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Our houseThe blue and white pill crusher is parked amongst rows of Mom and Dad’s prescription bottles. A packed file with stapled receipts marked–Canadian Pharmacy is doubled over, propped up by a box of Robitussin, while small paper bags with undelivered cards from the local Hallmark store lean overlooking this portion of the kitchen counter.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a pill crusher until Mom’s Alzheimer’s really got interesting. You know, when a teacher uses the word interesting–well she means something else entirely. WebMD’s more approriate version of interesting goes like this, “Extreme agitation, aggressiveness, and psychosis are common among people with Alzheimer’s disease — especially in its later stages — and they are among the symptoms most often associated with admission to nursing homes.”

The screaming, the agitation, the heighten confusion–it got real, folks. We spent most of September into October interviewing home health workers, going on family field trips to universally depressing nursing homes—all seeing that Rosie would be the youngest admittee. And, Dad would die of heartbreak.

So, the doctors played around with varying dosages of certain anti-psychotics when Mom was at Alexian Brothers and learned quickly that she was not about to take much needed meds just because the doctor said so. Stubborn Rosie! But, problem solve, Dad did!

Enter: Costco Vanilla Ice Cream. On a lone spoon. One layer of vanilla. One layer of pill dust. Another layer of vanilla to disguse the meds. 2x each AM. This is the first order of business that begins their morning routine. Then, the grapefruit follows.

Dad takes Mom’s hand and leads her from the couch to the kitchen table.

“What are we doing?” she might ask. Or, “My stomach hurts,” is another possible refrain. To which, Dad pushes on. He places 1/2 of a grapefruit in front of Mom, and cuts perfect triangles in the half moon, getting ready to feed his Rosie.

“The doctor says we need citrus everyday, Rose,” Dad reasons with her.

“Everyday? You mean I have to do this again?”

“We are just following the doctor’s instructions. In order for you to stay out of the hospital, you have to eat this. You want to go to the hospital?”

“I don’t care if I go to the hospital,” Mom says flatly.

“Oh, you don’t? Last time you didn’t like it very much,” Dad responds with a mild laugh.

“This is hurting me. It’s hurting my stomach. I am going to call the police,” Mom asserts.

“You’re going to call the police? Huh, I wonder how that would go,” Dad wonders.

Dad continues cutting and lifting a triangle of grapefruit to Mom’s mouth. She accepts it, reluctantly.

“Honey, it can’t hurt you it hasn’t even made its way to your stomach yet.” Good one, Dad.

“I don’t like this game. I want to go home,” Mom’s getting more agitated.

“One last spoonful. Here’s one last spoonful,” Dad is squeezing the grapefruit to give Mom a spoonful or two of juice.

“Ok, very good. We’re done, kiddo,” Dad seems pleased. Misson accomplished!

The morning grapefruit is really the only time I see Mom and Dad at the kitchen table. How things change.

Growing up, it was the centerpiece of our home. Mom would deliver Dad his nightly Rob Roy with his cherry crowing the ice, before setting the table for supper. In the summer, she’d cut flowers from the Hoffmeister’s yard and they’d sit atop the table; you could see them through the screen door as we played with the neighborhood kids into the night.

The table was part of our collective Arndt identity. Maybe that sounds weird, or like duh..ok, but I am told that the conversations that Mom had with us–her kids, our revolving door of friends–was something of a rarity. As a couple of my dearest and oldest friends stated earlier this weekend, “When we were growing up, your Mom talked to us. Maybe that’s why you miss her so… Your Mom was the exception, not the rule.”

And in that moment of conversation– I had clarity. Weeks earlier, my boss, Andy encouraged me to call on this house in Milan. We had been driving from meeting to meeting and happened upon it. Divine intervention. A block away from school, with a yard and a porch–it was perfect. I already had the little free library mapped out in my mind for the neighborhood kids.

I called. I saw it. I made an offer. I waited. And I cried something terrible. Off and on–all day I cried, weird but true.

This weekend, I was recounting the story about the house in Milan, my uncontrollable sobbing to Jen and Shannon and suddenly realized the reason for my tears. The house, with its huge kitchen table, reminded me of the home Mom created for us. And not the physical place that is 1202 S. Patton, but the feeling she sprinkled into every interaction.

I was still grieving the loss of the feeling Mom culivated around the kitchen table. With the house on General Taylor, I guess I wept knowing I’d never have the chance to show her–I too would work to create a home, a feeling, a space similar to what she’d done when we were kids.

Over brunch, Jen and Shannon helped me see that I was still grieving the loss of who Mom once was. I am grateful for such clarity.

Mom talked, but she did something else even better–she listened. She really listened to what each one of us had to say. She’d lean in, look you straight in the face. And just listen. She’d offer words of encouragement, she’d tell some stories, but if she didn’t have the answer, she also didn’t bullshit you. And we did all this talking and she did all this listening around our kitchen table.

I hope I can create half the atmosphere you worked to provide as I lay down roots in New Orleans.  I miss you so much, Mom.

 

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