This was quite the visit to Mom’s senior living community.
It started out as visits to Mom usually do. Walking in to her community is always positive; with lots of smiling faces. I talked with the nice lady manning the reception desk and signed in. I even found Mom talking with friends in the dining area, just as I often do. Ho hum. Nice and normal. So far so good.
Mom spotted me quickly and popped out of her chair with a giant smile on her face. “Wow, Mom’s having a great day today. That’s so nice to see,” I thought to myself. She bounced around the table like a retired ballet dancer, and before I knew it, she was standing right in front of me. “Hm, looks like her hip is feeling better too,” I thought.
Vintage eye contact
And then she didn’t say anything at all, just stood there with that giant smile, looking at me right in the eye. Whoa, eye contact. This must be a really, really great day. Eye contact is notable for Mom because with her dementia comes a lack of confidence. And without confidence there is no eye contact.
It’s breaks my heart because Mom had a way of making whoever she was talking to feel like they were the most important person in the world. And there were lots of reasons for it, but a big one was eye contact. She was always able to completely focus on the person she was speaking with, looking them right in the eye so they knew she was really listening. As her dementia has progressed, she has lost confidence. And as a result, she’s lost most of that skillful and caring knack for eye contact. “What brought this back?” I wondered.
An unexpected senior living perk?
And I had to just wonder, because she still hadn’t said hello. We were just standing there. Her with the mega-smile, ballet dancer feet, and vintage Rosemary-style eye contact. Me with a happy (but curious) grin, still thinking she’s just having a great day. “Maybe she had a great night’s sleep.” I thought. Then Mom hit me with it.
“I met a man.”
Pause. Oh. Not just a great night’s sleep. I could see her smile growing wider. As my mind scrambled to process what I was hearing, I mustered, pretty weakly “That’s great, Mom.” What’s his name?” “Where’d you meet him?”
Ignoring my questions (or not hearing them), Mom grabbed my hand and dragged me to the other side of the dining area. We approached a table and one man stood up. He and Mom greeted each other (without names) and Mom introduced me.
“Matt, this is my friend,” she said, giving him a nod and big smile. Then she held my hand up like I’d just won a boxing match, and said to him, “This is my son, Matt.” Friend didn’t say his name but extended his arm to shake my hand. He was tall, thin, with a relatively full head of gray hair, some boxy glasses and a wide smile to match Mom’s.
The friendly but awkward mutual top arm/shoulder rub that ensued between them made my stomach turn (I need to grow up, I know). I felt like I was a little seasick, but Mom’s smile was instant dramamine. After a couple of minutes of small talk, we left him and started walking to Mom’s apartment.
I knew building relationships in her community would be important for Mom’s transition, but I didn’t expect this. Reeling (kind of happily but definitely cautiously), I asked Mom again. “What’s his name? How’d you meet him? Where’s he from? What do you guys do together?” Mom’s answers were brief. I learned that they do ‘swim class’ together and watch the movies the senior living community puts on in the ‘theater’. That’s it.
Not a first but it felt like one
Dad died close to thirty years ago. Mom has had two other men in her life since then. She was in a loving and caring relationship with a great man for over fifteen years. And she was in shorter term (and way less positive) relationship around the time she received her dementia diagnosis. So this isn’t exactly a first, but it feels like one.
So while there have been men other than Dad in Mom’s life, hearing this was a mild shock to the system. My mind raced as we walked to Mom’s apartment. And though I knew I couldn’t, as her only child, forget that as a grown woman she’s entitled to do whatever she pleases with her personal life (aka it’s none of my business)–with or without dementia, yet I still couldn’t stop my mind from racing:
Who is this guy? And what’s with the shoulder rub?
I ran with this (immature) train of thought for a minute or two but then told myself to settle down and stop being a jackass. He seemed courteous. He seemed kind. And he made Mom smile. “Trust but verify,” like Ronald Reagan said. If he makes her smile, it’s enough for me. And oh by the way, I know what I think doesn’t matter (this is a hard one to accept as a son and a caregiver).
I do need to find out his name (and story) though. Right?
Seriously. Where’s he from? What did he do with his life before coming to this senior living community? How did he make his living? Was he married? Does he have kids? Boys? Girls? How old are they? Do they have kids? Where do they live? Do they visit him? I need to know this stuff, right? Yeah, it’d be nice but I’m not the one who matters here. Again full jackass stop required.
Companionship is good. And a tangible benefit of senior living.
Companionship is good. No seriously, companionship is good. Companionship is really, really good. Right?
I haven’t seem Mom smile like this in a l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time.
It was awesome. Seeing her smile, I was so happy for her. Mom fights every day to show her trademark smile–and I love her for it. But we never really see that kind of smile anymore. If her new friend is responsible for it, I should be all for it. And I am.
Whoah. This visit was a doozy. In a really good way. It may have started like all the other visits –appreciating the walk in and warm greetings. But it was unlike any other visit to Mom’s senior living community. Truly a first because of Mom’s smile, her eye contact, and the bounce in her step. Vintage Mom.
It was the best visit I can remember because we didn’t talk about meds or dementia or how she slept. We talked about her. And her new, um, friend and all the fun things they do. She was clear, engaged and so happy. It was a little moment that I’ll hold on to for a long time to come.
As her son and caregiver, I couldn’t be happier that Mom met a man at her senior living community.
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