Picking up the phone to tap the first contact in my ‘favorites,’ a familiar little pang shot through my chest. The phone has been an ongoing source of difficulty for Mom, and each time I call, I get that little pang. And then my palms get a little sweaty and my heartbeat quickens. Not a lot, just enough to notice I am a little nervous.
And each time I call, I am a little nervous, because what if Mom doesn’t answer? Does that mean something is going on? I don’t have time to spend the day trying to track her down. Or what if she does answer and I can tell she’s not having a good day? What if I can’t fix it immediately because I’m here in New Hampshire?
On a recent cold, December day, I thought I had hit the jackpot. When I grabbed the phone and tapped “Mom Home,” she picked up on the fourth ring. She sounded good, clear–chipper even. We were in business! I smiled to myself and greeted her with my standard, goofy, “Hey Mom!”
Caught Off Guard
Rather than her typical reply, “Oh hi honey,” Mom said (still bright and chipper), “Who’s this?” I laughed and told her, “It’s your son!” Instead of a chuckle and a greeting, my comment was met with silence. It went on so long that I thought the call dropped. It felt endless.
I took the phone off my ear to make sure the call counter was still going. It was. “Strange,” I thought. “Mom…Mom….can you hear me? You there? Mom?” For a fearful moment, I thought she was not going to reply.
“I’m here, but who is this?” she finally said. “It’s Matt,” I tried again, “…your son.” This was met with yet another long segment of dead air. “No, it’s not….really….who is this?” Mom said, followed by an awkward, nervous sounding laugh.
I didn’t want to scare her, but I was scared myself. So I said again, softly and slowly, “Seriously, Mom, it’s Matt. I am your son. ok?”
More Uncomfortable Silence
Mom finally responded, but her tone had completely changed. She’d gone from the clear and high spirited person who’d answered the phone to a cautious and guarded person who didn’t recognize that I was her son. She sounded nervous, as though worried I might try a telephone scam on her. In some ways, it was an audible version of the look from Mom that’s become too familiar when she’s uncertain or confused.
“I’m fine…but why are you saying you’re Matt? My son lives in New Hampshire.”
“Yes Mom, you’re right. I do live in New Hampshire and that’s where I’m calling from.”
“Oh, ok,” she replied in a small voice followed by more of that damned silence. I was beginning to feel claustrophobic. The silence smothering me like a heavy wool blanket.
I was too caught off guard to truly be sad or to panic. Just as confused as Mom, I was trying to figure it out in my head. We made small talk for a minute or two, Mom maintaining her caution, and then ended the call.
With Mom’s dementia, I knew times like this were inevitable. At some point she wouldn’t recognize me. And since that call, an absolute avalanche of thoughts and emotions have been racing through my mind–on loop.
I can’t believe that happened.
That must have been horrible for Mom.
She didn’t just not recognize my voice, she didn’t believe it was me.
Is Mom ok?
Could my voice have sounded different?
Am I congested? Do I have allergies? Do I sound different?
She’s on a landline, so it had to be my reception?
Was my reception bad?
Will she recognize my voice the next time?
If she doesn’t recognize me on the phone, how will she recognize me in person?
Will she remember my kids?
I can’t believe she didn’t recognize my voice.
Did this just happen?
What do I do?
I need to tell her doctor.
I can’t believe that happened.
It’s only happened one time since then, thankfully. But it will happen again. And it will hurt when it does, because you really can’t prepare yourself for this type of thing. There’s a big difference between knowing something and experiencing it. If I didn’t know that before, I certainly do now.
Until it happens again, I’ll get back to hoping it doesn’t. And I’ll keep calling Mom.
But I bet that little pang is going to be a lot more noticeable.