Chapter Two. Home to Indiana and Mother.
"Mother?" Frank called out with excitement, setting his duffel bag down. He felt weird wearing civvies again, but he'd get used to it. Felt kinda nice, actually, wearing blue jeans, sneakers and a short-sleeved sweatshirt. He knew it was a different look for him, but figured it was time for a change, to do something different, to leave all that and HER behind him.
He had something important to focus on: Mother Burns.
"Who is it?" he heard a thin voice call from the parlor.
He ran to the door, ready to sweep his beloved mother up into his arms for that all-important welcome-home hug. He wasn't a big man, but being over six feet tall, he towered over his tiny mother. At least he did last time he saw her two years before. For some reason, he thought she'd look very different.
Frank stopped dead in his tracks at the wide entrance to the parlor. His mother WAS different. She seemed to have shrunk in on herself, hunched as she was in her favorite rocker, watching one of those newfangled "television sets" he'd seen in the city. She had trays propped all around her, covered with old cups, used tissues and other filth. She appeared to have totally forgotten his presence in her home.
As he approached, he scrinched his nose from the smell of urine in the air. Cats, he knew. She had cats. Always did. But Human urine as well.
"Oh, God, Mother," he said gently, coming up behind her.
He touched her thin frail shoulder, softly, so as not to startle her. She jumped in fright, turning wide blue eyes to him, backing away as if he was an intruder.
"What? No! Who are you!" she screeched, reaching for her cane to defend herself to the end against this unknown assailant.
"Mother, Mother! It's me! Frank!" he said, grabbing her hand and holding it down with a firm, gentle pressure. Her eyes stared at him, unknowing, blank. There was no recognition in her for her returning hero from Korea.
Frank wanted to die then and there at that empty look, but cleared his throat to strengthen his resolve. He knew this could happen. Older people with dementia, including Alzheimer's, were known to have episodes of lucidity, then they'd seem to shift into another realm, a world known only to themselves. His Mother appeared to be in such a phase right now.
He'd read in one of the medical books how an AD victim would lose short-term memories, but retain memories of long ago, even back to their toddlerhood. Frank thought maybe his mother would remember nursery songs she'd sing to him and his brother, and that it might snap her out of it, make her come back to the here-and-now.
"Mother, it's me, Frank. Your baby. Remember you'd sing those songs to Mikey and me? Itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout," he started to sing in a light tenor.
"Down came the rain and washed the spider out," she responded automatically.
"Yes, that's the one! You remember!"
They both sang softly together, "Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again!"
Something seemed to shift in Mrs. Burns, and she shook her head, as if clearing it. She blinked her big blue eyes once, twice, thrice, and suddenly she was "there."
"Frank! When did you get in? Where's Mikey?"
Frank gently took the cane from his mother and put it back in its previous position. He bent down to get the hug he'd ached for those many days, not saying anything.
She reached thin arms up, over his back, breathing in the smell of him.
"Oh, Frank, it IS you! You're really here?"
He wiped the tears that strayed down his cheeks against her light wrap. "Yes, Mother, it's really me. Mikey... Mikey had to go to work."
"Oh, that's nice then."
The condition of the room, of his mother, made Frank move back. He looked around, crinkling his nose again.
"Mother, um... are you okay, dear?" he asked. He pulled an ottoman up to sit down, so he could see her eye-to-eye.
"Certainly, son, why wouldn't I be?"
She seemed to be unaware of the state of her soiled clothes, her chair, the debris and litter all around.
Frank put his head in his hands, and took a deep breath to calm down. The smell of urine, feces (both Human and animal) and rotting food and garbage didn't help. How the hell could Michael have LEFT like this? Did he think she was able to take care of herself all of a sudden? Had she been in one of her lucid phases, was the condition so early on that he thought she'd only had a wee bout of something?
He'd have to have words with his BIG brother very soon. But first he had to tend to his mother's immediate needs.
The admonition from his shrink friend, Calm down!, came to mind.
Be strong, Frank. For ONCE in your life, BE STRONG! he told himself.
It had come to that time every adult child dreaded: somewhere along the way, the parent caring for the child had turned into the child caring for the parent. Michael had done his part, such as it was. Now Frank, the youngest, was home and it was time to do his.
He could help her as his son, but he could not be her doctor. He didn't know enough about Geriatrics and all that entailed, and it was too personal to deal with her as doctor to patient. He dug out the address book where he'd written the information about specialists.
He was torn: Do I call one now, or do I get Mother somewhere clean, quiet and safe, so she can rest and watch her television set?
He ached for a nurse, someone who could help with the basic needs his mother so obviously required. He'd lost touch with the nurses he'd employed at his now-defunct practice. He was fairly sure they wouldn't have helped him any way, unless he paid them an outrageous hourly wage. He suspected they didn't like him too much. Just like most people didn't.
Frank stood and leaned over his mother once more, putting his hands under her, lifting her up. Her thin weak legs did some of the work, but not much. He wanted to cry when he truly felt how skinny and frail she was.
"Mother, I'm going to help you, okay? We need to get you cleaned up. I know of a lovely hotel downtown where you and I can stay tonight and catch up on old times, and we can hire someone to come clean the house and take care of your kitties. You can watch your programs and we'll sip tea and have some of those little Scottish butter cookies you love so much, how does that sound?"
He talked slowly and carefully as he led her to her room and proceeded to play nurse himself. He knew mentioning the television, tea and cookies would keep her distracted from the fact that her son was giving her a sponge bath and putting clean dry clothes on her.
He kept a running monologue up, bringing up the Bridge club, playing in the park when he and Michael were little, and other pleasant memories from his childhood. Granted, he didn't have a lot, what with the "father" he'd had, but he had enough to keep her distracted from what her doctor-son was doing.
Frank knew his mother had enough pride that if she was TRULY cognizant of her surroundings, she would've been shoo'ing him out of her bedroom.
He soon had her in one of her light summer dresses, a soft wrap over her shoulders and her walking shoes. He threw a few more things into a little suitcase while she sat on her bed, fiddling with the edge of her blanket.
When he turned to her, she seemed to have that "gone" look to her once more. He gently guided her to the door, shutting it behind him and locking it with the key he'd had all those months and months in the Army. She was settled into his rental car, and they were off for the nice hotel, tea and cookies he'd promised her.