“I’m not the confused one. It’s you!” my mother shouts at me indignantly. How often have I heard those words from her in the last few years? Too many to count.
These days most conversations with my elderly mother remind me of the famous Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Whose On First? comedy routine of the 1930s. That skit, funny though it is, used to drive me crazy every time I heard it. And now my mother and I are reluctant actors locked in our own daily skits of confusion.
“Mom, didn’t you say you wanted to watch the noon news?”
“Oh, that’s right. I did say that, didn’t I. What time is it now?”
“It’s ten minutes till noon, mom.”
“Okay,” she says, as she continues to dust her beloved collection of porcelain birds and flowers.
My thumb hovers over the on button of the remote, but I wait for cues from mom, as I’ve learned the hard way that the babble of the TV and her doing another task can be an explosive mixture. But she’s forgotten her lines again, and finally I’m forced to take center stage.
“Should I turn on the TV for you now, mom?”
“I don’t know. Why would you do that?”
“Remember you said you wanted to watch the noon news?”
“Did I say that? Well, what time it is now?”
“It’s five minutes till noon, mom.”
“Oh. Well, why don’t you wait.” She smiles and goes back to shifting the dust molecules from one location to another.
The silence that soothes my mother in her limited world is only broken by the deep tick-tock tick-tock of the grandfather clock in the corner. To me that sound is magnified and swells to fill the room as those five minutes till noon drain away. Can’t she hear it? Doesn’t it push little darts into her soul with each stroke? Apparently not, as forenoon becomes afternoon in a chimeless moment. Time to take the lead again.
“Mom, it’s time for the noon news,” I say firmly. “Would you like me to turn on the TV?”
“What time is it now?”
“Um, it’s actually three minutes after noon.”
“Well, what’s wrong with you? You know I like to watch the news. Why didn’t you turn it on already?”
“You told me to wait, mom.”
“I did not tell you to wait! Why would I do that?”
I sigh. She was not an easy woman to get along with before the Alzheimer's, and things have not improved.
“I’m sorry, mom. Let me turn it on for you now.”
She plops into her well-worn Lazy Boy as the perfect features of her favorite female newscaster pop into view. Mom gives me a smug look. “You think I’m confused, don’t you? Well, I’m not the one who can’t seem to tell time anymore, dear, it’s you.”
In my mind I raise a glass in silent tribute to Bud and Lou. . . who is on first?
Recommended resource: Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s by Joanne Koenig Coste
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