In a few weeks, my mother turns 70. I expect her day will be similar for her to the numerous, monotonous ones that come before and after. When I recently told her that she would be turning 70 soon, she looked at me, incredulously, and asked, “You?” I said, “No, Mom. YOU are turning 70.” She just laughed in her vacant way, without much understanding.
We first started noticing my mother’s memory issues when she was 60. If she ever could have anticipated how her mind would deteriorate, requiring institutional living, I have no doubt that she would have found a way to end her days long before she lost the ability to do so.
In the past ten years, she transformed from an amazingly bright, sharp witted, sarcastic, independent superhero of a woman
to this passive, confused, bewildered creature, patiently waiting for someone to give her some direction.
She cannot put more than a few words together at a time. She does not complete sentences. She starts talking, trails off, looks at me expectantly, and I smile gently and nod. I may not understand what she is trying to say, but I can provide reassurance, which seems to satisfy her.
Now, her body is starting to fail her. She is unsteady upon her feet. She has fallen a few times and seems to lack balance. She had difficulty walking down a hallway while I am assisting her. She is so lost.
The present version of my mother bears little resemblance to the person she always was.
It is harder to bring the kids now. They are getting older and they are constantly in motion. They are kind, but my mother no longer interacts much with them and it is hard sometimes to work to keep them engaged. When I go alone, we can look at her pictures together. I bring her fruit and treats, as she still finds joy in food.
A few years back, two of my mother’s close friends visited. They had not heard from my mother in years, which undoubtedly had been my mother’s doing. I had warned them of how my mother had changed, bracing them for so much deterioration. One friend brought a photo album from their college days, and my mother enjoyed looking at pictures, making everyone laugh when she grimaced each time she saw an acquaintance whom apparently she never liked.
At the end of the visit, I looked at my mother’s friends, wondering what their responses would be. To my surprise, they expressed joy. One said, “I had not seen nor heard from your mother in so many years. I am so happy to know she is still part of this world.” They saw that the essence of who she always was still exists, and that was enough. It has to be enough.
I try to focus on the small moments with my mother. She still finds joy. She smiles. She is gentle and appreciates the kindness of others. She loves, in her own way. Her eyes still light up when her children visit.
But as much as I am grateful for and even enjoy some time with her, it never ceases to amaze me how many different ways my heart still can break.
I cannot make sense of this version of my mother. And yet, with the passage of ten years, I find it so difficult to keep the true version of her with me.
I am outraged that my children have been cheated. They deserve the grandmother she wanted to be, crawling on the floor with them, making them feel special, ready for the next adventure. She would have adored them with her whole heart, if only she could.
And I feel cheated myself. She never knew me once I became a mother. Instead, when I needed her, my strongest support system slowly lost its foundation. As lucky as I am to have wonderful family and friends who can lift me up as needed, there is something about my mother’s love and support that cannot be replicated.
I feel her loss every day. I imagine I always will. But hopefully, I will keep the essence of her close to my heart, allowing us both to find peace.