing more agitated—it was palpable. I wished she would shut the hell up. It had been a lovely day up until now.

“Hey, Ming, I need you. You gotta change me now,” Serena said, pointing at her and starting to look pathetic.

Ming came walking out of another resident’s room with a pile of clean disposable diapers.

“Yes, yes, I’m here,” she said with an acid face.

“You’re doing a great job,” I said to her.

“Thank you. She’s always like this. Your mother is good.”

I smiled at her.

“Hurry up, Ming. I can’t wait any longer. I’m soaking wet!”

Maybe there’s some way they can oust this woman. The Alzheimer’s Unit is for the most part peaceful, but this woman is mean. I never saw her in action before, but this was atrocious. It’s got to upset the other residents. I know about negative attention—it’s a game my mom used to play on me all the time before she was diagnosed with Alz. Maybe the only time Serena thinks she gets attention is when she is nasty and raising her voice or misbehaving. I don’t know. But on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, after Mom and I had luxuriated in the garden together under a gentle April sun, I wanted this woman to disappear.

*Pseudonyms are used for all staff and residents.

Where is Bear?

black bear

photo courtesy of Ridgewood Police Dept.

We heard on the news this morning that a baby black bear was on the prowl in Ridgewood–a neighboring town. He was tranquilized and captured today. I’m glad they didn’t hurt him.

Another group of animals were on the loose at my mom’s residence last week. When I spoke to her on Thursday, she said that all three of her stuffed animals had gone missing. I spoke to the night nurse Dottie who scoured her room to no avail. I called Friday morning and spoke to Nell, the morning nurse. Still no luck. Both Dottie and Nell assumed the animals went into the wash.

Nell said, “The aide said the cat was stinky.”

“Yes, it was,” I said.

I agree, Mouse was quite rank, but the others were perfectly hygienic.

The missing animals were: Mouse (a cat), Snoopy (Snoopy) and a teddy bear she calls “Bear.” Fortunately I had purchased 3 additional “Mouses” in case of such an occurrence. Mouse 1 went missing at her first nursing home, never to turn up again. Mouse 2 is the one currently at large. Friday was a busy day: Lorin’s mom was flying in for his dad’s memorial service on Saturday, and we had other errands to attend to. Still, I was determined to bring Mom a new Mouse so that she would not spend the weekend fretting and fussing.


Mouse 1 (photo by E. Herd)

Enter Mouse 3.

When Mom  saw her, she said, “She’s so clean!”

Mom held her in her lap while we drank coffee and ate cookies.

Several minutes later, her aide Angela and Nell stood in the doorway holding “old” Mouse and Snoopy. Angela looked giddy.

I said, “Look mom, it’s Snoopy.”

Mom turned around in her wheelchair and smiled. I thanked Angela and Nell and handed Snoopy to Mom, placing Mouse 2 on her bed so as not to cause greater confusion.

“I missed him so much,” she said, looking at Snoopy. She kept Mouse 3 and Snoopy on her lap for the rest of our visit.

After a while she said, “I wonder where Bear is.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he needed a vacation.” Mom laughed.

Now that there was some semblance of order, it seemed fitting that we continue watching ER–we’re on episode 11 or 12 of season 2.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, two of her favorite characters are Dr. Mark Greene and Dr. John Carter. I asked Mom if she could remember the last name of the character named Mark.

She scrunched up her face, “Mark . . . ”

“It begins with the letter ‘G’.”

I pointed to my green shirt and said, “What color is this?”

No response.

Then I pointed to the leaves of her plant. “What color are these?”

She stared at me. I’m not sure if the question didn’t register, the word “color” or something else. I finally told her the name. Greene.

Then she blurted, “Noel Wyle.”

“Yes, Noah Wyle. That’s the actor who plays John Carter. Let’s write it down.”

I took the index card spiral notebook out of her drawer–the one she used to use for grocery lists, phone numbers, doctors’ appointments and other information. I wrote in block letters, ” JOHN CARTER = NOAH WYLE.” On the next line, I wrote, “MARK GREENE.”

We repeated the names together, “Noah Wyle, John Carter, Mark Greene.”

“I wonder where Bear went,” Mom said.

“I’m sure he’ll be back soon. We’ll keep looking for him.”

*Pseudonyms have been used for staff members at the nursing home.

Who Was Dirty Harry?

mom's room

Mom’s room (photo by me)

Mom and I had our Easter visit on Saturday afternoon. I brought her a card, potted daffodils, a thermos of chai tea and her favorite Choco Leibniz cookies—she calls them “chocolate grahams”—the ones with dark chocolate. Our weekly ritual is sharing tea and cookies, taking “spins” around the floor and watching an episode of ER on the DVD player—it’s her favorite TV show. Sometimes we’ll watch a program on PBS, like the Judy Garland documentary that aired a couple weeks ago. This time it was ER. We’re on season 2, disk 3.

After ER, Mom and I took a spin around the floor.

She said, “Mark . . . who?”

“Mark Greene,” I said. “What about John? What’s his last name?”

“Carter,” she said, proudly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Mark Greene and John Carter are two of the characters..

“You always liked Carter,” I said.

“Yes, he’s so earnest.”

“He’s very good with the patients. He cares about them,” I said.


We continued our journey up and down the halls. The activities director was coloring eggs with the residents in the dining room.

“Do you want to color an egg?” I said.

“No, maybe later,” she said. “Mark . . .”

“Greene,” I said. “John . . .”

“Carter,” she said, with pride.


The last time this happened was after we watched the film The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin when she was still living in her apartment, about four years ago.

She called me twice one day at the office to ask who the British actor in the movie was, and I said, “Anthony Hopkins.”

“Anthony Hopkins, of course. Thank you, dear,” she said, and hung up.

Ten minutes later, she called. “Quick, tell me the name of the actor.”

“Anthony Hopkins. Maybe you should write it down.”

“Good idea,” she said and hung up the phone.

A couple days later, when I was at her apartment, she said, “Who was the actor in that movie?”

“Alec Baldwin.”

“Right, and Anthony Hopkins,” she said.

“I’ll write it down on the napkin under ‘Anthony Hopkins’ so you remember,” I said.

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

“Do you remember the name of the movie, Mom?”

“Yes, of course. The Edge.”

Then she said, “Who was Dirty Harry?”

“Clint Eastwood.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Do you want me to write it down?” I said.

“Yes, might as well, before I forget that too.”

Now the white napkin read in blue ink:

Anthony Hopkins

Alec Baldwin

Clint Eastwood

I guess I should have written “Mark Greene” and “John Carter” on a piece of paper for Mom so she can remember those names too. When I call her tonight, I’ll see if she does.

When I was ready to leave, Mom waited at the elevator with me.  One of the aides had to buzz me out. This is a locked ward, so you can’t board the elevator without the assistance of a staff member. I kissed Mom on the forehead.

“Mark Greene,” she said, scrunching up her face, as if it took all her might.

“Yes, and John Carter.”

“I’ll see you soon, Mom. Happy Easter.”

“Thank you for everything,” she said.

I smiled and took her in once more, the elevator door sliding until her face was no longer in view.

What’s Oncology?

This is a guest post by Sherry (she wishes to use only her first name).

Sherry and her mom

Sherry and her mom Bertie looking at a photo of Bertie and her grandparents when she was 8 years old. Photo taken by Sherry’s brother Rick.

Since January, I’ve been in Austin, taking care of my mom, more than I’ve been home in New York.

It turns out my mother has colon cancer. The good news is, the lesion is slow growing, not causing her pain at present, and not obstructing her bowel. However, it is causing anemia, and this symptom will be the direct cause of her death, probably sometime this spring. We tried the least invasive treatment possible, intravenous iron infusions, to no great effect. She’s 92 and frail, so there is nothing else that could help without triggering a slew of side effects that would cause greater harm, quite possibly far greater harm. 

Therefore the plan is to keep her comfortable. I have engaged hospice services; a team actually comes to her assisted living facility, which means she does not have to leave her home, thank goodness. She is fairly stable for now.

Paradoxically, the Alzheimer’s that has been apparent for about ten years has one silver lining, if you want to call it that: it spares her from concern over her other medical issues. We had a rather amazing series of exchanges in a clinic waiting room during the week of January 19.

My mom Bertie, my brother Rick and I all troop in and sit down. Rick and I had agreed beforehand to shield her from unnecessary worry. We intended to avoid mentioning cancer unless and until we had a definitive diagnosis. So Rick and I are all, “Well, the three of us just happen to be sitting here in this office.”  Then Mother looks up. There, on the opposite wall, emblazoned in metallic letters at least a foot high (this is Texas; everything is way oversized) are the words “TEXAS ONCOLOGY.” With a star. A lone star. Did I mention we are in Texas?

My mom goes, “What’s oncology?” Both her parents, her husband, and her first child were killed by cancer. She knows what oncology is. Furthermore, she was the first of her family to go to college, and graduated with a 4-year degree. In the depths of the Great Depression, I might add. She is one smart, capable lady.

Anyway, my poor brother, taken totally off guard, answers with a verbal smoke screen. In order to spare his dignity, it won’t be repeated here. He follows it up with, “Hey, let’s look at this cool magazine.” Bertie is satisfied for the moment. With the Alzheimer’s, moments are all she has. 

We wait. We meet the oncologist. Tests and treatments are scheduled.

Rick returns to his home and work in Arkansas.

Bertie and I are back in the office. Rather distracted, I sit us down in the same spot. We look up. Oops.

Wall: TEXAS ONCOLOGY (star).

Bertie: What’s oncology?

Sherry: It is the study of cancer in the body.

Bertie: Do I have cancer?

Sherry: I do not know

This was true at that particular point in time; we were waiting for the test; I am not about to start lying to my mother now. Help! what on earth do I say here?!?

Sherry: Would you want to know if you did?

Bertie: (considers for a moment) I don’t believe I would.

Sherry: OK.

More waiting. Tests and treatment follow.

The diagnosis is communicated to me over the phone. I speak with Rick. 

Bertie and I are back for treatment #2. Somewhat more alert, and mindful of my mother’s Tuesday guidelines, I park us facing away from the offending wall. I congratulate myself. 

We wait.

After a few minutes, in walks another patient or family member/caregiver, a long TALL Texan, with a great big chest that would do a linebacker proud. There is a sweatshirt covering that enormous chest, emblazoned with, yes, TEXAS ONCOLOGY.

Bertie: What’s oncology?

Sherry: Hey, let’s look at this cool magazine.

And I’ve been steering the conversation ever since. Actually, she hasn’t even come close to asking about oncology since that day, even when we had to pass that noisy wall three more times during subsequent treatments.

Anyway, she still knows me, and really enjoys my company. We made a scrapbook, look at old family pictures, cackle over cute animal youtube videos on my teensy iPad mini, and sing old songs together COMPLETELY off key. Neither one of us can carry a tune, and neither one of us cares! What a pair.

Meanwhile, I wrangle assisted living services, hospice services, insurance, and forms requesting leave from my job. I wait for the oncologist, the gerontologist, and all and sundry. I watch Bertie like a hawk, and inspect the various caregivers. No one gets near her without my approval. Caregivers clean my mom, her clothes, and her place, and then I clean again. Is this what it’s like to have a child?

I shuttle back and forth between New York and Texas. My heart wants to be here with Bertie and I would just stay, but my sick days are gone and my vacay is almost used up. The leave should start soon, but I worry it won’t be long enough to take care of her the way I want to. 

Each day I try to find the right balance. When I go home to New York, I hire extra caregivers, which works pretty well as Bertie’s dementia has brought her to a place where she likes everything and everybody. I’ve never seen anything like it; but her current state of mind actually seems to be working for her. I fly back to New York this Friday, and experiment with a schedule of working for 4 days, with 3-day weekends in Austin. My heart wants to be here, but my mom would want me to be practical.

It is a bit lonesome down here. My social life is limited to the completely charming young bartenders in my hotel. NOT that I am drinking a heck of a lot, mind you … they know my story and don’t push. Hanging out in the hotel bar is pretty funny for someone who has darkened the doorways of 5? maybe 10? bars in her entire life. Sometimes I speak with random hotel guests. One evening I left my New Yorker wariness up in the room (Texans are friendly; it certainly can be disarming), went down to the bar, ensconced myself in my usual spot (I have a SPOT!!!) and got smooched by a random hotel guest. “Blech,” as Lucy says in Peanuts cartoons.

It is a gift and a privilege to care for my mother at the end of her life. I have no idea what I’m doing or how I am finding the strength. I am making it up as I go along. I am making mistakes. Lots. Making these decisions may be the hardest thing I have ever done. 

Sherry, Rick and mom

Rick, Bertie and Sherry in the garden (photo by Rick)

* * * * *

It may be fairly obvious, but nevertheless, Sherry would like to emphasize that she is not laughing at her mother.  Rather, she is making fun of her own discomfiture and that of her brother. And TEXAS. Definitely lampooning Texas. As a former Texan herself, now transplanted to New York, she is eminently entitled to satirize.  

When she is not commuting to Austin, Sherry works around the corner from Erica, making the world safe for Corporate America.

I Was Waiting for You

meandmom on grass

Mom and me on the grass. 

I called Mom last night, haven’t seen her since last weekend—had to rest my post-op foot the last few days.

It was almost 8 p.m. D, the nurse answered.

D:        Your mom is right here in front of me. (to Mom) Katherine, it’s your daughter.

Me:      Hi, Mom. What were you doing?

Mom:  I was waiting for you.

Those words felt satisfying. Maybe it’s co-dependent, though I’m not a fan of that word. Doesn’t love require us to be co-dependent sometimes, after all?

Me:     Any good movies on today?

Mom:  No, just ads.

Me:     Oh, well maybe they’ll be a good one on later.

Mom:  The snow in the backyard is going away.

Me:     Yeah? I guess it’s about time. Friday is the first day of spring.

Mom:  Really?

Me:     Yes. So we can go outside soon.

Mom:  That would be nice.

Me:     We can go outside in the garden.

Mom:  Yes.

Me:      How are you feeling?

Mom:   Pretty good.

Me:      How is Mouse*?

Mom:   She’s fine, she’s holding her own. (pause) I need some cookies.

Me:      The chocolate grahams?

Mom:   Yes, those are my favorites. (excitement in her voice)

Me:       Anything else you need?

Mom:    No, I don’t think so.

Me:       Okay, Mom. I’ll bring them this week. Have a good night.

Mom:   You too, dear.

Time will stand still till I speak with her or see her again. She seems less and less aware of the passage of time these days. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

*     Mouse is her stuffed animal cat, named after her deceased cat of the same name.

Age and Innocence

Ventura beach

E. Herd (Ventura, CA)

Holding hands in silence
walking out of the elevator
and into the hallway
boy and girl
following the leader
towards the activity room
girl drops boy’s hand
and hides in an alcove

Her absence is missed
she is brought out of hiding, and
walks hand in hand with the leader
it’s time for sand painting
vibrant colors poured on table tops

Girl looks at the sand and smiles–
light in her eyes
like sun shimmering on the ocean
then she looks towards the window.
Does she remember a moment
at the beach?
Is she seeing it now?

Some are in wheelchairs,
Some with walkers,
she sits in her chair
back tall, still smiling.




Mom and the Magical Cat


Matthew Hillier

Mom once had a sweet gray and white cat named Mouse. Mouse had lost a ton of weight, and Mom had become too ill to take care of her, so Lorin and I brought Mouse to the vet. A mass was found on her belly—the vet believed it was cancer–and we opted against surgery, as Mouse was quite old. We thought it kinder to have her put to sleep. That was in March 2011. They kept Mouse frozen in the veterinary hospital morgue until Mom could pay her respects. They cleaned her up and brought her out in a shoe box with a towel wrapped around her.

Mom stroked Mouse and said to the vet, “She’s so clean and healthy-looking. Thank you for taking such good care of her.” I believed she had found closure.

Shortly after Mouse’s passing, I bought Mom a stuffed animal cat at the Hallmark Store. She looked remarkably like the original Mouse. Mom was thrilled with her and placed her on her dining room table. She said, “This is just how Mouse used to lay on the table, and these are her markings.”


Mouse I – photo by E. Herd

(Note: pseudonyms are used for the nurses)

Fast forward to 2015. Mom still has the stuffed animal Mouse, actually Mouse II—the original disappeared at her first nursing home. Mouse II sits on the bed in her room along with Snoopy and a teddy bear, but she doesn’t call her “Mouse” anymore. She calls her “Sheepy” and other names.

The real Mouse is on the loose, a wild thing, like Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Over the past couple months, Mom has asked if I’ve seen Mouse, and said she went missing for days and returned with had a gash in her leg.

One night when I called, Deidre the nurse said, “Who’s Mouse?”

I told her the story of Mouse.

Deidre said, “Okay. One night I found your mom crawling around on the floor in her room calling ‘Mouse, Mouse.’ Now I understand.”

Mom told me last week, “Mouse went away for three days during the blizzard, then she came to the window. I needed tuna for her, but I didn’t have any.”

I said, “Ask the nurse for tuna, she’ll feed her.”

“Okay, I will.”

“She’ll be okay, Mom. She’s gone away before—she’s resourceful.”

This is true. Mouse was an adventurer. When Mom was living on Holland Avenue in the Bronx in the late 90s, Mouse slipped out via the fire escape one Memorial Day and didn’t return till the 4th of July. She was spotted in the courtyard by Mom’s friend and neighbor, Carmen, and brought back home.

When Mom told me she had seen Mouse at the window, I thought of the ghost of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, rattling at the window, haunting her lover Heathcliff. Mom’s happiest memory of the trip to Europe she took with my dad was visiting Brontë country, the Yorkshire moors. She brought back a sprig of heather and placed it under the glass cover of our antique coffee table, which is now in my home.

Mom owned a magnificent illustrated version of Wuthering Heights from the 1940s, which was severely water-damaged when our house flooded after Hurricane Irene. She had inscribed the inside of the book with this passage from Emily Brontë’s poem, “The Old Stoic,”

In life and death a chainless soul, with courage to endure.

When I visited Mom yesterday, James, another nurse. told me about Selena, a resident who makes sounds like a cat.

He said, “When Selena makes the cat sounds, your mom turns around and asks for Mouse. I tell her, ‘I’m giving her some tuna,’ and all is well.”

And so it goes. The circle of life continues. Mouse’s intrepid spirit endures.


Say Something

Fourteen year old child protégé Jackie Evancho and Cheyenne Jackson are singing “Say Something”  on PBS, a taping of the concert “Awakening” at Longwood Gardens.

Say something, I’m giving up on you
I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

Now she’s singing “Open Fields of Grace,” the voice of an angel. The music transports me. Transported is where I want to stay.

Tired of the usual, the mundane. Take me to that fantasy garden on stage where she sings “Take Me There.” That’s where I want to be.

I just returned from a visit with mom, cut short by her unkindness. I will no longer stay when she is abusive and unkind.

The visit started out okay. We drank chai tea and ate Choco Leibniz cookies, her favorites. We took a spin around the floor.

Gina was shrieking in the dining room, “Leave her alone! Get out of here.”

James, one of the nurses, said, “She does this morning, noon and night. Our hands are tied,” and he motioned with his hands.

“I know, nothing you can do,” I said, as Mom and I wheeled by.

Ronald wheeled by, eating a chocolate frosted donut with sprinkles. She said, “I don’t like him. He’s an old fart.”

As I listen to Jackie Evancho, I think of how Mom and I used to sing together. She had the voice of an angel. Where did that Mom go? I miss her.

“Do you want to go to the concert upstairs?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. Why didn’t I listen?

“Come on, Mom. We’ll only stay a little while.”

“Whatever you say,” she said.

Jackie is singing Bono’s “With or Without You,” the most heartfelt version I’ve ever heard. She smiles after each song, and says, “Thank you.”

She’s being interviewed and asked what she thinks her purpose is, and she says, with all the bad things happening in the world, she thinks it’s to make people happy and give them a release. She’s so unaffected, respectful and humble. How refreshing.

Mom and I arrive at the concert in the Music Cares Salon. “Do you want to go in?” I say.

“No,” she says, a scowl in her voice. “I want to watch ER.”

“Okay,” and we head back upstairs and return to her room.

Raymond enters her room. “I can’t make it in,” he says.

Mom is blocking him with her wheelchair. “Don’t let him in, he’s been bad.”

“Okay. Raymond, do you want a cookie?” I say.

“Yes,” he says, and I hand him one. He nibbles the chocolate off the edges of the cookie greedily.

“He’s been bad. He soiled himself and smeared it all over someone else’s room,” Mom said.


Jackie is singing Ave Maria. I’m tearing up.

“I don’t want him in here.” She turns around and sees him.

“Raymond, she wants you to go out. I’m sorry,” I say to him.

He shuffles to the door, confused, cookie in hand.

I feel bad for him. Mom used to say how much she liked him.

“I’m all alone,” Mom says. “Nobody cares about me.”

“I’m here, Mom.”

“You’re never here.”

“I can only come on the weekend. I have a full-time job.”

“Why do you have to work full-time? I give you money from my social security check and food stamps.” She is getting angry.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I give you money every month.”

“No you don’t.” I have forgotten the Alzheimer’s rule: always say “yes, and,” as I learned in my improv training. I’m angry now.

“You’re all alone, you don’t need that money.”

“Whatever you say, Mom.”

“You have no idea what it’s like.” She is glaring at me.

“Okay, Mom. You obviously don’t want me here.” I pack up my stuff.

“Go ahead. You don’t want to be here anyway.”

“Whatever you say, Mom,” I say, as I head to the door. She doesn’t turn to look at me.

I tell James, “She’s being a real bitch, so I’m leaving.”

He nods and says, “Your mom’s been very combative in the morning. She doesn’t want to get dressed or out of bed. She fights and curses at the aides.”

“What can I do?”

“The doctor’s thinking of giving her something to calm her down in the morning.”

“Okay, let me know what I can do.”

“Have a good night,” I say.

“You too,” he says, smiling kindly.

Jackie twirls in her gorgeous white gown with pink vines climbing up and down it, raising her arms, bowing graciously as the audience applauds. Big smile on her sweet, bright face.

Death Is Not Sexy

The Super Bowl is sexy. Well, at least the Victoria’s Secret commercials and some of the halftime entertainment are, from what I’ve heard. I don’t watch it (sorry), so I don’t know. Death is not sexy.

I haven’t seen my mom in a couple weeks due to the death of my father-in-law and being sick myself, but I spoke to her last night at around 8 p.m. She was in a state.

I don’t like it when she’s in “a state.” Most of the time she seems fairly serene, even content and happy. On other occasions, she is lucid and questions her life and how she’s living.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Not well,” she said, a faint moan in her voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything. I can’t get anything done. What will become of me?”

“What happened, Mom?”

“I can’t get ready for bed. What kind of life is this? I’d rather be dead.”

“I’m sorry you’re upset, Mom.”

“What’s going to happen to me? I can’t do anything, can’t go anywhere.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

I had no words of wisdom to impart. I agreed with everything she said. What kind of life was this?

“What about the grahams?” she said.

“I’m bringing you the cookies this weekend.”

“Are you sure? Are you really coming?”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

“It’s been such a long time.”

“Lorin’s father died, then I was very sick last weekend. I didn’t want to get you sick.”

“Oh, right. But you will come this weekend?” Pain in her voice.

“Yes, I promise. I’m sorry you feel so bad. Is there anything good on 13?”

“No, nothing but junk—ads.”

“Oh. There’s still snow on the ground. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes, I always like that.”

“It’s going to snow tonight into tomorrow morning, they said.”

“Oh, that’ll be good.”

She loved shoveling snow when we lived in Jackson Heights. I have a photo of her shoveling on the stoop, cheeks flushed and smiling.

“Okay, Mom. Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you in a couple days.”

“Okay, good night, dear.”

She still sounded awful. I didn’t provide any comfort and felt utterly helpless and sad.

She lives at The Actors Home in the Enhanced (Alzheimer’s) Unit, with fellow performing artists. It’s the best place she could possibly be. But I don’t like bearing witness to her pain and suffering.

Jeffory Morshead wrote a bestselling book called Alzheimer’s: The Long Goodbye (The Emotional Aspects of Caregiving). That is what it is: a long death, not a speedy, graceful one. There are different qualities of “good nights” and goodbyes. Last night was not a good one.

Momma glamour shot
Mom as a young actress (photo by Joe Ratke)

The Ice Storm

fog and trees

Thomas E Bush IV

Yesterday was not a day to be out of doors. Ruby, our red Pathfinder, was covered in a sheet of ice, icicles hanging like fringe from the side mirrors and the bottom of the doors—not the surrey with the fringe on top. We had to venture forth. Ruby saved me during a car accident almost 4 years to the day; she would come through for us today.

We were out of salt, so Lorin scattered kitty litter on the front steps and walkway before we left. It does the trick, but it’s a bitch to clean up later.

It took about two hours to drive from New Jersey to the Bronx—there was an accident on the Bruckner Interchange. We headed to the Whitestone, onto the Cross Island Parkway, then onto the LIE. It took another hour to reach Long Island with the brakes acting up, Lorin pumping them to try to unfreeze the brake pads. It took a while to come to a full stop on icy roads. It was a white knuckler of a ride.

When I allowed myself not to be afraid, I took in the sky: thick and white, only the outlines of trees visible. Hauntingly beautiful and composed.

Cold, snow, ice and loss have mixed together into a kind of cosmic blender. A gentle snow fell the night of my accident in 2011, the first time I diapered my mother, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Another January has come, and Lorin’s father has passed away after a heart attack from which he never awoke. Lorin, his dad’s girlfriend B and I were at the hospital on and off for nine days. The palliative team at Bellevue Hospital kept him very comfortable, and he died peacefully. A good death, you could say.

We gathered on Long Island with family for bagels and coffee, to look at photographs, to reminisce and make plans for a memorial, most likely in the spring.

“Dad liked nature,” Lorin said. He would have liked to see the flowers in bloom.

Out of the ice and into the bloom.

He sang in the choir at his Lutheran church. They laid his robe over his chair during the church service yesterday.

We drove his girlfriend B back to Brooklyn, Lorin still pumping brakes, no ice falling, but heavy rain.

When Lorin lit up a cigarette, B said, “That reminds me of your father.”

“How many did he smoke a day?” I asked.

“Only 2 or 3. I’ll miss him when I’m at home,” she said.

It was a little easier driving home, but still scary at times. At times we stopped breathing, I think.

This morning, I scraped off the cemented-on kitty litter on the stairs and walkway with a shovel, disposing of as much as I could; some was frozen under a layer of ice. Later on, Lorin hosed off more of the litter and put down liquid blue Ice Melt. We dropped Ruby off at the mechanic.

A London Broil’s in the slow cooker, listening to the new age music channel, Soundscapes.

No ice storm in the forecast. We welcome the mundane.