5. An article in the New York Times about Alzheimer’s patients in facility care talks about the continuing search for love and joy: “Imagine if all the people you know and loved disappeared,’’ said Dr. Richard Powers, chairman of the medical advisory board of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Wouldn’t you want to find someone who was your friend, who would hold your hand and watch old television shows with you?”
So was the case with my mother, who had no means to express her loneliness, her sorrow, or the conjurings of her ravaged mind. After weeks of being locked up in The Neighborhood by day and returned to her room upstairs after sundown, we weren’t sure how to receive the news that she had a lover.
“He’s one of the big guys,” she said. “A big, strong one, like a bear,” she cooed. “Like a bear. He picks me up in his arms and the world falls away…”
She offered a physical description that was unwavering. Broad shoulders, tall, dark, younger than she… He was kind, and strong, and they had been having sex, she confirmed, on a regular basis. The first time was “after the Luau party.”
After hearing this story repeated multiple times, I asked the nurses on duty to explain. One gave me the expected response about dementia patients making things up. She said it was “not possible” that Pat could be with someone since she was under constant scrutiny. She dismissed the story and promised, at my insistence, to see if my mom had any new friends.
I never heard back from this nurse, partly because unless you happened to be available at the end of a particular nurse’s shift, you could not rely on the next one on duty to impart any valuable information. Not really knowing anything about your parent, the new nurse would say, “your mother doing everything normal” or she’d offer an unsolicited description of the day’s toilet habits.
After the fifth or sixth time that my mother told me about her unnamed lover and where he put his hands on her body, I thought it was time to have a serious talk with Tom.
“She’s doing much better in The Neighborhood, by the way. She wrote out all the song lyrics the other day and seems to be making friends.”
“Yeah. What about this guy she talks about incessantly, Tom? Who is this man she’s…with? Which one of the residents?”
“It’s just not possible for our residents to do that sort of thing,” Tom assured me. “I can see if your mom has any particular friendships, but this is not…happening.”
“I don’t mind if my mother is enjoying herself. She has so few pleasures. I just want to know who this is and make sure it’s a safe situation.”
Tom who was efficient and tidy in all things, looked at me with the smirk of someone who had seen this type of fantasy accusation in his five years at the facility. “I’m sure it’s just a nice thought she’s having. But I’ll ask around.”
After several weeks of hearing my mother tell The Lover story to my children, my husband, the staff, her tablemates, and Arlene, who cared for her in the evenings, we were very familiar with The Lover. We even knew what his lips looked like when he pursed them for a kiss.
But not everyone knew what happened after the Luau party.
“He had a key to a supply room and he opened the door and we went inside and he told me to be quiet and that’s when we…”
Pat went into some X-rated details that I’ll not repeat here, but I will say that they were disturbing in their specificity. If this were a fabricated tale, she had retained a highly developed imagination for sexual conduct. Her story lost its innocence. It began to take on a new cast that was not about geriatric lovers at a residential home. More alarming was that it no longer sounded consensual. Though my mother was not complaining and showed no signs of bruising or distress, the covert nature and location of their encounters, as she described them, sounded strange.
I felt it was urgent to find out the identity of this mystery lover.
In her suite, as she was getting changed for bed, I asked her simply: “Is he Charles? The guy from The Neighborhood that sits near you at lunch?” I asked.
My mother shook her head. “Who?”
“Your friend from downstairs.”
She looked away, disinterested.
“Is this man, your boyfriend, is he someone who works here, mom?”
My mother paused, perhaps deciphering my words. I will never know what lived inside those breaks in conversation.
Then she grinned and nodded her head.