June 30, 2010

Sweet Surrender

This was an Editor's Pick on Open Salon, June 25, 2010

My mother devours sweets, primarily candy. She loves Necco wafers, M and Ms, Brachs lemon drops, and red Twizzlers.

We have all fed her addiction. Years ago my father served on the State Fair Board, and my parents lived at the Fairgrounds for weeks at a time.

Any Hoosier who has been to the Fairgrounds 38th near the old Tee Pee knows that one of the joys of the State Fair is the plethora of sweet treats.

First and foremost there is the State Fair taffy, available in a rainbow of flavors and colors. Mom and I both are plain Janes, and we like vanilla. Since I live hours away, my brother usually mails me a pound of the sticky stuff each August. I have tested various ways to make it taste like it just came off the giant claws that shaped it -- freezing and re thawing is the best.

During the summers my parents lived there, Mom had license to visit and test all the food booths. The cinnamon roll people expected her at breakfast. Mid-afternoon was the right time for Mom's Lemon Shake-up. Evenings one could go to the Dairy Barn for a real milkshake.

Mom gave me this legacy, which comes with the bonus legacy of rotten teeth. I love my sweets, and generally like the same ones that Mom did when she was younger.

Even though we haven't lived together for 35 years, I am always amazed that we will choose the same dessert or the same afternoon treat.

Today my mother got lost.

She and my father live in a apartment that has several buildings connecting a long-term care complex. This facility is a city within a city, with a bank, beauty shop, exercise facilities, a library, and several dining rooms.

My mother has dementia, and we are losing her -- one memory at a time, one story at a time, one day at a time.

Her life is peaceful and happy, but my father's life as 24/7 caregiver is not. He chooses, for whatever reason, to not get available help, attendant or home health care, or utilize a respite program.

Dad walked Mom to the beauty shop in the basement, a floor below and across the complex from their apartment. She goes every week for her "wash and set" as she has done every Thursday for as long as I can remember, even before they moved from my hometown.

Dad went back to retrieve Mom an hour after he dropped her off.

She wasn't there. The beautician, who should know better, told Dad that she "turned left instead of right."

Dad was livid and frightening and jumped into action. He alerted the staff of the retirement complex, terrified that she had gone out the door, who knows where?

He was frantic and ran through the halls of the basement. After searching for ten minutes, a thought popped into his head.

He backtracked to the little cafe across from the beauty shop, where the vending machines are.

There my mother sat, eating a Rolo bar.

A.M. Abbott copyright 2010