I made the mistake of asking her to write a letter to Melina.
"Every Friday," I said, "Melina brings home a letter to us telling us about her week. We sign the letter, which lets the teacher know we saw it. And then we write one back to her. Can you write one?"
I didn't give her the chance to say yes or no, but she nodded her head and picked up her pencil. She'd been trying to make her way through The Count of Monte Cristo. She'd read it before, but had decided to read it again. When she told me that, I wanted to tell her there was little chance she'd make it through that novel at all, but I didn't feel like playing the part of the killjoy messenger.
I watched as she flipped the notebook pages backward and read my letter from the previous weekend. Then she read the letter that Tim had written two weeks ago. She reached for her pencil again. I'm not sure how long she stared at the paper, but without a word, she went to find my Dad.
"Can you do this for me, Tony?"
Of course, Dad didn't know what she was talking about, but he rose from the couch and settled in at the dining table. I explained my request, and within five minutes, the task was done. When he put his pen down, she said, "Make sure you put the date on the paper."
"You go ahead and do it, Mary."
I watched and wondered what would happen. Would she be able to put the correct date on the paper?
"It's going to school with her tomorrow," Dad said. "So go ahead and put tomorrow's date on it."
We'd talked about what the next day was already--Mom's birthday. We'd had cake and a few presents, and with the medicine she's on, I was confident she'd be able to write the correct date. But a side of me also doubted her ability; the waffles had ended up in the refrigerator again and she'd forgotten that she had picked out a candle from Bath and Body Works.
She began to write the date on the top of the paper. "2-8-16" she said as she wrote, and then looked up at us. "That's right, isn't it?"
The look of defeat on her face almost had me in tears. I was glad she'd written the correct date. We could concentrate on what she'd done right instead of what she'd done wrong. "Yep," I said. "But you know, it's only going to get worse."
I didn't mean to end the conversation on a downer. I just wanted to be realistic. She shook her head at my words, and while she didn't voice anything, her body language spoke volumes about what she's going through on a daily basis.
Despite my animosity about how Mom's diagnosis came about. Despite the fact that I think Dad isn't always taking care of her like he should. Despite what I might think about the whole situation, it's moments like those that make me want to reach out and do what I can for them. And I would, if they'd let me.