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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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I awoke late one night, the room was so dark I could not see my three sisters. My eyes slowly adjusted to the light enough to view each of them sleeping soundly in their beds. I tossed about in my sheets but was continually stirred by a muffled sound that was increasing in volume.

It was late November and the air was chilly. I rose, stepped into my slippers, and wandered toward the sounds. At first a sleepy curiosity guided my feet but as I drew closer to the noise, I began to realize that someone was crying.

Fear crept in as I rounded the corner into the living room. I knew my mother was in the hospital having another baby and couldn’t possibly be home already. The deepening tone coming from our little kitchen had to be my father.

There had been great excitement emanating from the same kitchen the day before when my mother left, pregnant belly swelling, barely able to walk out to the car. She kind of waddled like a duck and disappeared with my father down the road in the car we girls had named, “The Dinky”.

Standing against the wall dividing the living room and kitchen, I recognized my father’s voice. Muddled words I couldn’t decipher broke intermittently between crying that froze me in place. I peeked past the door jam. Sitting in a yellow stool in the corner, my father was doubled-over, knees up to his chest with his feet resting on the top of the two steps that pulled out. The dark hair on the crown of his head was all I could see, his face was buried in his hands.

I opened my mouth to speak but my voice remained silent. Deep sobs erupted from a part of my father I never knew existed. I shrank back around the bend and pressed my body upon the cold plaster that buffered the sounds. But it was to no avail. The step stool began to rattle across the linoleum floor from the vibrations. Animal sounds I didn’t know a human being was capable of making howled.

In my heart, I wanted to go in and hug him but my curiosity had since given way to a terrifying fear that prevented me from moving. I waited for another sister to come and save me, and maybe together we could help our dad.

It was the first time I’d ever seen my father cry. He was my hero, like the Superman the kids watched on TV. The one that went into a phone booth, changed his clothes, and put on a cape then flew out to save the town and people from danger. My dad never needed a cape to be my hero.

Eventually that night I was able to make my way back to the safety of my bedroom, crawled in bed next to my sister Shawne, and pulled the covers over my head. Sleep came mercifully as the crying from the kitchen subsided.

The next day my father was gone when my grandparents picked us up in the morning to go to their home. I didn’t tell anyone what I’d seen the night before, and I didn’t ask any questions. The blue dotted Swiss dress to bring the baby home in that hung on my parents door was gone when they came home empty handed a week later.

My sister Erin Colleen was born and died on Tuesday, November 24 of 1959, two days before Thanksgiving Day that year. She lived a brief twenty hours on this earth. Sorrow seeped into our home replacing the anticipated joy another child had always brought before.

Finding my father racked with grief, a word I didn’t understand the definition of at that young an age, changed me. I never looked at him the same way again. He was still my hero. I had no need for Superman anymore then, than I did before my sister died. But my father wasn’t invincible anymore. I now knew he could be broken from the inside, out. Though I saw no blood that night, I knew his heart could bleed.

I never asked why my the baby didn’t come home, I knew. I remember a tiny white casket and the tear stained faces of relatives. My mother wept for weeks into months, into years.

Other sisters were born later. Kelly brought joy into our home once again. Shannon followed and late in life for my parents, when they were forty-two, my baby sister Meghan made her grand entrance in this world.

Not one sister ever replaced my missing sibling.

My father died too young, in his early fifties. I never told him about that night when I was so frightened by the depth of his sorrow. The night I wanted to comfort him, but couldn’t. The night my hero was pierced through the heart and survived without a cape. He didn’t fly up into the sky but fell to the earth, a wounded soul that struggled to rise to his feet and walk to face another day, just an average, ordinary father. The one God chose to give eight daughters.

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