What Time is it?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Report on one event/gathering/happening from your week in Gonzo journalism style. 


It’s an overcast, gray January day, with patches of icy rain stuck to the pavement of the parking lot. A steady and focused walk is required so that I don’t break a neck bone before getting to the metallic blue Hyundai that awaits in the garage. This is Saturday, the day I most often pay a visit to 94 year old mom, who lives 24 miles to the south.

Arriving at the one-story, two-building assisted living facility, I grab mother’s alcohol in the brown paper bag and saunter into the small, squarish vestibule. Kristy pushes the four numbers on the keypad of the security door that will allow my entrance, then pushes open the once locked door. Kristy smiles and says “Hi! How are you?” “Well, I’m good,” is the reply, “Does mom have any mail?” I suppose I should have asked Kristy how her day was in return, instead of barking out the mail question. “Sorry, you know mom will send me right back down here if I don’t ask about her mail.” Kristy checks the red hanging folder in the med room.

“Nope, no mail today.”

“OK, thanks Kristy!”

The Christmas decorations are still up in the front living room…a gold and cranberry colored wreath hanging over the active gas fireplace. I wonder to myself if they are leaving the decorations up to give the residents something to look at or if the owner and her mother are just too busy to take anything down. One of the Alzheimer patients is wandering with the smile of a life past on her face. The overstuffed sofa invites her to sit down and relax for an eventual nap.

A quick knock on the door and I enter mom’s living quarters. It is a three-room couples’ unit that is no longer occupied by her husband. The lamp on the end table gives a swath of 100 watt light while natural light streams through half of a window. The other half is covered by a leafless bush that is in dire need of a trim. A light streams from the bathroom through a small crack in the door that is not completely shut. Mom is half asleep in her hunter green Lay-Z-Boy that has seen its better day. A blue tweed prayer shawl covers her cold horizontal legs. A ratty black cardigan sweater covers the upper half of her aged body. I give a loud “Hello Mom!” from just inside the door. She doesn’t react. I walk closer and give another “Hello Mom!” and this time she looks up. I grab mom’s hand, draw in close to her face and breathe a “Hello Mom, it’s me, your daughter Mary.” Mom gives a smile of acknowledgment and asks, “What’s in the paper bag?” I let her know that I have delivered her brandy and vermouth, so she can have a Manhattan today. Another smile of acknowledgment appears. I remove the brandy from its brown paper holder and discover that I wasn’t paying attention at the liquor store. I had grabbed a bottle of Kessler whiskey, the adult refreshment of my youth. I admit the mistake to mom and she scowls, “I don’t like whiskey!” A sigh makes it past my lips and I realize an unplanned trip to the liquor store is in order.

“Hey mom, I’ll go get your brandy. Be right back…..”

The second time around, Heather allows me and the paper bag in the door and says, “Hi Mary, is it warm outside?” I have a second to answer in the affirmative when Karen, mom’s favorite caregiver, walks up to me. “Just so you know, your mom is not having a good day. She’s very out of it. When I gave her a shower, she acted as if she didn’t know how to use her walker or where to put her hands. Then she kept asking me what time it was. She asked three or four times what time it was.  I’m not sure what’s going on, but I thought I should tell you. We’ll fax the doctor on Monday and check her for a UTI.” I thanked Karen for the “heads up” and proceeded down the hall once again, past the wreath and the fireplace, back into mom’s room.

Sitting on the black-as-night seat of her wheeled walker, I begin to say something to mom when she interrupts.

“What time is it?”

“It’s 2 pm, mom.”

“Why are you so early?”

“I’m not early, mom. I’m late.”

Mom asks, “You are?” with an extremely confused look on her face. Her mind is being unkind to her.

“Yes, mom, I am late. I usually come around 11 am and take you out to lunch if the weather is nice.”

Mom’s face continues to betray her confusion and I change the subject. “Did you have any visitors this week?” Mom gives the usual response that she doesn’t remember. I ask about specific people, like Judy from church, who comes to give her communion every Friday. “I don’t know,” is her response. We chat a few minutes more. Then mom asks again.

“What time is it?”

“It’s ten minutes after 2:00.”

“Why are you so early?”

“Mom, I’m not early…I’m late.”

“You are?”

“Yes mom.”

Beyond the confusion, mom doesn’t forget that she loves her brandy Manhattans…a shot of brandy, extra vermouth, three ice cubes, a dash of water…and asks me to make her a drink. Mom sits in quiet while I complete the ritual of mixing her Manhattan, walking into what used to be dad’s bedroom (now a storage room) and rescuing the alcohol from a downsized, white refrigerator. The tiny freezer has a layer of frost, working too hard to make ice cubes.

The drink is placed in mom’s hand and again the question.

“What time is it?”

“It’s twenty after two, mom.”

“You’re early.”

“Yes mom, I am.”

It was easier to give up. I ask mom if her son, my brother, has called her this week. “No. I don’t understand him anyways. He talks too fast. I can’t hear him.” The cell phone comes out of my purse and I text my brother to slow down and speak loud when he calls mom. I will tell him later about mom’s bad day. I ask mom if she ate all of her Christmas cookies and she directs me to an empty box. “Did you like them, mom? Would you like me to bring more?” Mom frowns and sputters, “Not anything with nuts. They get stuck in my dentures!” I asked her if I could make some chocolate crinkles for her and she gives a tentative nod. “They are soft?” she asks, and I confirm with a “yes.” Mom gets in her usual five minutes of “the food they serve here is crap” and then the question returns.

“What time is it?”

I can’t answer. The tears welling in my eyes affect my ability to speak.

I wonder if the persistent question is the result of a UTI or if the dementia is tightening its grip.

It’s time for me to go. I’ll be back in a couple of days when mom’s social worker comes for a visit. We’ll all talk then and I’ll pray that mom knows what time it is. Or, at the very least, know that I’m not early.

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149 responses to What Time is it?

  1. *tears in my eyes* This is very well done.I fully understand and appreciate the complexities of loving and caring for a parent in the winter of their life.

  2. The Regular Guy NYC says:

    I also clicked like based on how you wrote this. Such a sensitive subject for sure. So tough to go through.

  3. Wayne LeLoo says:

    Mary: so sorry for you, it must be so difficult. My father had dementia the last several years of his life, and my brother has been in end-stage Alzheimer’s for the past few years. I will pray for you.

  4. This brought back some memories of my Mom… It’s so hard seeing our loved ones deteriorate… especially remembering her saying at one point that it’s the last thing she wanted… to not be able to care for herself.. Diane

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I know, they not only lose their independence and health, but sometimes their dignity as well. I remember dad having a hard time asking for assistance when he first went into assisted living because he, too, wanted to be able to take care of himself. Thanks for your words, Diane.

  5. Priom says:

    Wish you happiness in your life. I have realized that Pity is a bad thing, I have all my empathy who face this in life and want nobody to face this, should anyone I wish does so with courage, like you.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for the wish of happiness. I have so much empathy for anyone who has to care for elderly parents in any situation.

  6. syrbal-labrys says:

    Someone once dear to me worked in a retirement home for a spell. Of course, there were many heart-breaking things daily; but what always got to her was the white haired lady who would pluck at her sleeve each afternoon and ask, in a very upbeat voice, “Dearie? When are the martinis coming?”

    • bikerchick57 says:

      LOL! Hey, manhattans or martinis, I say “God bless” if they can still throw down a high ball. My mom has had moments of “I need to quit” and I always ask her “why?” You are 94 years old, have lived a very long life, and you deserve it. Aside from that, I give kudos to the caregivers who work in assisted living and retirement homes. They are sorely underpaid for what they do.

      • syrbal-labrys says:

        Yes, they really are; in my late teens I volunteered in such places because I actually liked the older folks. Now, approaching age myself (60), I can’t really be helpful because of spinal issues and allergies…but yeah, if they can still toss one back, Cheers!

  7. awax1217 says:

    Loved the clock in the eye. Our minds fade with time and the little things take over. We become concerned about drivel. We concentrate on the little things that we took for granted and now become microscopically important. Does time really matter? What does it matter if we eat at six than seven. And yet we will argue about it ad nauseum. It is cold, it is hot and the weather conversation goes on and on. Such is life. We who have little purpose in life salute the inane and insipid.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks for your comment. When dad was still living, he and mom focused on the time for many things, like eating lunch and dinner “on time” as if it mattered. He called me up one day very mad as it was 10:30 am and he was still in his pajamas because no one had come to help him with his shower. I really think the focus on time has a lot to do with wanting to have control over something after losing independence. Unfortunately, they did not even have control over that.

  8. whenlifeisgood says:

    You express yourself very well. I could see the room as you described it, as well as your mom. What a dear daughter you are. This really moved me. Thank you for posting.

  9. jkepler1970 says:

    I agree with the pushing of the like button. No one with a heart would ever be able to say ” I pushed it for the content”. But for your love to your mother. … Yes

  10. Miguel says:

    No sé que edad tendrá tu madre, pero es muy doloroso vivir esa situación. Yo perdí a la mía hace muy poco tiempo. Y lo que más lamento es que pasé 15 años viviendo muy lejos de ella, pude ir a visitarla hace poco mas de un año y medio. Mi único placer fué poder verla un mes antes de su fallecimiento, cuando se le presentó un cáncer que en tan sólo 40 días dió final a su vida. Lo único que te puedo decir bikerchick57 es que disfrutes al máximo de ella mientras la tengas contigo. Suerte y que Dios te permita verla recuperarse.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Miguel, I don’t know what you’ve written, but I’m sure it’s very sweet. Thanks for your comments and your support.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Miguel, I was able to translate and wanted to say thank you so much for your kind words. I will see mom tomorrow and will remember those words, to have time with her while she’s still here. Love and blessings to you.

  11. kariterrazas says:

    I loved everything, I can really connect with the person that speaks about the situation, (you) as if I was living it. It is very well written, i don’t know how you learned to express all your feelings even getting an emotional response from an audience, I wish i knew how to do this. I hope for the best for you and your mom. There will always be hard times and its how you cope with them that really shows your strength and value as a person and you are a very strong person.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for your wonderful comments. It’s been a long road with both of my parents and I have to believe that I gained strength along the way, having to deal with it all. In regard to eliciting emotion in your writing, just speak from your heart and the words will come.

  12. livinitalian says:

    I was first attracted to your post by the photo you chose, which I liked very much. I then started to read your post and couldn’t stop. My grandmother will be 98 in March and is suffering with dementia, some days she knows who I am and other days she has no idea who I am. Sometimes she thinks I’m her husband (my grandfather who passed away in 1985) and others she has no idea at all. When I take my children over she mistakes them for my sister and me when we were their age. Just so sad. So hard to not leave with a tear remembering her in her better days.
    Thank you for sharing your experience, but it brought a smile on my face when you mentioned she never forgets her brandy :O) I loved discovering your blog!

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you so much! Your comments about your grandmother hit home. This is something else that happens with mom. She thinks I’m her sister Jeanne at times. She will ask me why I changed my name or how I fit into the family. One of the caregivers thought that I was just a visiting friend at first because that’s how mom portrayed me to her. It comes and goes and I never know what will greet me. Just have to take this one day at a time.

  13. drew delaney says:

    I am so sorry to read that this is pretty well a true story. How heart-wrenching. I lost my mother October 20, 2013 and I can totally understand the good days and the bad. You are a good writer. Congratulations of getting Freshly Pressed. What an honour for you I bet.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for the compliment and, yes, it is an honor. I’m sorry you’ve lost your mom, but I hope you have many fond and happy memories of her good days.

  14. cassidy4life says:

    wow, what an incredible story. If you or anyone needs any advice or inspiration you can always stop by at my blog. stay strong

  15. Archie says:

    Your mother is extremely lucky to have you… In a world where most children can’t bother to be ‘weighed down’, you have a beautiful heart, thanks to your parents. Please know that from half-way across the world, we send you love and prayers.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Oh, you are so sweet! Thank you for the love and prayers and words of support. That means a great deal to me.

  16. Victor Uriz says:

    Very well written, takes me there. I have been in a similar situation and your story portrays the visit in a concise manner. Keep up the excellent story telling.

  17. ktssw says:

    Mary you have done such a beautiful job capturing this moment between you and your mother. I’m so sorry your mother is experiencing dementia. It must be so frustrating for the both of you. I wish her better days in the future.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Most every day I wish life could be better for my mother – to see better, hear better, taste better and remember the present and past as she used to know it. In reality, I can only pray that she has moments of peace, happiness and remembering what happened yesterday.

  18. Lisa Chesser says:

    Well done!! I haven’t been keeping up with writing and had a moment to take a look at Freshly Pressed and some of my favorite writers.

  19. I love this. It reminds me of my most recent visit with my grandma who is also dx with Alzheimer’s. She kept asking me how things were going, where I lived, what grade I was in school… But she remembered me, and I suppose that’s the important thing. I find that the details in my life are unimportant because at least she remembers ME.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you. That is a plus that your grandma knows you. I never know if mom is going to know that it’s me or think I’m her favorite sister.

  20. farrell says:

    Beautifully written. I miss my grandpa though he has his mind till the day he passed away but you’re story reconnects me to that part where I tend to him at times like this when his alone, having his own time seated looking out of the window. I would usually tell the time for him so that it will signal him to slowly move out of his seat to the small table. It’s time for dinner. The time I would bring food to his room.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      You were so kind to help your grandpa. I’m sorry you miss him, but I hope you have many, many fond memories of your time with him.

  21. Thank you SO much for posting this! I’ve been wanting to experiment with Gonzo style writing but I had no clue where to start. Your blog is an excellent example and with your helpful link at the end I was able to read the article explaining things in the challenge. I’m going to challenge myself to do a Gonzo style blog this week. Thanks again for the inspiration. It was just what I needed and I’m so happy I randomly found you when I pressed the ‘Freshly Pressed’ button. 🙂 Write on!!!

  22. I’m so sorry that you have to watch your mom go through that. If it’s any consolation, this blog was very well written. Your use of descriptors of the setting puts the reader right there with you. Best of luck to you and your mother.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for your best wishes and for the positive comments about the post. It’s a little bittersweet to be pressed over a story of my mother’s dementia, but it’s a reality for many of us. I think it was cathartic to put the events of that day in writing.

  23. abbygail15 says:

    Your word choice is impeccable and your description of the setting is beautiful. You really have captured my emotions with this.
    I’d say I’m sorry for what’s going on, but pity gets nobody anywhere. However, my thoughts do go out to you and I hope that everything gets better.

  24. Beautifully done and wonderfully heartfelt. My sweet mother-in-law just gave up her independence and moved into a place just like you describe last month. We are in for a very long road, I’m sure. Many prayers for your mother.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you for the prayers. I will say a prayer for your mother-in-law too and for you as you move forward down this road with an elderly parent.

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