The Consummate Thief
Written by
Kathryne Arnold
July 2011
Written by
Kathryne Arnold
July 2011


The slick intruder tiptoed into my mother’s apartment three weeks ago and stole her away- just like that - as we stood nearby, too dumbfounded to fight, no handy weapon with which to do battle. My mother fell before going to bed, her feet just a tad too wobbly, that’s all it took. She collapsed into a ball, fracturing her hip and pelvis. She called out for me, her face twisted in fear, her eyes full of disbelief and shock, like she was registering what was happening from outside her body, looking at herself as though a stranger. The unexpected predicament causing my stepfather and I to momentarily freeze in our tracks, no quick words to forestall the crisis, instantly in over our heads. It is not a memory that I will hold dear. 


Yes, this consummate thief quite confident in the ability to seize what was not his, little forethought, no remorse. With a single misstep (literally and figuratively), this crisis catapulted us into a familial situation of which few are equipped to confront with confidence, more so without notice. We were caught off guard, but looking back should have been better prepared for its arrival. Guess we chose not to acknowledge the red flags flapping in our faces due in large part to denial, the strongest of all defense mechanisms, often times our closest friend in dire circumstances. This robber of which I speak has a name no one wants: dementia. Ruthless, a slow stealer of lives, fewer escaping his clutches the more birthdays under ones belt.


But I’m beyond grateful that I was there for her, to care for her as she has always done for me. Finally, after all these years, I was presented with the most profound way to give back. And through the confusion and gathering fog, we recognized this at once. Bound together, mother and daughter, the cycle of life, pure trust and knowing, no matter the state of mind. She has not yet progressed in her dementia to not know or recognize me, among others she holds close, for which I am enormously appreciative. A short quote springs to mind that I remember from my days working at the local hospice, “Everyday’s a gift.” Funny how a sentence so succinct can hold such timeless wisdom.


My awareness of my mother’s physical and cognitive status is now clear, due to the fall that has hastened her physical and mental decline. But in actuality this downward slide was occurring before her incident, but was so incremental that at most times it was difficult to detect, and certainly much easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. Our family had been willing co-conspirators, agreeable victims of a “group think” mentality; we didn’t want to know, weren’t ready to grasp the sinking truth until it was forced upon us. The fall obviously pushed her over the edge, along with the subsequent admission into the ER, followed by a move to another wing of the hospital, then sudden transfer to a local rehabilitation facility for various therapies. My younger brother and I have been taking turns flying back and forth for several weeks now, attempting to ensure that she is as safe and happy as possible, as her situation allows. 


I recall a phrase of reflection my mother uttered yesterday on the phone, that she is “between dawn and twilight”, but when pressed to expound the personal meaning this held for her, she was unable to give details. But I have the strong sense there was a multi-level connotation, the truth now locked forever inside. So as I prepare to again return to PA, I am excited for her, but cautious and realistic about the move back to the apartment she shares with her husband, a warm and familiar environment, full of plain comforts. This yearning to return home is the crux of what my dear mother has desired since her fall, often simply stating, “I want my life back.”


I struggle to capture on paper, to verbalize what this life-changing experience has meant to me, as it continues to unfurl. Of utmost importance as her daughter is to do my part to help ensure that her home will be a safe haven for as long as humanly possible. I know within my heart that these weeks I’ve spent with her, caring as I know how, is the most significant gift I’ll ever give her, and for that there are no words.   




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