After the Fall


Year Ten


Hi Deirdre

So I am sorry to say that there have been at least 20 incident reports on your mom since she moved in.   She continues to get up on her own and keeps falling.

Also, now she is getting aggressive.  I’m so sorry that this is what happens in so many cases when they have dementia and they reach another stage of the disease and they don’t remember that they could fall, but most often do.

It’s hard to believe that she is recovering from a hip replacement and has fallen already so much. Found in the closet, by the bed, and in the bathroom.  

In a Skilled Nursing Facility  (SNF) they have alarms on the beds and in the wheelchairs.  We aren’t licensed to do this.   It is just terribly dangerous for her in this state of mind.

In order for her to stay here at        , you will have to have a 1-1 caregiver for two shifts.   At night she will need to have medicine that makes her sleep through the night.   I also would need an order for a walker.   So, can you talk to Dr. Alza?  What is she taking at nighttime for sleep?

We need to talk.  Mrs. Pink says if you cannot agree to do this that we will have to give a 30 day notice and you need to look for a Skilled Nursing Facility for her.  I’m so sorry.  We are just too liable.

a beautiful day for getting lost


Year one.

The weather was its usual cool perfection in L.A. That’s the way I remember it and I’m probably not wrong.

A beautiful day for getting lost.

To be clear, she wasn’t roaming. Roaming is sluggish, and an excellent form of leisure. While roaming,  you hope to make discoveries. I know because I like to roam and I like to wander. She was on her way to our place on foot, she’d later explain, but she got confused.

I calculated it would take 55 minutes on foot and 9 minutes by car. This is why Angelenos drive everywhere all the time, pretty much without exception.

Pat left a message that she was walking over. I tried her back on the cellphone that she never learned to use,  but she’d was already in motion.

The sun was setting in that lazy way it does, with greys and orange and shades of pink. Hours passed. It seemed cruel to think of my mother, the once elegant lady of Chanel perfume and designer scarves, high heels and summer espadrilles now sockless, walking the streets without direction, without purpose, as if  she’d heard a calling.

My husband went out looking for her on the scooter. I drove around the neighborhood in the car with the radio turned up high, blaring out the panic that was  setting in.  She’s out there somewhere. Untethered. On the loose.

She walked and walked and walked until her long dancer legs began to betray her. Past big rambling houses off the Boulevard. Commuter cars going somewhere west. She walked until all the signs looked foreign and all the streets looked the same. No markings. Nothing familiar, as if she’d been tricked.

She stopped for a cigarette. And another. And another. Maybe she had a few conversations, maybe none. Until, in that twilight hour, when nothing makes sense and day is confused with night, a man stopped his car and asked if she needed his help.

He was middle-aged and played in an orchestra. Or maybe that was a different driver from another day. Maybe this first one was the radiologist. There were so many lost days and so many saviors, I honestly can’t be sure. The man who picked her up was overweight and breathed heavily as his foot depressed the brakes. We’ll go with that.

The report about the man and how she ended up in his car came from my mother, an unreliable narrator. I am also, admittedly, an unreliable narrator. I can say she was delivered to our home in Los Feliz around 8 PM, after my son gave out directions by phone. I can say what I remember, about that day, that incident, but we know that memory is faulty. Memory is overrated.

Yet we assume that memory is everything. We believe in it, praise it as a record of lives lived, of things imagined and glorified,  or we curse it for a vision of the past we wish we did not own. Memory becomes the anchor of our selfhood. Our treasure chest. The container of our secrets, our lies, and our noble deeds. And when it’s lost? What happens then? What are we then? Are we lost, or are we found?

That evening, my seven-year-old stayed home alone. We told him not to open the door to anyone, except Nana. So, after giving careful directions to her driver, after being engulfed in several shows,  my son looked up to find Nana appearing in the driveway like an apparition.  When my husband and I arrived home, she was there at the door in her fitted wool jacket and her scarf tied at the neck, her good leather shoes, her blistered heels, and her handbag, always the handbag, stuffed with assortments of hairbrushes, bags of nuts, Reese’s peanut butter cups, jewelry, scraps of papers, ancient bus schedules from another city, loose change, red-hued lipsticks, expired licenses, and broken cigarettes — just in case.

She was thirsty, she was tired, she was amused. She had rebelled against all the instructions about how to be safe in this city, how to navigate, how to alert us that she needed to be picked up, how to call a taxi. Instead, she’d told herself she was going to walk from her apartment to our house. Or at least a part of her would walk and a part of her would finally arrive.

When I saw her at the door, I felt the same relief I’d felt when I’d lost track of the kids in an open space, even for a moment and then found them hiding behind a rack of sweaters or ducking down beneath the register. The adrenaline rushing, the panic like a siren, and then the calm of the crisis ending.  I wanted to scold her, tell her never to do that again, but she was already at the point where not listening had become her private rebellion. I don’t think I had harsh words for my mother. I think, I want to think, that I made her a cup of coffee and asked her if she’d like to stay for dinner. I think I showed her my love.

How to Live Without A Mother Part I


it’s that last song on the album and you don’t get to it in time, so the needle soars off the grooves on to the part where there is no more music to be played. And then you  think, I’ll just start the record again, or I’ll just play that last song again, but then you remember that the record can’t be played again. Ever.

how to live without a mother?

you pretend that your kids and your extended family and your colleagues and the loving and compassionate best friends you’ve had for decades and your lovers and your spiritual advisors and your artist sisters and your shrinks and your 12-step people and your tennis buddies will pull you along, tow you, if necessary.  And they will.

you get to be free in a new way. yeah, independent. you get to be lonely in a new way. in fact, you soon discover a new brand of loneliness.

there’s an understanding that’s been forced on you of limitation, of ending, of finite. And it’s heavy.  You remember that you only have a certain number of precious minutes and seconds to do whatever it is before your time runs out. The countdown is on and  you are suddenly in a hurry to live. You’re told to take it easy. Be kind to yourself. Does that mean you can eat tapioca rice pudding from Gelson’s for breakfast?

how to live without a mother?

you make reasonable choices. You accomplish what you can, knowing you must leave time to be still and do nothing. In that nothingness you are still doing something. You might even connect with her in that nothingness, in that stillness, but you won’t know unless you pause. But you’re afraid to pause because we are all afraid to pause.

You believe that there is a cycle of birth and death and this is just part of it. The worst part.

One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be a grandmother, and then your mother’s DNA will vibrate inside that new person. This revival seems impossible yet promising.  Connective tissue, energy, atoms and molecules. The new person with traces of your mother’s DNA will  be very beautiful and funny and have good skin and hair. Guaranteed.

You remember that thing they say all the time when you go to the Buddhist Center about how we must accept suffering as a part of life. We cannot have a life without suffering. Now she is no longer suffering. You are.

You often remember her imperfections but you would like to go back in time to revisit each one.

You think of random things: nine-year-old you are cueing her on her lines for a Neil Simon play that summer in Lake Placid; trying on her shoes after getting lost in her walk-in closet; finding her empty vodka glasses under the skirt of the sofa, watching her curl her hair and expertly do her makeup; watching her getting dressed, wearing only  pantyhose and a bra, and thinking she looks like a model you’ve seen in a magazine;  measuring your height against hers, back-to-back.

You think of things to tell your own daughter and son about yourself. What must they know before it’s too late? You fear the idea that you’ll live some part of your waking life in bed as she did, and someone will look into your eyes, but you’ll be gone. You hope that doesn’t happen, but you fear it will. You fear it will because you saw it happen to your mother and you were helpless and she was helpless and she never did anything to deserve getting ill.

At the luncheon on Christopher Street, my two aunts and my daughter and I remember things about Pat. Of all my mother’s sisters, petite, dark-haired Lisa looks the most like her. Lisa reaches for something at the table and  her hands look identical to my mother’s hands. At least you want them to look identical.  Hands are so important.  Eyes and hands.

My father’s sister has so many stories inside of her about my mother and my father and her late husband.  They were all best friends, and she’s the keeper of the family stories.  But you’ve noticed, now that she’s 90, she doesn’t like to relive the past. When you ask her about the trips they went on together, she repeats, we had great times. Great times.

You hope your mother would have liked the luncheon  at the Italian place, with a handsome manager from Boston and pictures of Frank Sinatra on the walls. The food was good enough: alfredo, ravioli, mussels.  The company was better. Lisa reminded us of how funny my mother was. How she used to do imitations and “bits.” She was a comedienne at heart. Laughing and crying over the trauma of her childhood.

…laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.  

You feel smaller than a spec and large enough to be the matriarch that you’ve become overnight.  You got crowned while you were asleep, but there was no time to give a speech.

how to live without a mother?

in your dreams, your mother brushes your hair, spraying detangler and laughing about what you’ve hidden in there.  in your dreams,  you kiss her freckled cheeks again and again.