mom tickles

Colleen OBrien
4 min readNov 9, 2020


When I was younger my mom’s house was a sanctuary for me. I never really felt like I had a home growing up as we lived in my stepfather’s home and it was not a home much less mine and it certainly was not safe. She divorced him when I was 20 and I suddenly had a home.

I would go to her and despite our complicated history, I always felt at home and safe when I was snuggled up on her sofa. Crying mostly. But also laughing. A lot. Good times.

The house is gone. I sold it. Out from under her if you ask her and even if you don’t. Sometimes it is the loop that she runs, mostly at me but also at anyone who will listen. She is ill. She has Alzheimer’s. With the guidance of my aunts, who nursed their own mother through this disease decades ago, I moved her to a “community” closer to my sister and I. Prior to this she was living in her beautiful dream home that she built from scratch, at the beach with all of her favorite things and all of her hard work and accomplishments surrounding her. Unfortunately, she is ill. It was falling apart. Not the house but the home. I was advised by her psychiatrist to move her now. Before she would no longer be capable of reorienting herself. If I waited it would be more traumatic and difficult for her. She might never recover. It has been a year and a half. She claims that she planned to move back. As soon as she gets her driver’s license reinstated which was also taken from her by the DMV due to the fact that her neurologist is mandated to report to them her diagnosis and cognitive issues.

The house is gone. The home has been gone for quite some time. The sanctuary also. It has been replaced by a beautiful two bedroom apartment in a beautiful facility. She wants to go home. She can’t and it is my fault. I got her bad doctors (I did not), who gave her a bad diagnosis (they did not) and it again, is all my fault. There is so much more but this is not about that. I tell this much of the story only for reference.

Today on this Sad Sunday she ran out of cat food. Which, by the way is close to impossible as I have it delivered on a schedule. She hides it because “someone is coming in and stealing things”. She hides everything. She has lost four debit cards in the past year, which she miraculously finds and then attempts to use on QVC (racket) or HSN (also a racket) long after they have been canceled and replaced. Her charges are declined and I get the enraged phone calls. Dozens of phone calls telling me to stop controlling her money. She is getting a lawyer…

So she ran out of cat food. I mustered up the strength to put some sweats on and go to the market and buy her cat food and bring it to her. Did I mention that her male cat, who disappeared 6 months ago sprayed all over everything in her apartment so it smells like cat pee. We have tried tirelessly to clean and rid her home of the smell, yet it lingers.

It occurred to me as I tearfully strolled through the market and drove to her home that maybe I could go upstairs and lie on the sofa and cry and maybe she would tickle my arm. She is good at that. She is really good at letting me lie on the sofa and cry while she tickles my arm.

I had found a bit of a solution to my Sunday blues. I could barely hold the tears in on my way to her apartment. Which was empty. She was gone and her phone was there, which is always the case. She never takes her phone. I tried to sit in there by myself but it did not work. It was not the same and it smells like cat pee. I left the cat food and labored back to my car and called my sister from the parking lot and sobbed. In the midst of my parking lot breakdown my mom called and said she was out looking for me, which makes zero sense but ok. I started to cry on the phone and she asked me to come back which was easy because I was still in the parking lot. I went back up with low expectations.

The good news: I lay on the sofa and I cried and she ticked my arm and my legs. She kept forgetting why I was crying which I couldn’t really articulate, because I am not really sure, in her defense. I repeatedly attempted to explain as best I could. It wasn’t exactly the same but it was nice. It was better than nice. It felt like it used to. Afterwards, I joked with my sister that I had cried so hard that my nose stuffed up and I couldn’t smell the cat pee. Win.