Not forgotten. Gratitude Experiment: Day 16

I raced to get home after grocery shopping this morning to arrive before my step dad dropped off my Mom.   This is part of our routine.  He drops my mom off on the way to his weekly doctor appointment and I watch her for a while.   My mom has Alzheimer’s and is only 71.

Mentally, I have to gear up for visits with my mom, even though it has gotten easier since they’ve lived nearby for the last year and a half.   I used to be mentally drained for at least a day or so after every visit.  Sometimes it still really takes it out of me to see her this way while knowing that there is much worse to come.  But as I have worked through my grieving process for my old mom, I have learned to try to find a bit of  joy in our moments together as I search for her old self within her.  I like to think maybe my real mom is in there and it will just take me doing or saying just the right thing to get a piece of her back, even if just for a minute.

I looked out the door as she was getting out of the minivan. He usually lets her come up the sidewalk by herself .  Thank God she had her teeth in — my stomach sank at first when I couldn’t tell. Any casual observer would  think nothing of this.  Until she gets to my door.  She reaches for the door, then she stops and stares at me blankly.  Then today, in response to my hello, she said “hi” in her familiar mom tone.  (Hearing her old voice at the beginning of a conversation used to make me think maybe I just dreamed this whole thing.) At any rate, this was much better than her usual shoulder shrug.  I breathed a sigh of content.

As I walked her into the kitchen, the family history notebook she put together years ago was on the counter.  Secretly I was hoping she would recognize it. Maybe it could be the spark for today?  She spent a few years compiling it about 20 years ago and it is ever so thorough, with ancestry charts, old letters my grandfather sent home from WWII, newspaper articles, birth announcements and the like.

I point to it and explain to her that it’s the family history book that she put together years ago.  I told her how helpful it was for my youngest son’s school project last night.  She looked at me puzzled and said, “I did?”  I pointed out photos of her parents and her sister and she gave me a look that was both puzzled and blank at the same time. But I wasn’t giving up.

I motioned for her to sit down as I helped her understand the chair.  I let her thumb through some pages on her own. Maybe the pages would feel familiar?  I showed her the  photos of all of the houses her parents had lived in.  Photos have worked a little before. I narrated as I walked her though the book .  She was more intent than I have seen her in months.  I told her that I would be right back and I ran upstairs to answer a quick email for work.  I do this occasionally with ears perked in case she opens the front door in search of my step dad.  She is always looking for him when she is at my house, as though she thinks he’s in the house or just outside. She is much more at ease when he is at her side, which warms my heart like an old love story.

I started getting anxious and quickly jogged down the stairs, worried that I had taken too long.  To my surprise, I found her still sitting in same spot very intently thumbing through each page over and over and back and forth.  She looked content and engaged.

When my step dad arrived to pick her up she pointed at the picture of herself in a newspaper article when she was one of the beauty queens at her college.  She told him “That’s me” and smiled her cute little smile.

My heart sang.

On the second page of this 200 page family history notebook of my mother’s ancestry, it reads:

“I wish I had been more interested in what my parents told me about their families and early years.  I put this history together in the hopes that the knowledge and memories I have would not be forgotten.”

And for this I am grateful.

14 thoughts on “Not forgotten. Gratitude Experiment: Day 16

  1. Your story is unique to you and your mom but mine is similar. My mother began to show the signs of dementia before my dad passed away in 2007. When he passed the extent of memory loss became impossible to ignore (they can mask in routine for a long time). We sorting their 52 years of married life and my sister moved her to an assisted living facility closer to where she lived. (Approximately an hour 1/2 from me). My sister never had children and she had an excellent job that afforded her the freedom of time off, etc. She was the primary care giver who fought the wolves off with a vengeance. She was her advocate, her refuge and her best bud. I still had 2 of my 3 children living at home and as a single parent, was strapped in every way. My mother declined rapidly with a series of mini-stokes that took her ability to speak and from then only she merely babbled. This prompted a move to the “Rose wing” where patients were “locked in” to keep them from wandering. It would devastate me every time I saw her. She moved through fear (asking to escape) to anger (cursing out loud) to a whisper of the woman who held my story like no one else every will. Seeing her like that was painful beyond description and I was completely undone each time. (Even now as I reflect on those visits) They eventually lost her dentures and she became this sweet, tiny toothless old lady with a life most had long forgotten. She followed the “safe” nurses around like a duckling. I knew when she was in good hands and when she wasn’t. She had been one of the most independent women I had ever known and now she had people changing her depends because she had forgotten how to use the restroom. Her mother lived 20 years longer than she did but my mother smoked and drank heavily and it robbed her of the latter years of her life. She passed away last June (at the same time my youngest was graduating from high school). We had graduation one day and a funeral the next. I never would have imagined I would have said goodbye to both parents before my 49th birthday. I think of my mother every single day and I too grieve for the woman I lost not from death but from a disease that ravished the substance of who she was. I am profoundly sorry that you are going through this. There was a final gift my mother gave and I hold onto that above all. On one of my last visits she stood up as I told her I was leaving and opened her arms as wide as they could go. She had not responded physically in a long time even though I would always held her hand and kissed her cheek. But, this day, she held onto me and settled into my embrace like a child seeking comfort. I could hardly breathe… What a simply joy and what a sweet farewell. I still grieve but I am allowing the pain to change me. I view my relationship with my grown children differently and it has motivated me focus on experiencing quality time with them. I pray that you experience more moments like you shared here and treasure every one. They will linger long after you say goodbye.

  2. Reading this both warmed my heart and scared the heck out of me. I pretty much assume this is something I’ll have to deal with at some point with one or both of my own parents, since they both had to with theirs. How wonderful to have that notebook…

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