We know when it’s happening and we want to believe that no one else notices. We have enough of ourselves to repeat those unique elements of our personality, yet the essence of who we are keeps slipping into darkness. My husband and I visited my mother-in-law a week ago in her very comfortable supportive living facility. Though she has her own apartment, it is less home and more a nice shelter in a facility. My mother-in-law will be ninety-four in a few weeks, and she craves independence and the preservation of her former self. She has done an incredible job in holding on to both. When we saw her in October, she was still regaling us with stories of her youth and the improbable romance she had with her late husband. Not so this time.
During one of our conversations, I said to her that we might want to write a note about something so she would be sure to remember to do something. She quickly assured me that she would not forget. For years the life of the party because of her loquaciousness, during this latest visit, she sat quietly responding with as few words as possible; I believe because she was fearful that someone would notice that she was slipping into darkness.
As we usually do, my husband and I were her guests at meal times in the dining room. She was gracious as always introducing us to each table of people that we have met on numerous occasions. The residents were happy to see us again, and some of them made eye contact with us that suggested that they, too, saw the slippage in my mother-in-law. All of the servers in the dining hall were “twenty somethings,” and my hope is that all of them have received the kind of education and training that will endow them with the expertise and grace to figuratively walk beside my mother- in-law as she holds her head high, stands ramrod straight, knows that she is still independent, and holds firmly to her sense of dignity.