When family and friends learned that my mother passed, people reached out full of concern and love. I think the idea of losing a parent hits everyone deep. Whether they are remembering their own loss, or imagining how difficult it will be when it happens to them, losing a parent, at any age, is heartbreaking. You certainly do not need your mother less once you become one yourself.
My family’s loss, while not unique to the memory loss community, was actually not full of despair. I would have been beyond devastated had my mother passed quickly in my twenties or early thirties, when I still relied on her so for her thoughts, advice and laughter. Instead, ours became a slow burn, with more than 12 years of decline and heartache.
After my late night visit, there were some early morning phone calls to make arrangements with a funeral home. There was an intake phone call from Yale’s Brain Donation Center. My husband and I left the kids with his parents, met with the funeral director to sign necessary paperwork, and went to the nursing home to pick up her belongings. There was not much to take, mostly pictures. We left the bulk of her possessions – clothes, really, some bedding – with the facility, to re-use as it saw fit. A once-vibrant life reduced to a small box in the trunk of the car.
Before 2pm, we were back home preparing for the upcoming week, as we try to do each Sunday. A couple of hours later, I received a text confirming that the brain extraction went smoothly.
I could finally exhale.
That day, there were so many texts and phone calls, friends and family sending love and offering help in any form. While it was so lovely, I just did not have the energy to take most of the calls. The thought of sharing the story of her loss, over and over again on the phone, was simply unappealing. Over the next several days, people were checking in, asking if I was all right.
But, here is the thing: I was okay. Truth be told, there was relief.
It is a strange thing to admit. It felt odd at the time. A little disloyal. Certainly not what one would expect to feel fewer than 24 hours after a parent passed.
But, while her end, when it happened, came quickly, my mother had been fading away for years. We watched her become more and more of a caricature of the person she once was, losing her memory, control of her body, her ability to speak, herself.
My family has been mourning the loss of her for so long.
It helped considerably that we were able to fulfill her final wishes. While we could not find a medical school that would accept her body, we were able to donate her brain for Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Within 90 days, we were promised a copy of the report of their findings. How amazing is that? The fact that something good would be coming out of her illness was incredible. We knew it would have pleased her greatly to think that her decline might help someone else.
We then made arrangements for a final resting place for her, hanging with her brothers and her oldest son.
She was finally at peace, free of this terrible disease.
I recognize that I will have a lot to process in the coming months. Things I could not focus on while she was sick. Guilt. Forgiveness. Love. It sounds funny, but I think only in losing her will I be able to actually find her again.
I cannot wait. ❤️❤️