The day my mother got ready for the dance was a hard day in her dementia. She tried to dress in nicer clothes, but her fashion sense had gone awry and nothing really matched. Her lipstick looked garish. She perched on the arm of the wicker sofa, like a teenager would have, and kept glancing toward the driveway.
Occasionally, she would go out the sliding door and walk to the end of the driveway to peer down the road. Then she would come back to the house and wait.
It was a hot summer evening and I hoped she would grow tired of it or forget it or snap back to semi-normal.
“What are you doing, Mom?” I asked several times.
“I’m waiting to go to the dance,” she said, petulantly, with her chin at a teenager’s tilt. “They should be picking me up any time.”
“Who?” I asked.
“The others that are going.” These others never had names. These others never materialized.
Finally I offered to give her a ride. She gratefully accepted, not seeing the absurdity of her adult daughter giving her a ride to a high school dance. We drove into town and around the empty parking lot of the high school.
“See? There’s no one here, Mom,” I told her.
She just looked at the building with a blank expression.
So I drove around some more and finally ended up at my go-to for such situations — the local garden nursery. We got out of the car and walked around the greenhouse, admiring plants and forgetting dances.
My heart ached after that adventure.
A is for aging.
Not the ache that comes from working out. As an on-again/off-again fitness person, I know too well the ache of walking down the stairs the morning after doing squats and lunges for the first time in two years.
Not the ache the comes from putting off an appointment to the dentist.
Not the ache that comes from lack of sleep or forgetting your glasses or drinking too much wine the night before.
All these aches are temporary.
The ache of a caregiver is a heartache that has nothing to do with EKGs or echocardiograms.
It’s a soul ache because a loved one is vanishing, like a wisp of smoke that cannot be caught.
And when that loved one is finally gone, the ache remains, but it’s not getting stirred up anymore and aggravated by phantom dances.
It settles — like dust.
And we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.