What did I learn from my mother?
When your parent is first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s almost a relief. Finally, there’s a reason, an explanation for the ‘off’ behavior. Ten years into the journey, the diagnosis becomes a bit of a grind.
It’s familiar, doable, but leaves an air of disappointment at every realization that the person, your parent, isn’t coming back. Ever. Even though they are sitting in front of you. Sometimes even interacting, smiling, even engaging with the outside world.
At this stage, my mom can’t really communicate at all verbally. Every once in a while a phrase pops out unbidden. But mostly just random syllables. Occasional smiles, and lately, for some reason, a lot of laughing.
Today, on the occasion of my mother’s 89th birthday, I thought I would deliver a birthday wish by remembering some of what I have learned from my mother.
First, I learned the multiplication tables till 12 only because my mother drilled them into my head every day of first grade while she braided my hair. I learned how the inside of a woman’s body works because my mother sat me down in 3rd grade and sketched everything out, so there shouldn’t be any confusion.
I know how to write an outline because she sat me down over and over again throughout high school, telling me ‘no paper begins without an outline first.’ And I can type almost 80 words a minute because my mother insisted I take typing. ‘One of the most important classes you will ever take.’ (She was right).
I can recognize flowers, plants, and birds because my mother always pointed them out to me and named them. I can play gin rummy because she taught me and I can swim because she made sure I joined the swim team at age 8.
But I hope that most of all, I have learned from my mother, not just what she taught me but how she was every day. A strong, determined, smart, savvy, lady, who didn’t back down from challenges, who opened her home in generosity, and showed me that if you felt something was important, you acted on it, even if it were difficult.
I write this with tears in my eyes, because this is the true sadness of dementia, having to say goodbye every day even though my mother is sitting right in front of me. Happy birthday, mom.