My Mom was a shopper. She had always been a shopper. Once Mom came to live with us, we had a “pretend” shopping trip at least once a week.
She couldn’t stand for long periods because of an arthritic knee, but she loved shopping. She may have been haunted by memories of the large Mall or Super Walmart, but her eyes lit-up like Christmas as soon as we entered the Dollar store.
She never forgot about shopping. In the small confines of the Dollar Store, she could fill her basket with stuffed animals, string beads, floppy hats or whatever goodies she wanted before her knee began to throb.
She was delighted. She carried her treasures around in a shopping tote and played with them while the rest of us watched television. Who’s to say– who has the better hobby? The problem was–anytime I left the house Mom wanted to go. In truth, I think she suspected I was visiting the Dollar Store on the sly, without her.
Whatever the reason, if I had a quick errand to run without Mom, her mouth puckered into a frown and her eyes became as sorrowful as a puppy’s.
“Mom, it’s Walmart,” I tried to explain one day when my shopping trip required a longer time-frame than Mom’s knee could endure. Then she lowered her head and cried.
“Okay!” I relented– with a second thought and exasperated sigh. Walmart was a big store but I only needed a single item. Surely we could run in and out before Mom’s knee began to complain. Whenever walking was involved, Mom’s knee was first consideration.
Smiling, though, I could already imagine Mom’s wide-eyed amazement at Walmart. For more than a year, Mom’s shopping trips had been minuscule compared to Walmart. Like a child begging for chocolate, I knew I shouldn’t do it but I finally succumbed. “Let’s get dressed, ” and Mom was smiling big and wide because she knew she was going with me.
I nudged Mom along by the elbow, knowing I needed to finish my shopping and get out of the store before Mom’s angry knee had time to complain. And we almost made it too– when Mom stopped abruptly–in the middle of the aisle.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, kneeling down to press a palm to her knee. “Is it hurting already? Oh Mom, I knew I shouldn’t have brought you.” I tugged her elbow as I saw the shoe aisle only a few steps away. “This way Mo–” she snapped her arm out of my grasp. “Did I hurt you?” I frowned and took a step backwards. “I’m sorry…”
I reached for her arm again, more gently this time. “The shoe aisle is right over here, Mom. You can sit down for a few minutes and rest your knee. Let’s take a brea–.” We had only walked from the front of the store to the back. I couldn’t imagine her knee hurting already. But Mom yanked her arm free of my grasp again and stood like a statue in the middle of the aisle, glaring at me.
I could tell by the look in her eyes, Mom was not only frozen in place but confused. I wasn’t even certain that she recognized me.
Sometimes Alzheimer’s is a game of new and confusing symptoms and behaviors. By the time you’ve adjusted to one stage and learned how to cope with all its pitfalls, the person with Alzheimer’s can drop off the cliff to a brand new stage where you’re walking blind trying to regain your balance all over again. I’d never seen this behavior before though.
“Mom,” I put an arm around her shoulder and tried to ease her from the center aisle to a resting place nearby, “it’s all right. It’s me. Come over here, we’re going to sit down for a few minutes. Take a break.”
She shook her head and spit the word loudly “No!”
“You need to rest a minute?” Another shake of her head. And I could feel my stomach begin a hard churn.
“Do you want to go home?” I tried again to budge her from the spot she’d claimed as her own.
“Let’s go home, Mom,” I tried to encourage her. “Your knee will feel better then, and I can come back later.” She was a granite pillar, unmovable.
Then she spoke, barely above a whisper. “I can’t walk.”
“What?” I leaned toward her soft voice. “Is it your knee, does it hurt, let’s step over here and rest.”
“No,” she replied, whispering again and sounding as baffled as I was. “I can’t walk.”
“Why not,” I finally asked.
Mom shrugged, “I dunno. I just can’t walk.”
The issue didn’t appear to be her knee. It was more like her feet had turned to stone or stuck to the floor. Simply put, Mom was right, she could not move. I had no idea what to do and was trying to think quickly to find a solution for this new behavior I’d never seen before.
As I struggled to move Mom from her frozen position a friendly lady, wearing a Walmart tag, finally approached. Beneath my breath I explained the situation as best I could without Mom hearing her health predicament shared with a stranger.
“Can she drive one of our electric carts?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that…” I glanced at Mom. Her eyes were wide and her head was nodding affirmatively. “You think you can drive one of those little cars, Mom?” Her head was bobbing gleefully now. Since the day we lifted her drivers license, she had cried to have her car returned. I could swear I saw a twinkle of vengeance in her eye.
With no other resolution that I could think of, I finally relented to the idea of the electric cart. The Walmart lady headed to the front of the store and quickly returned driving the electric cart herself.
“Mom–” I was nervous now.
Mom needed neither urging nor instructions. Previously planted in the floor like cement, she was fluid in her run for that magic cart.
The Walmart lady hadn’t finished explaining the exhilaration system when Mom went flying off toward the front of the store. I closed my eyes and prayed. “Please don’t let her drive through the plate glass window.” I had intended to walk along beside her. Mom was headed for Nascar!
When I arrived at the front of the store, Mom sat smiling, fully pleased with herself and waiting patiently for her slow poke duaghter. I wasn’t sure what I’d do now to get her outside and in the car. The Walmart lady volunteered the cart, saying we could take it on to the car. But Mom jumped off and started walking quickly toward the door.
“Mom–” I called after her. “Wait a minute.” I thanked the Walmart lady, apologized for the mishap and made a mad rush to catch Mom before she stepped into traffic.
I was shaking my head and trying to figure out what happened long after I buckled Mom into her seat-belt and headed home. Occasionally, I still think about it.
By the time we got home, Mom had no memory of being in Walmart, frozen in place, or driving that cute little electric car. Sadly, she had even forgotten her wild ride on the electric car, which she would have loved had she remembered!
My Mom passed away seven years ago and her Birthday will be in July. But I have so many fun, funny and loving memories from those final years that I think of her everyday.