“Jule, do you still brush your teeth?”

Before, my mother’s questions were merely repetitive. Now, they prove the synapses in her brain are not slick and speedy, but more like dusty cobwebs or roads that suddenly T-bone into a grassy field.

Because my mother doesn’t see my toothbrush on her bathroom counter, she makes an unlikely connection:

No Toothbrush = No Toothbrushing

Driving back to Cincinnati, it felt as if there was a balloon in my chest. Blue. Filled not with hot air, but heavy water.

I attempted diagnosis while driving. (The traffic was light.)

If my choices were mad, sad, glad, or afraid, this felt sad. But sad about what? What made my chest heavy but wasn’t powerful enough to make tears?

I made statements to see if any would release the tears spigot. Sort of like poking around on an abdomen to see if the pain might be appendicitis.

“You’re sad to leave your mom.”

“You’re afraid it will happen to you.”

“You don’t want to go home.”

None of those statements and none of the others provoked tears.

Maybe it was a limbic system sadness. A sadness beyond words.

The day before, Mom and I had gone to Island Beach State Park because I wanted to see the ocean before I left. I don’t stay long because Mom waits for me in the car.

I took the walking path over the dune, found a spot where no one was fishing, and stood at the edge of the waves, careful not to get my sneakers wet.

As a wave stretched up the beach, I reached down and flattened my hand to feel the thin plate of moving water. It was cool and gone quickly, leaving only wet sand and drops of saltwater falling from my fingertips.

Maybe that’s what the blue balloon was about. I was sad because the water keeps moving. I can’t stop it. Can’t hold it. Can’t change it.

Chewing the Cud of Good

A beach with wet sand marking receding waves, photo is off kilter

Thankful for my travel buddy Roxie, and for my mom’s friends who have become my friends, too.



2 thoughts on ““Jule, do you still brush your teeth?””

  1. Sherry Cornell

    This post resonates. My mother too is experiencing mental decline. Our relationship was never good, but it is hard to see her slip away. With her goes any hope, no matter how ridiculous, that she might become the mother I want her to be, and I am sad for her. Her lifelong mental illness has left her broken and me with questions and regrets. I frequently have trouble identifying my emotions or knowing what I feel. I like the appendicitis metaphor. Your technique seems apt, and I intend to try it. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Sherry, I’m sorry. Sometimes the hardest thing about watching my mom slip away is also losing the hope of what I wished our relationship could be. It’s gotten better, much better, but there is still that little girl inside that just wanted to be loved. So, it’s my job to love her.

      Best wishes with the technique. It works for me but your mileage may vary. The other thing that helps me figure out what’s going on is my dreams. When I pay attention to them, I learn a lot about what’s really going on inside me.

      Take care.

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