I spent this past weekend with my parents. The visits are getting more and more precious to me. I know they won’t be around forever. But then, neither will I.
The times that my dad forgets my name are increasing as his Alzheimer’s progresses, slowly stripping the essence of who he is. He often looks at me and starts a sentence, then can’t remember what he wanted to say. He just kind of stares off into space, and gets silent.
He repeats the same stories to me, again and again. I’ve written before how he tells me all about what’s going on in town. He also tells me stories about his time in Korea as a young Army soldier. He asks me questions, and I answer them as patiently as I can, again and again.
I ran across this essay on the Alzheimer’s website. It kind of says it all. With their permission, I’d like to share it. May it bless your heart – and make you want to hug your parents a little bit harder today.
My mother sees me and jumps up to greet me wearing a huge smile.
“It’s going to be a good day,” I say to myself as I hug her. She hugs me with all her strength. I imagine that, for her, it feels like years since she saw me last, although it has only been a week.
She has taken to wearing multiples these days. Several necklaces adorn her neck and obscure the three sweaters she has on. She has on a number of bracelets, too, and they clank against the keys she keeps around her wrist on a curly cord. I am relieved that her hair is clean and brushed, and silently thank the nurses who coax her into the shower.
“This is my daughter,” my mother says to her friends seated around her. They all nod and say hello. I’ve met them all dozens of times. I notice that my mother does not use my name, and I briefly wonder if she can recall it, but no matter. Today she knows that I am her daughter and that’s enough for me.
I guide her to her room to gather her coat and handbag. Her dresser holds a television she no longer watches. If she could use the remote to operate it, she would not be able to follow the program. Her answering machine blinks that it has 14 messages, and I begin my weekly ritual of listening to them with her, then clearing them. She cannot remember the steps to listen to them on her own, so this ritual has become part of our Sundays. Her grandfather clock is off by several hours, but it does not faze her. Even if the time mattered to her, she would not be able to read the clock. The CD player I bought for her several years ago collects dust on her desk, the label I marked “play” curling up at the corners.
I help her get ready for our weekly outing, chatting about my family and the silly events of the past week. She listens politely and laughs at my stories. I take her arm and help her into my car. As we drive to the restaurant, she asks about my family, although I have just told her everything. She looks around at the world around us, and I wonder if she ever misses the independence she had just a few short years ago.
If I did not chatter, there would be silence in the car. My mother tries to read signs but has difficulty with some of the words. Sometimes she starts to say something but loses her thought and gives up. Sometimes she just can’t say the words she wants to say. But no matter, she is my mother. She’s with me and that’s enough for me.
I know my mother’s likes and dislikes as well as my own, and I order her lunch. She tries to cut her sandwich with a spoon, and I intervene so she doesn’t get frustrated. I watch attentively noticing that she eats less and less these days. I tempt her with a cookie and adore her childlike enjoyment as she eats it. Lunch is a small pleasure, but a pleasure for her nonetheless, and that’s enough for me.
At the mall, we go directly to her favorite store where I know she will find a sweater or blouse she will like. And we do. At the register, she knows she needs her credit card before I remind her, and I am happy for that. She struggles with signing her name, and my heart breaks as she concentrates to form the letters of the name she has signed for more than 50 years. I alternate between silently cheering my mother on as she signs the receipt and watching the clerk, hoping that she shows no impatience. She doesn’t, and I smile and mouth thanks to her, my eyes tearing ever so slightly. She smiles back, and I am convinced she knows my struggle. But no matter, my mother will take a new sweater home today, and she will feel good about it, and that’s enough for me.
My mother tires easily these days, and I know that our day must be over. I take her by the arm and help her into my car. On the way back to her place, she asks about my family and I tell her all about them and the silly events of the past week. No matter that these are stories I have told her numerous times. No matter that I don’t think she can recall the names of her grandchildren. Today she knows I am her daughter, and that’s enough for me.
I take my mother home where she feels safe and comfortable. She thrives on the predictable life the assisted living center provides. The locked entry assures me that she cannot wander outside even on her most restless nights. Crafts, music and bingo occupy much of her days. She has made friends and in many ways, has a fuller life than when she lived independently.
I kiss my mother, and as I look into her eyes to say good bye, my heart breaks just a little more. I know her future. I know what this disease will do to her. I just don’t know when, and I don’t know what it will do to me. But no matter, there’s next Sunday and the Sunday after that. We will have another Thanksgiving. For now, I still have my mother and that’s enough for me.