It was an ominous phone call received late in the evening last weekend that dampened what had been one of my best days out shopping for wedding dresses. I remember the exact moment.... I was balanced on a ladder which was precariously perched on the stairs to the basement and hanging a pendant chandelier light when the phone rang. My wife answered the phone and acknowledged to me that it was my dad. Mom had taken another fall in the house again and was sedentary on the couch. My dad didn't know whether or not to take her in to the hospital as she wasn't experiencing any pain. She couldn't walk, my dad explained to me. Stunned by that statement my spouse and I exclaimed that he needed to call an ambulance to the house immediately to have her seen.
It was my mom's lack of complaint and of pain as she had lay on the couch and tended to by my dad that had both her and my dad feeling that this was just a simple bruise from a fall. Her arrival at the hospital however and her subsequent examination yielded a diagnosis that was far more serious however. her pelvis had fractured from her fall and she was bleeding internally from deep within the bone.
Doctors were able to stabilize her condition and stop the bleeding by the time we called the next morning to check on her status. We made plans to close up the house and to drive the 100 miles down to Massachusetts that evening after work to check in on her. Her dementia had become progressively worse over these past few weeks and I didn't really know what to expect when I did finally see her.
Arriving at the hospital, I was not prepared emotionally for what I saw. My mother seemed just to be a shell of her former self. It was difficult to see her withered and tortured body sunken into the confines of the hospital bed with so many tubes and IV's hooked up to her. On one night, I sat there with her by the bedside and stroked her hair while she slept. My father, who had been by her side consistently day and night, finally took a long needed break and had left to go home and get some rest. The nurse's aid who had been sitting with my mom asked if she could take a small break and if I would be alright to be alone for a while with my mother. I nodded a quiet yes to her, holding back the tears I knew she saw in my eyes.
I spent the next half hour stroking my mom's hair and just watching her sleep. At times I broke down crying for the pain she was in and had to continually endure. I cried for the torture which the dementia, like a thief, stole from her identity in larger and larger pieces. I just sat there with her, hoping that she would know that I was there and loved her.
And then, without warning, she awoke. Her eyes opened as if she had never been asleep. She turned her head toward me and gazed directly into my eyes. For a moment it was silent as she just peered at me until she spoke.
"You are beautiful", she uttered.
"I'm sorry mom", I replied questioning and a bit startled. "What was that?"
"You're beautiful", she said again, "both inside and outside".
She looked at me for a moment longer and then simply closed her eyes, as if she had never awakened, and fell back to sleep. I completely lost my emotions in tears that I could no longer hold back and quietly wept.
My wife visited the next day while I worked from home to get caught up with a few things that needed to be finished off. While she was there, she brought up to my mom something that I had thought the dementia would have taken from her - my conversation with her about my being transgender.
"You know that your son feels he is and wants to be a woman", she said.
My mom's reply amazed her when she uttered, "I know that.... But I just don't understand why... women seem to be the ones who suffer the most in this world...."
She remembered. She knew. She had known all these years. I was struck with incredulity and amazement.
Mom had been through so much in her life and her dementia seemed to bring back so many difficult memories which she had repressed for so many years of her life. She recounted stories of her father and his cruelty towards his daughters, both verbally and physically. She spoke as she told them, as if she were living through them only for the first time today. My heart sank as, like an onion, the layers of her childhood and young adult years were revealed in their hard and bitter truth. Her life had been more difficult growing up than I had ever imagined, but she had kept this part of her life deeply buried, repressed and denied to everyone for so long.
She cried out one day, asking rhetorically almost to God and not to me "Why am I here? Why do I keep coming back?". I could only say to her at that moment, "Mom, I love you, that is why..."