I drove down to Jackson (Mississippi) on Wednesday for my first visit with my mother in the New Year. But first I put together a little post-Christmas gift for her: a Digital Voice Recording Photo Frame. I printed off a picture of the two of us beside the Christmas tree at Lakeland Nursing Home, which I got one of the aides to take when I was there visiting Mom just before Christmas. I put it inside the frame, and then recorded a short (6-seconds is the limit) message:
“Hi, Mommie. It’s Susan. I love you!”
Then I wrote “PUSH & HOLD” and drew an arrow with a Sharpie, pointing to the button.
When I got to town, I stopped by Stein Mart and got Mom a couple pair of warmer sox (in dark purple, her favorite color), a dark purple sweater, and a long string of giant purple beads. (Long enough that she can see them and “finger them” when she’s wearing them.) Then I stopped at Mc Alister’s Deli for her favorite chewy cookies, and I was all set.
When I got inside, I found Mom sitting with a half dozen or more other residents in the dining room, watching the weather on a flat screen TV on the wall. It was good to see Mom moving around in her wheelchair and not “parked” in a row by the nurses’ station near her room. The dining room is spacious and light, and each table has a vase of fresh-cut flowers and a colorful tablecloth.
Her face lit up and she beamed a smile and said, “Well, hello!” (Not, “hello, Susan.”)
I sat down in an empty chair at the table she had wheeled up to and set my packages down.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine.” And then she began to look around the room at the others.
“Is it okay for them to be here, too?”
“Sure it is, Mom. This is the dining room. It’s where everyone eats.”
“Everyone? Not just you and me?”
“Everyone who lives here, Mom.”
“What about him?” She pointed to a woman at the next table.
“That’s a woman, Mom, and yes she can be here, too.”
“He looks familiar.”
“Yes, she used to share a room with you. But I don’t remember her name.”
I showed Mom the sweater and sox, and put the necklace around her neck. She beamed again. “These are beautiful. What are they for?”
“Well, they’re for YOU. “ She fingered the sox and sweater. “Do you want me to put the sox on your feet now? Or do you need the sweater around your shoulders?”
“No, not now. Maybe later.”
“I love the necklace,” I said, lifting the baubles. “They look like tiny Christmas decorations.”
“Yes,” Mother answered, “I used them for that first, but then I said oh what the heck, and I put them here, on this necklace. Do you like it?”
I just smiled, and reached for the bag again.
“Okay, well here’s another happy.” I pulled the digital picture frame from the bag and showed it to her. More beaming. And then I pointed out the button she’s supposed to push to hear the recording, and she pushed it.
“Hi, Mommie. It’s Susan. I love you!”
Again, she looked around the room, and then asked, “Are you sure it’s okay to have this in here?”
“Sure, but I’ll put it in your room with your sweater and sox later, okay?”
“Okay.” Serious expression, fingering the frame and pointing to herself, she said, “Who is that?”
“That’s YOU, Mommie. When we were visiting by the beautiful Christmas tree in the lobby just before Christmas.”
“That doesn’t look like me.”
“Sure it does. Look at that pretty smile. Although you did close your eyes.”
She continued to finger it, but didn’t push the button again. So I got out the cookies next.
“Look, Mommie—your favorite cookies from McAllister’s deli.”
For the next hour or so we nibbled on the two huge cookies, and she told me over and over how much she loves me. Once or twice we looked up at the television, which was showing the winter snow storm in Massachusetts. She couldn’t figure out what Massachusetts was, and finally said, pointing to the television:
“How did those people get inside there? And… how are they going to get out?”
“Out of where, Mommie? You mean out of the snow storm?”
“No, out of that box on the wall.”
She had me with that one. I just couldn’t come up with an answer, so I just shrugged my shoulders and had another bite of the giant chocolate chip cookie.