In honor of Mother's Day . . .
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she was seventy-seven, but even then we all wondered if she’d had it for a lot longer than we or the doctor knew. She’d been completely deaf since her late thirties and while she lip-read very well, she also got to be an expert at pretending she knew what strangers or casual acquaintances were saying even when she didn’t have a clue. In retrospect, we began to realize that she’d been faking it with us as her memory began to fail.
She never seemed frustrated by her loss of memory. In fact, it was the rest of us who were frustrated and she always responded with a big smile that defused our exasperation.
Even before she went into assisted living care, she began to be foggy about who I was. One night when she asked, and I told her, she didn’t believe me. So I hauled out my driver’s license thinking to prove I was who I claimed to be and her shocked reaction was to ask why I was in possession of my sister’s driver’s license. Even she laughed about it two nights later when she did remember who I was. Conversing with a deaf person who can’t recall how the sentence began has moments of humor, but it’s mostly frustrating and increasingly sad. A few things she never forgot – like the fact that it was me who took her car away. Until nearly the end of her life, she held that indignity against me. And she never forgot that her Johnny was the love of her life.
One thing I remember most about her last few years was that in spite of not being sure who I was, she still loved me and it showed. Until she went into care, she lived next door and I always stopped by on my way home from work. She always lit up with welcome and opened her arms for a hug when I walked into her living room. I “talked” to her mostly through written notes on her multitude of notebooks which had the advantage of being able to flip back a page or two when she continued to repeat the same questions. But the visits were always good ones because I knew she enjoyed our moments together even if she remembered nothing of them as soon as I disappeared from sight.
When the call that I’d been dreading for some time came, I rushed to her side at the hospital where her labored breathing was the only sound in the room. Her heart had failed and although the EMTs had gotten it started again, she never did regain consciousness. When her last breath came, my sister was with us and we were talking on the phone with my brother who lived several states away. So we were all together, hanging on to each other and our memories of a mother who had always loved us with her whole heart. I will always remember the stillness and love that filled that room at that moment. But even more, I will always remember the thousand-watt smile that greeted me every time I went to visit her, even long after she’d completely forgotten either my name or my place in her life. Sometimes a mother’s love is felt more than spoken, and ultimately it transcends even death. I see her smile in billowing white clouds against a brilliant blue sky and a dozen other things she loved, and I feel her touch in the soft darkness as I fall asleep each night.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You were and are the best.