Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Sad News and the Better

At the Memory Care Unit yesterday, I was sitting at my mother’s dinner table with her coffee, waiting for her to be brought out from her room. One on the CNAs we’re friendly with came over to me and said very softly, “Ruth passed away yesterday.”

I wrote about Ruth previously: she was the woman who thought my husband and I were her niece and nephew. I was shocked to hear this news, as she didn’t seem to be in ill health. It was a heart attack, the CNA said. I don’t know whether she died there in the unit or was taken to a hospital first, and I didn’t want to ask; as I wrote once, the staff protects the confidentiality of the residents and their families. She told me, she said, because she knew we were friendly with Ruth.

Ruth was a sweet, lovely lady who laughed a lot and always seemed to be happy. She enjoyed playing bingo and doing jigsaw puzzles, and she was very good at the latter. Every time we came in she would beam and call out, “There’s my nephew and niece” and beckon us to come over. My husband was happy to play along with her, answering her questions about other family members by saying we hadn’t seem them lately but thought they were doing well. We will miss her, but I hope that her belief that we were relatives made her a little happier in her last year of life. And I’m glad that she’s been released from the prison of her damaged mind and taken to a place where everything will be clear again.

Later the CNAs were talking with a new resident, a man who’s been there about a month, calling him “Dr. Jack.” One of them said to us, “Dr. Jack used to be a heart surgeon.” That took me aback. A heart surgeon, and where is all that knowledge and skill now? How many people’s lives did he save during his career? They will surely remember him, but he no longer does them, nor how his mind and hands performed medical miracles every day. It was another sad and scary reminder that this disease can happen to anyone, no matter how intelligent, no matter how much you used your mind and brain in your lifetime.

But we did get some positive news yesterday: the itching that has been plaguing my mother for the past couple of weeks seems to be subsiding. She had been scratching constantly, and her skin was red, torn, and mottled on her arms, face, and stomach. She’s had episodes of this in the past and needed a dermatologist’s care. This time the doctor didn’t prescribe medication but a regimen of over-the-counter preparations: Eucerin cream, Dove soap, Aveeno lotion. Fortunately it seems to be finally working.

And in this warm weather she’s been getting out into the garden to sit in the sunshine; she loves being outside. “We take them out in the morning, and she raises her face and closes her eyes and nods off,” one of the CNAs said. And when the garden starts to bloom again, it will warm her gardener’s heart to see the flowers and vegetables, to be in the warm free air after being confined inside all winter. And I’ll be grateful for the new rays of sunshine in her life.


  1. Elaine, so sorry about Ruth (I remember your previous post) but am also glad she is released from the mind's cage she was confined in. So glad to hear that your mom's itching has found a measure of relief and don't we all love the springtime sunshine the best? May all the rays that grace her bring a source of happiness.

  2. awwww poor ruth--but how nice it was for you to care about her--glad your mom is better

  3. Watching as people's lives shift from the association they have with what they did, to who they are is an interesting one. I found that if the memory is still in tact, there are great treasures just beneath the surface.

  4. I was thinking of you, as I haven't been back here i a while. but I'm starting a writing workshop link if you want to try your hand at it. WOuld love to have you! Sorry about Ruth.