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.