I had a memorable Mother’s Day weekend which extended to Monday. It started with a last minute decision to visit Nanay (my mother-in-law) at her home in Olongapo over 150km away. The Beloved decided over lunch on Saturday to see her so he can personally wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. We finished packing an hour after lunch and left.
I’ve mentioned before that Nanay has vascular dementia. She lives in her home with 2 caregivers, my stepdaughter and grandson. They watch over her and keep her company. We don’t get to see her as often as we want to. Each visit breaks my Beloved’s heart. He remembers how she used to be and deeply misses the Nanay he remembers. This is why we don’t get to visit Nanay so often.
The road trip was largely uneventful, save for the glorious sun and afternoon clouds. We passed through a rain-shower and were gifted with a rainbow which enthralled the children. We picked up a lovely cake before heading to Nanay’s and arrived just as the sun was beginning to set.
The gate to Nanay’s home is usually closed but not locked. The neighborhood is friendly; it’s that kind of place where everyone knows everybody else. So we were surprised to see that the gate had been padlocked. We saw Nanay through the fence, moving around within the premises, but she didn’t recognize us at first. Or maybe she did. She was friendly enough to talk to us over the fence afterwards while we waited for the gate to be opened. But with Nanay you weren’t sure. She is such a nice and gentle person. She’ll talk to anyone.
When we came in Nanay asked me (pointing to my Beloved), “Who is that?”
I told her, “He’s your son. It’s (Beloved’s name), your son.”
It took a few moments for his name to register in her mind while she studied his face.
Then she finally said, “Ah, yes, it is him”.
I’m always surprised whenever we visit Nanay because she seems to remember me better than she remembers him. Or maybe it’s because she’s being polite and didn’t want to ask him who he was and risk offending him. Dementia truly is a strange disease.
Had some cake before I remembered to take a picture of it
My stepdaughter explained the mystery of the padlock to her father as I chatted with Nanay. I overheard bits and pieces of it. Later I learned from her that the gate was now locked to keep Nanay from wandering off. There were never any problems of this sort before. She knew the neighborhood well and could always find her way home when she left the house.
It turned out that lately Nanay had wanted to leave her house, the house Tatay (my deceased father-in-law) built for her more than 30 years ago, claiming it was not hers. Nanay said that she lived in another house along the street. Nanay is a small but strong woman and she can “out-walk” her caregivers anytime. But she was also predictable, once out of the gate she always went to her best friend’s house down the street. Everyone basically knew where she was if she happened to “disappear” from sight. This time it was different. When she left at noon one hot summer day two weeks ago, she adamantly refused to return to her own house when the caregivers asked her to. This happened several times.
Did I also mention Nanay was strong? She can knock the wind out of the care-givers and she has done it in the past. It’s so out of character for her. But she does it when she feels that she’s being controlled or when she doesn’t get her own way.
To avoid a nasty scenario and possible harm (to Nanay and themselves), Nanay’s companions resorted to locking the gate. Surprisingly, Nanay didn’t show any resentment or annoyance, or even anger, at being confined to her property. They worried it would. She just continued her walks in her front and backyard.
As I listened to this, my heart wept. Nanay has been an independent woman all through-out her adult life. She is a self-made woman who had succeeded at achieving her goal of having her own home through sheer hard work, determination and guts, without the benefit of basic formal education.
I wept for the loss of freedom, the loss of her identity and for the future that she will never know as she lives in her own world. I wept for my own Beloved’s loss, as he watched his mother moving around in her own world, not able to enjoy his own achievements and get to know our children.
When we returned to Manila to vote in the elections, I couldn’t help thinking about Nanay and the word “independence”. As a country, do we really know what “independence” means? As a person I saw how independence was slowly taken away from Nanay by the unseen hand of dementia…
Days before the elections I had been hearing left and right how people wanted to “abstain” from voting because it was useless, pointless, a waste of time, it wouldn’t make a difference and so on. I admit that I used to think that way, too and missed many chances to do my duty and to help influence change in my society. After my children were born, I started to think differently about the elections and realized that the single vote I cast is enough…
De Castro Elementary School Voting Precinct
On Election Day Monday, I watched citizens who were around or older than Nanay’s age climb 3 to 4 flights of stairs just to be able to vote, all without uttering a single word of complaint. I watched them brave the jostling crowds to find out which cluster and room number they were listed in so they know where to go. I thought of Nanay and how she lost her independence when dementia took over her life. How everyday she will continue to lose a little more until the unthinkable is finally upon her.
The “abstainers” came to mind afterwards and I remember thinking to myself how many votes are gone because these people have lost hope in the system that gave us this independence, one that the older generations worked so hard to restore. And I remembered a precious old lady who had her own independence taken away from her by something she couldn’t control.
This post is my entry to the “Blogging through the Alphabet” link-up hosted by Marcy Crabtree at www.benandme.com. This week’s letter is “I” for “Independence.”