My mom passed on five years ago today.
I miss her, but her spirit has never left me. For that, I am forever blessed.
I wrote this piece several years ago.
I stumbled across a copy of it today looking for a printer manual.
Of course, I do not view such events as random events. I sat and re-read the article and thought of my mom.
And so I re-print it now with loving thoughts…
* * *
Zen and the Art of Making Lemonade
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease (or rather, that’s the label that seems to have stuck. Truth is, nobody really knows for certain what she suffers from).
When I talk to friends for the first time in a while, they usually ask me about my mom’s condition. I’m always appreciative that they ask and I always wish that I had a better answer for them. A contributing factor in my decision to move back East was so that I could be closer to siblings, nephews, and nieces, and my mother, Mary.
Since a few weeks after my father’s death, Mary has lived in full-time care facility. She sleeps and eats about 25 minutes from where I live. Typing that sentence, even after a year and a half, it still doesn’t feel right. Probably never will.
And yet it is.
My mom was one of my closest friends, my trusted confidant, and my unwavering support system. As time passes, the most distressing part of dealing with the reality of who she is today lies in the fact that it becomes harder for me to remember who she was. I find it difficult to visit her. The “institutionalization” of the whole process unnerves me.
Alzheimer’s patients have a tendency to wander, especially at dusk. Considered a flight risk, they are locked in their own wing of the housing complex. I have to ask someone I do not know to punch in a code and open a door so that I can see my mom.
Whenever I walk in, she recognizes me immediately with an expression that conveys both joy and relief. I joke that I’m here to “spring her for a couple hours” and she’s very eager to go for a ride and listen to some Sinatra on the CD player.
My mother and I can no longer hold a conversation. Mom has trouble getting any words out. She points a lot. She giggles constantly. I’ve stopped trying to ask too many questions, but occasionally I’ll throw one in there to test what she still knows.
She will have no recollection that her sister came to see her a few days before. And yet, she will point at the Ralph Lauren outlet among a cluster of similar buildings, clearly recognizing the place where she bought so many things for herself, always proud of the great bargains she’d found.
We never know what really lies in the mind of another, do we?
On the day that I write this, mom and I decided that some ice cream would be a splendid way to end our afternoon together. Our menus had great big pictures of all the sundaes. I thought maybe mom could point to what looked good, but deep inside I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I made the executive decision — Heath Bar Crunch sundaes all around. Triple scoops.
The sundaes arrived in deep, old fashioned glasses with an extra long spoon. The fudge and caramel were so warm that they wouldn’t stick to the ice cream. My mother’s first eager spoonful ended up in her lap. Her eyes expressed her frustration and she even managed a heartfelt, “I’m sorry.”
Assuring her that everything was fine, I had her put the spoon down. I asked her to lean forward. I showed her how to lean forward. I had her open her mouth and I fed her two spoonfuls. She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the flavor in her mouth. I had two spoonfuls. And then back to her.
With my mom, I’ve learned that it’s much better to just enjoy our experiences together in the present moment, free of judging her against the past of who she once was. When I allow myself to just appreciate the ice cream in front of me and focus on what we are still able to do together, feelings of gratitude replace the feelings of anger and despair.
And the truth was that we had a good day. We laughed.
Later that evening I met up with one of my oldest friends. He asked me how my mother was and I told him of our day together. He shared that his mother was starting to show the same sorts of symptoms. We both took a swig of our beers, shaking our heads as we swallowed.
And he said, “you just gotta make lemonade, you know?”