Monday, April 20, 2009


I do a lot of hand-holding now-- more than I've ever done with Mom since, oh, my elementary school days. Mom has little to do aside from lying in her hospital bed and occasionally making the five-yard stroll to the curtained-off bathroom. When life becomes that circumscribed, when a person's world is reduced to just a few activities, every little motion starts to take on significance. Just ask a monk or a prisoner.

We family members watch TV with Mom, or we attempt conversation with her, but conversation never gets that far given Mom's aphasia and short-term memory difficulties. We can do little more than broach a topic, express some very basic, general sentiments about it, and end the discussion with an "Oh, really?" or an "Ah, OK." Each topic gets about thirty seconds' to a minute's treatment. We can create the illusion of conversation if we talk at length and invite Mom simply to nod or answer yes/no questions; as a passive contributor, she's a great conversationalist. Discussions including the notion of "because" are out of the question; the frontal lobe is associated with, among other things, a person's ability to connect cause and effect, and you can't offer a "because" if you're unable to draw causal connections. In other words, if Mom wants to tell us not to do something, she can express a negative imperative, but she can't explain why; the effort is beyond her. It may well be that the reasons are in her head, but the train that leads from her utterance to those reasons has derailed somewhere along the way.

Mom's short-term memory problems and the diminution of her world mean that she likes constant audiovisual stimulation. She might have trouble following the flow of a long newscast or an extended conversation, but it seems to do her good to hear people talking. She's also got a healthy appetite; some of her Korean friends have begun dropping off meals for her, and she attacks the food eagerly, supplementing her drab hospital diet with Korean soups and American-style BBQ ribs. This stimulation, too, is good for her; it embellishes the tactile and gustatory dimensions of her narrowed, simplified world.

Mom's ability to recognize people, even to ask after their welfare, is rooted in her long-term memory, which is largely intact. And that brings us back to hand-holding. It's a very here-and-now gesture, holding hands, and doing it with a friend or relative links the present gesture with memories from the past. When Mom isn't holding someone's hand, she's holding and stroking one of the stuffed animals that sit alongside her in her bed. The simple fact of touch does something for her, and I am-- we are-- all happy to help her on that score. Mom needs this from us... and if I'm honest, I have to admit that we need it from her, too.



addofio said...

Touching is important at every level--physical, metaphorical, emotional, spiritual--all at once. How many things do as much as simply?

If the prayers of an agnostic are worth anything, you've got 'em.

jennaaayyyy said...

Hey Kevin oppa, this is Jihae. I just wanted to let you know that we have been keeping gomo and all of yall in our prayers. I pray that God will continue to watch over you guys!

Kevin said...

Thanks, Jihae. Thanks, Addofio.