Caring for a parent, conversations, cooking, Death & Dying, Dementia, Self-care

Rites of Spring

I found Mama asleep in her recliner the other day, nothing unusual but her response was new.

“What are you doing?” I tease after she finally wakes up so I can announce my arrival, “sleepin’?”

“I cook more in bed at night than I sleep,” she says.

I don’t really know what to say to that, though in retrospect the kitchen was where she spent most of her life, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that different food is what she dreams about. Who knows if they are sleeping dreams or insomnia thoughts, or how often it really happens, or when it was.

“What do you cook?” I ask.

“Well, good Malt-o-Meal,” she says.

“Ah,” I say, because what could I say?

It’s spring, but there is no renewal for her, no “got to get back to the garden” anticipation. I forgot to tell her the trillium in the pot by the front steps is up, and I haven’t seen any in the wild yet. Though she asked a month ago if it was blooming, I’m not sure she would have been interested this week. She’s not felt well. She’s cold, with the thermostat in her room at 75 degrees. The brain on dementia forgets to tell muscles to warm up. Coupled with the fact of her 60 pounds, she can’t get warm, spring or not. The brain on dementia can’t bear any tiny discomfort.


“Do I have any wool turtlenecks here?” she asks me, describing them. I make a show of checking her drawers, even though I know the answer.

“There is one at the cleaners,” I tell her—though it’s not really, because she hasn’t worn it since the last time it was cleaned. “I’ll pick it up and bring it; there are no other wool ones here.”

She asks me to describe every top in the drawer, because maybe, well who knows what maybe. She describes two or three wool turtlenecks that may have existed at some point when she was cooking in her kitchen, but not now.

“They might be in my closet, or in the box under the bed at the house,” she says.

I know there are no turtlenecks at the house, and that what she is thinking of are cotton, but I tell her I will look. We walk five rounds of the hall and I begin to take my leave.

“Do I have any wool turtlenecks in my drawer?” she asks.

I tell her I will bring the one from the cleaners and look for others at the house. There are none in her drawer. I hurry home to the garden. There are two sunny days before the rains return and this one is beginning to yawn.

Day one: Spring in the country is more work than I want to do, but for the time being I am caretaker of this property and it has to be done, over and over without regard for the fact that I just did it last year. The yard has dementia. I clear the weeds from the eleven boxes in my garden, talking to the three deer grazing outside the fence as I work. It takes three hours to weed and that’s all I have energy for. I try not to think about all there is to do and focus on what I did do.


Day two: I stick to the yard around the house. Three heaping wheelbarrow loads of branches downed in the winter winds, detritus from last season’s bloom pulled from Mama’s flower beds—that need to be plowed under and replanted, but not this year—and prunings from the lavender. It’s a drop in the bucket, but I’m done for today. I go buy top soil and new garden gloves, ready for next time.


Day three: The day dawns sunny! The rain, predicted to begin mid-afternoon has been moved to late afternoon. I’m itching to get my soil emptied into the boxes and plant lettuce, chard, spinach, peas, and carrots to be nourished by the coming rain. But first, Mama.

Michelle, our private aide, calls me twice before 9:30. Mama is grumpy, and angry at her for telling her she can’t make her an appointment to have her hair washed both at the in-house salon and the one downtown until she talks to me. Mama has refused to return to the in-house salon since the only other time she went 14 months ago because “she doesn’t have a hand-held hair dryer.” I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but I have never remembered to ask. Anyway, she could take her own, but she has stubbornly said she won’t go back there.

Michelle says the magic words though: “The last time I took her downtown it was a cluster fuck.” She didn’t say that really, she doesn’t talk like that. They couldn’t find a parking space and had to cross the street in the rain and she doesn’t feel confident she can keep my mother safe anymore. That’s all I need to know.

I leave the house early stopping to sign Mama’s tax return, and drop in at the in-house salon (yes, she has a hair dryer), then open Mama’s door. She’s asleep. I announce myself. Mama says she’s cold.

“Do I have any wool turtlenecks here?” she asks.

I sit with her in the dining room where she keeps asking about dessert. Personally I think she should start with dessert. She agrees to an appointment with the in-house hairdresser if I go with her.

After lunch I get back to the garden. I rejuvenate the old soil, plant the seeds, and wonder if Mama will still be with us when the harvest is gathered in. I mow the grass between the boxes and edge a third of the brick walk with the new edger I bought yesterday. I complete my goal. I think about doing more—there’s always more—but it feels best to stop when I reach my goal, though I rarely do. As if in confirmation, just as I finish the first raindrops fall.

Today is a wet, messy day. I’m cold.


The seeds will expand, crack open, and send shoots for the surface. They will stretch their leaves, bloom, and bear fruit. Mama is letting go, becoming very small as her body curls inward while her mind unravels. It breaks my heart to watch it. And this is way of the seasons.


I’ve just realized the post last year on this date has the same themes of spring, garden, kitchen, napping. A year later, my mother’s body mass is 10 pounds more diminished and her mind is looser. She still walks the halls, though slower and more bent, like a flower returning to the earth. She no longer listens to books on tape and I no longer think she does things we aren’t aware of. She dreams of dessert and Malt-o-Meal.  The Time is at Hand.

The garden is open for business.






15 thoughts on “Rites of Spring”

  1. Lovely and bittersweet reading for me this evening, Gretchen, as I navigate a similar path! A sprig of cherry blossoms on my kitchen window sill, and a wild bunny showing up daily for carrots remind me about how much solace the sweet Earth offers. And yes, the rhythms too… that ceaseless cycle. Miss you and touching base…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to know you are enjoying the rite of spring that is your garden, Gretchen. Lovely writing. I appreciate the sentiments you shared about how we choose to live our lives in the here and now. Thanks for the reminder!


  3. Gretchen…. tough to hear of your mother’s decline. Frailty is now her lot. It must be difficult to watch. Her strength, what little she has, probably comes from your presence and other contacts she has at her apartment. Hang in there friend. I enjoyed seeing pictures of your garden. I just added compost to my beds as well. Maybe we didn’t make enough mud pies as children? There is something healing about “working up” soil to prepare for new life. Spring is finally here!!


  4. Oh Gretchen this is lovely. I’m so glad you share your writing with the world. Xo Kim

    On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 9:43 AM Daughter on Duty wrote:

    > Gretchen Staebler posted: “I found Mama asleep in her recliner the other > day, nothing unusual but her response was new. “What are you doing?” I > tease after she finally wakes up so I can announce my arrival, “sleepin’?” > “I cook more in bed at night than I sleep,” she says. I don’t r” >


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