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Posts Tagged ‘memory’


mom&Jenny dancing1987My mother has Alzheimer’s.

She has eight daughters she doesn’t remember. I am the second born.

In a way, I have a mother, but I don’t. There are flickers of a second of recognition every now and then after almost fifteen years when we all first realized something was wrong. Subtle at first, which is one of the cruelties of this invasive and devastating disease, most families don’t catch onto the unraveling layers for years.

My mother’s eighty-seventh birthday is eleven days away. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is, what year it is, how old she is, or what country she is living in. All once very important facts to her. She was a list maker, organizer, perfectionist, and a hard working woman with a dedicated work ethic. She worked full time and raised seven of her eight daughters with our teacher father who died when they were turning fifty-four.

I miss the mother I knew when I was growing up, when I first married nearly forty years ago, when the grandchildren she so cherished were born, and when mile stone life events happen, like my daughter graduating from college this past December.

There is a hole in my heart that only God can fill with His grace when the loss seems unbearable.

I love the sound of my mother’s laughter, the jibber-jabber she speaks, now the only form of communication she can master, and I love that I can still kiss her, hug her, and tell her that I love her. I know these things even if she does not.

Last year we finally put our mother in a memory care home. Visiting her in a community facility is so different than seeing her in her own home. Something we were able to do for much, much longer than most families because my sister Shannon was mom’s care giver. That blessing took a physical and emotional toll on my sister. She has no regrets, only gratefulness.

Alzheimer’s steals vitality, personality, memory, and eventually mobility. It gives nothing and takes all. It can divide families, another causality most don’t see coming. Each family member deals differently with the onslaught and ravages of Alzheimer’s. Each heart is pierced and broken. Some can talk about it, others never share. But it is always there, ever-present, chippingĀ  away a little more each day.

I find shelter in the shadow of my Savior’s wings. I pour my heart out to Him and he listens and stays as long as I need comfort. Could my mother speak to me, that is where she would tell me to go. She taught me, never knowing the blanks the future held for her, the most important truth. And I know she is not alone in her lullaby land. The God she loved still loves and values her. She has forgotten, but He remembers, cherishes, and calls her by name.

Mom on my chair and ottoman

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Alzheimers Lullabys

I used to help out with my mom’s care giving but for years now, I’m just a visitor. It is my sister, Shannon, the second youngest of eight daughters, who is our mother’s main care giver. Shannon is now the nurturing devoted Mama and our mother is now the child ~ a sweet little girl with a heart full of love.
Back when I home schooled, I took my son and daughter with me to spend the day with my mom when my sister Shannon went to work. Those were some of the richest days of our lives. Though emotionally and physically grueling, nothing has compared since.
A decade has past since my mother still knew who we were, could say our names, and interact with us.
During my children’s junior college years mom’s memory faded, her language diminished, and she began to physically shrink away.
I could still take mom for rides in my SUV back then. I’d commute into town, drop the kids off at college, take care of her at her home, take her with me to pick up my students from the campus, get an ice cream cone, and wait until Shannon got off work, then I’d drive back home to the rural countryside.
Mom usually called me by another sister’s name in those days ~ Shawne, Maureen, Bridget, Kelly, Shannon, Meghan. Even once in a great while, Erin, our sister who’d died as an infant.
I began longing to hear my mother say my name, Kathy, and it was a great joy when she did, like a brief, sweet sing-song.
One time I filled in for a sister on her care day. When I arrived my mother had set the dining room table with six paper plates, six napkins, six forks, and each plate had equal portions of nuts, olives, and slices of cheese and deli meat. She sat weeping at the head of the table waiting. When she looked up and saw me, a smile broke through and she patted the chair next to her. After we finished our lunch she looked around the table and asked me when the other girls were coming home from school. Tears welled up in her eyes once again. I knew she meant, St. Mel’s. That we were all back in elementary school in her mind. No matter how much I tried to comfort her, there was no consoling her confused, aching heart. I just held her.
My mother grieved when my oldest son went to war in the middle east. She forgot him while he was away and when he returned, she thought he was a polite young man that came to her door.
In those dark days and nights God bottled all my tears.
Alzheimers is a battlefield and the casualties are strewn about, wounded, bleeding, in need of triage and sometimes, major heart surgery.
I go for treatment into the Book of Psalms and the Songs of Solomon. I crawl up on my Father’s lap, lay my head on His shoulder and weep. Loving arms wrap around me and an inner peace fills the gaping whole nothing, and no one else can mend.
Last Sunday My husband and I visited my mom after she and Shannon missed a beautiful family baby shower celebrating my sister Bridget’s first granddaughter. We brought hamburgers from the BBQ, cake, and paper baby shoes with little candies tucked inside.
I sang lullabies to my mother. She’s bent over forward now so I had to kneel on the floor, bow my head and hope she might catch a glimpse of me.
I sang all the songs she used to sing to me when I was a little girl, you know, songs like ~ Daisy; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Little Playmate…but it was Lavender’s Blue that she sang two verses right back to me. That was my favorite. And she looked me right in the eyes.
So I sang old hymns next ~ Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Be Thou My Vision… Mom tried so hard to join in. She’d get a word or two out, but then it would leave her.
I was silently praying off and on. It came to thought to call her, “Beatotz”. I know I am spelling that wrong. It’s the Sicilian dialect for my Noni’s village, Piana dei Albanesi, and it means, “Daddy’s girl”. I kept repeating it, Beatotz, Mary. My mother raised her head, turned to me, and eyes open wide, she began speaking a few short words. Then she smiled, took my hands and held them tight for the next half hour. During this time I repeated her sister, Sara and brother, Peter’s names to her. My mother now lives in the early days of her childhood. These were her happiest, before her mother passed away when mom was seven. For me it was a breakthrough. For slips of a moment, my mother remembered.
I left full of joy.
My sister Shannon lives this mixture of joy and heartache every day. Her own body is weary, spent, and aging beyond her years as she loves our mom with grace and tenderness as if Christ Himself is the one lowering His head to reach her.

There is no greater love.

Beatotz, Mary ~ Daddy loves you.

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