When my brother told me our mom could have a designated emotional support person, all I could picture was a fluffy service dog wearing a bright orange vest.
At the end of February, the governor allowed for one individual to be able to visit their loved ones in assisted living facilities. While my brother takes care of Mom’s finances and doctor’s appointments, I attend to her personal needs. In other words, I’m her toilet paper, toothpaste, soap and lotion gal.
Since Mom could only have one ESP, it made sense for that person to be me. Plus, I look better in orange.
Actually, I was relieved to learn I wouldn’t have to wear the vest or remain on a leash. All that was required was the completion of a fair amount of paperwork, and an introduction to the automated sign-in process. At every visit I fill out a health questionnaire and take my temperature. Surgical masks are required at all times, even though Mom is fully vaccinated.
Small price to pay to be able to see my mother again.
On Feb. 24, I walked through the doors of my mother’s apartment for the first time in a year.
“Surprise!” I said. “Do you recognize me with this surgical mask?”
She laughed and reached for me.
“Of course, I do!” she said. “You’re my baby girl!”
And then we cried because that’s what we do when we’re happy.
“I’m your ESP,” I explained.
She shook her head.
“Now, honey, you know we don’t believe in things like that.”
“Well, believe it or not I’m going to come see you every week,” I said.
Then I got busy checking her cupboards to see what she needed. Alzheimer’s has decimated Mom’s short term memory. As she likes to put it, “My short term memory is – very short!”
This made it difficult to discern what personal supplies she needed via phone calls. For a while she would try to go through her cupboards while I was on the phone with her, but that worsened her anxiety.
For months I’ve had to guess how much toilet paper she had, or if she was out of deodorant. That caused me anxiety. However, I was relieved to find I’d done a pretty good job guesstimating.
I was wrong about her candy stash, though. Every week she’d tell me she was out, but I assumed she’d forgotten some still in the cupboard. Nope. Mom’s sweet tooth is impressive.
As I sorted, tidied and organized, I paused in front of her wall calendar. It was still on March 2020. The world stopped for a lot of us that month, but not as completely as it did for our elders in assisted-living facilities.
Gratefully, I hung her new calendar.
I wanted to take a picture of us, so I fetched Mom’s hairbrush.
“My goodness!” I said. “Your brush is missing a lot of bristles.”
“Yeah, it’s losing teeth as fast as I am.”
I brushed her hair, and told her I’d bring her a new one. Then I dabbed a touch of lipstick on her and snapped a few photos.
“How come you’re taller than me now?” she asked. “I was always taller than you.”
I assured her the only growth spurt I’d had was COVID-19 pounds.
“Must be gravity.”
The next week I showed up with the biggest size bag of her favorite Wintergreen Life Savers I could find.
“Oh, my goodness! I’m going to have fresh breath until I die!” Mom said.
I pointed out I bought her the party-size bag, and she said, “Honey, if they find out we’re partying they aren’t going to let you come see me anymore!”
But they will, and now that we’re in Phase 3 she can have additional visitors, not just her designated emotional support person.
I unwrapped her new hairbrush and slid it through her silver hair while she reminisced about babysitting my boys when they were little.
She caught my hand and held it to her cheek.
“I’m glad you didn’t forget me,” she said.
It doesn’t take ESP to understand how precious these visits are for both of us.