Since Mom's lived with us, I have often felt irritation with her over the way she speaks to me when I'm performing some service or another for her. There is a tone one uses when speaking to waitresses and store clerks-- polite but certainly not the familiar tone used with family members--and I have been offended when my mother used that tone with me.
Yesterday I asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
In that impersonal tone I've come to dislike so, Mom replied, "Yes please. Black."
Her reply stopped me in my tracks. My pre-Alzheimer's mother would have been well aware that I've known how she likes her coffee since I was a toddler. I suddenly understood why Mom responds to me as she does--not always knowing where she is or why, not always certain whether this harried, middle aged woman who cares for her is her daughter or some hired person, she takes her cues from me. And so when I offer to bring her coffee she quickly assumes I'm her hired help!
Mom masks her confusions so well and she still looks and sounds like the mother I've always known, and so I had not recognized the degree to which she needs me to help her to stay oriented to her surroundings. Just a small shift in my words and actions can solve this problem that has bothered me for the past four years; when I offer Mom a service I need to cue her as to who I am in order to clarify that it is her daughter offering to help her, not a stranger.
Today I said, "Mom, I'm going to get myself a cup of coffee, want me to bring you one?"
"Oh yes, Sweetheart, that would be nice," she replied.
Too bad it took me so long to catch on.