Thursday, May 29, 2008


It took an unusually long time for my mom to answer the door. As I stood on the front porch, I could finally see her shuffling toward the front door like an old woman. That wasn’t her normal gait. When she swung the door open, Mom didn’t greet me.

“No one is here. No one,” she said and wandered away.

I peeked around the corner into the living room and sitting in his usual spot on the easy chair was my 88-year-old dad. He was the only other person who lives in my parents’ home.

“Who isn’t here?” I asked.

But I’d been warned. My sister had called me this morning, and despite my husband’s explanations that because of my lupus I was sleeping in, she insisted on speaking to me, telling me that our mother wasn’t making sense, was going on about blowing up the inflatable mattress for our brother Peter and his wife Tamara who live in Toronto but were supposedly visiting. On a weekday without telling us? Not likely. My sister was at work, so she asked that I drive to our parents’ house and check whether Mom really was as bad off as she sounded on the phone. My sister would wait for my call at work and make a doctor’s appointment, if I thought it necessary.

“Peter and Tamara aren’t here. Or little Danya and Mark. They were here last night, but they went to sleep at U-U’s house,” said Mom. U-U was my middle brother’s nickname. They had never slept at his house before…

I scanned the living room for stray toys or any sign that my brother’s family had indeed been there, then walked over to my hard-of-hearing father.

“Dad!” I shouted. “Were Peter and Tamara here last night?”

“No, I didn’t see them,” he said. “Mama said that I slept through it.”

Dad is notorious for nodding off, but I doubt that even he could sleep through the energetic visit of a 16-month-old toddler and a four-year-old.

“You look tired, Mom,” I said, hoping she’d give me some clue as to her state of health. Her eyes were mere slits. And on this chilly morning, she was wearing a sleeveless shirt and a vest turned inside out.

“I am. I had a party here yesterday. Yura and Maria came. And Peter and Tamara with their kids. And Irene Rak – she’s such a nice person. It was such a nice party. No pomp and circumstance. Very nice…”

My mom doesn’t throw parties, except for the family – and then she talks about it for weeks in advance. Mom had never met my sister-in-law Irene, who lives in Ukraine. But there was an even bigger problem with her story.

“Mom, Yura died last week,” I said. My mother had been the one to notify me of his death.

“I meant Volodia,” Mom corrected herself, naming Yura’s father who had died in World War II!

I picked up the phone and dialed my sister.

Was it a stroke? An overdose of sleeping pills, which she sometimes takes in the middle of the night? Sleeping pills and alcohol? We needed to find out. We’d been through something similar with our mom over a decade ago when she began to lull herself to sleep with large doses of alcohol because of insomnia, which had been a side effect of her blood pressure medication. She swore to us that she would never, ever drink again after she switched medication. Was she secretly hitting the bottle again? I didn’t smell it on her breath.

While I waited for my sister to come, I tried to get Mom to sit. She stumbled as she walked around the kitchen, putting away a knife and fork in the refrigerator. I wanted to make myself some coffee, but Mom took the steaming cup for herself. I was afraid that she’d spill it, so I put it on the coffee table in the living room for her.

“Sit, Mom, and have some coffee. I’ll bring the sugar.” She sprinkled a spoonful of sugar on the carpet as she completely missed the cup.

Although something was drastically amiss, Dad just kept pecking away at his laptop, checking the latest news as he always does, seemingly oblivious to Mom’s bizarre behavior. He didn’t hear what she said because he hardly hears even when you speak loudly and right at him. He was living in his own world; my mother was fantasizing hers. And I felt completely helpless in this bizarre situation.

I was so thankful when my sister arrived. I expected my mother to protest being taken to the doctor, but she followed my sister like an obedient puppy, stumbling on her way out, walking to the wrong car, but coming along.

My father can hardly walk, and when he does it’s only with a walker, so my mother, who is 11 years younger than Dad, serves him like a maid. I talked with my dad for a while, telling him that I’d be back with lunch for him since Mom would be gone for several hours – to the doctor, for blood work, and for a CAT scan.

I came home and found Jacob working on Health, even though I hadn’t had time to write out his assignments for the day. At least something was going right. He was looking at the course outline and figuring out his own assignment. I was impressed.

“Someday, it might be you going to take care of me,” I said an hour later as I headed out again with a sandwich for my dad. “Keep working on your schoolwork and I’ll catch you later!”

My sister returned with Mom just as I was serving Dad lunch. The blood was drawn and tests ordered. Now we have to wait. But by evening, Mom was sounding like Mom again. And she was making sense.

But what was it?

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)