This story is by Teresa Edmond-Sargeant and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My mother, Benita, or “Benny” as she’s called, wandered among our guests throughout the festooned living room. Sometimes she placed an affectionate hand on a guest’s arm or hand. Sometimes she commented on how much a song reminded her of her childhood in the Philippines. Once in a while, she would point to the streamers and ask a guest what they were for. The guest would reply that the decorations were in celebration of her and Dad’s 30th wedding anniversary.
Was it a mistake for me to return to Jersey for my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary? Yes, I am their only child. Then again, Mom was the reason I left home for Georgia State University and lived in Atlanta since, though I do come up for the holidays. Then there’s me considering selling my apartment – I’m not sure where I stand on that.
“Emilia! How are you?” Mom said, hugging me.
Dad had warned me that signs of dementia would be memory loss and misidentifying people.
“Mom.” I pointed to myself. “I’m Rosario, your daughter. I’m sorry I got here late. My flight to the Newark Airport got delayed, so I couldn’t come and help Emilia and her parents set up the party right away and –”
Mom squinted at me, mumbled a question in Filipino, and wandered off.
I couldn’t decide if I should let her mistake go. On one hand, this was a sign of her condition. On the other hand, Mom had boasted about my cousin Emilia’s straight-As, her talents as a lacrosse player, and her figure when she and I grew up together.
On the living room couch sat my father Mateo. He rose and approached me. I know he saw the interaction I had with Mom.
“Let’s go outside,” he said in his thick Filipino accent.
We crossed through the kitchen and out to the patio. We found an isolated spot among the many more guests sitting in the area.
“How’s your heart?” I asked.
“It’s okay.” Dad sipped water from his cup and sighed. An awkward silence between us. “Your mother’s dementia’s getting worse. Now she’s claiming to have healing powers.”
My eyes fluttered. “Okay.” Well, what do I say to that?
“She’s saying St. Anne – you know, Jesus’s grandmother – kept appearing to her in dreams and blessing her with those powers. Where does she as my wife end, and her dementia begins? You know her: Once an idea sticks in her head, she runs away with it. But her saying she can heal the sick, it’s like the point of no return for her.” A drawn-out breath, and tears in his eyes. “I’m scared for her. I know I should be patient with her, but that’s getting more and more impossible.”
Dad and I conversed some more before returning inside the house. In the kitchen, Mom was on a spiel in the Filipino language to her cousins, approaching the end of her story: “The next day, she went in for her chemo. By the end of the week, she called me saying she was in remission and thanked me for healing her.”
Dad squeezed his lips, tension welling up in his face while watching Mom brag about her healing powers a while longer. Then he had enough.
Dad took Mom’s hand. They headed down the hallway to their bedroom. Dad closed the door, and their voices were low. I eavesdropped at the door. With them conversing in Filipino, Dad asked why Mom had to tell the guests about her “healing powers.” I stepped away from the door and down the hallway, wanting to give them privacy though the door was shut.
After a while, Dad screamed in English, “Thirty years of this! And then your dementia has made it worse! I don’t know why I put up with –”
Silence. Then, a thud.
Mom screamed, albeit a muffled cry behind the closed door. I rushed toward the bedroom and opened the door. Mom was kneeling on the floor, having placed her fingertips at his temples and praying with closed eyes.
“Oh my God!” I dropped my knees to check his pulse on his neck. Thank God he still has one.
Guests clamored at the doorway, with a few of them surrounding Dad in a bid to help him. I jumped at the landline phone by the bedside and dialed 911. I gave the dispatcher the necessary information then hung up. By this time, Mom had positioned her fingertips on Dad’s temples. I kneeled next to Dad, across from her. I grasped Mom’s wrists and pressed the palms of her hands together in a prayer position, stopping her “healing” process.
“You don’t have any healing powers!” I hissed at her in Filipino. “You can’t help him! The ambulance will be here any minute. Let them take care of Dad! Why do you always think this way, do stuff like this?”
She stared at me, then up and around at the guests, wondering who I was to say any of what I said to her.
The ambulance arrived and transported Dad to the hospital. I drove my parents’ car to the hospital with Mom in the passenger seat. Mom stayed quiet.
At the hospital, we tracked down the room he was in. There, he lied on his bed, with an IV needle stuck in his arm. Mom’s blank expression lit up as soon as she saw her husband.
Unable to bear the sight of my father lying on the bed, I departed the room, extracting my cell phone from my purse. In the hallway, I dialed a number, my shoulders slumped, my stomach tightened, and tears flowing down my cheeks.
A voice mail answered, followed by a beep.
“Hey, Gerald,” I said into the phone. “It’s Rosario. Yeah, give me a callback. I’m going to sell my apartment after all. I’m moving back to Jersey.”
I disconnected the call and glanced at my parents. One was lying helpless on his bed. The other was standing at his side, her eyes staring at her husband.
A spark lit within me, something I hadn’t felt toward Mom in a long time: Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. I slipped my phone in my handbag and approached Mom. I pulled her hands toward me, a sense of healing beginning within me.
“Mom,” I said. “I believe that you do have healing powers.”
I made eye contact with her. I squeezed her hands and kept them on my heart. Her hands were soft, and her palms were warm. She forced a smiled.
I glanced from Dad to Mom.
“Happy Anniversary to you both,” I said.
Neither responded. I didn’t expect them to.