Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mourning (My Living) Mom

As Mothers' Day quickly approaches, my mind is all about Mom (pictured at right with me in 1979 at my baby shower). With a twist. 
I could tell Mom for hours on end what she means to me and everything about her that is integrated into my being from my earliest memories forward. I could tell her she is one of a kind. That her graciousness and beauty and talent for entertaining and sociability put her in a class all by itself. How I channel her at times without even trying—good and bad—almost as if I'm having an out-of-body experience. That for the basic characteristics we share, we are every bit as different in others.

Not only could I tell her, I do. And continue to.

Except there's no indication she comprehends. Alzheimers has taken her so far away that we will never get her back.

When I share these more intimate details of my life, I feel like I'm exploiting Mom and my family for attention and consolation. But that is far from my intent. In fact, I often don't know what to say when people react sympathetically. I mean, what can you say? My writings are a reaction to some situation or stimuli; I share my work in hopes others can relate or find comfort/worth in my words.

For fifteen years, we have watched Mom fade away at a snail's pace. There were almost humorous incidents at first. Absentmindedness… Like not absorbing the simplicity of writing an address as simple as "1414." How do I write that? She ended up writing the words "Fourteen-Fourteen." She just couldn't wrap her head around writing the numbers. The disconnect was surfacing.

Within five years, Mom could no longer live alone and family members took turns as her caretakers.  By the tenth year, it was time for a nursing home because her needs were beyond our capabilities.  Now in her sixth year there, staff marvel at Mom's resilience and physical health. "She eats well," they say. She's practically their poster child to contradict people's fears that a nursing home expedites decline.  

That being said, Mom stopped speaking about two years ago. She barely opens her eyes. When pressed for a reaction, it's as if you're pulling her out of an alternate universe and back into ours. But her trips here are extremely brief; it's almost as if she can't wait to retreat back to where she lingers. My fantasy is that she's in a happy limbo surrounded by those who have passed, assuring her that wherever she is, she is loved. As naive as it sounds, it's one of the ways we who struggle to understand this mind boggling condition cope.

Friends of mine who have lost family members with Alzheimers usually lose them within five years. Why Mom continues to dwell in this netherworld, I do not know. It's not that we want to lose her; we just don't understand how it's possible someone can "live without living" years on end.

Watching the deterioration is beyond sad. Even worse is the inability—and accepting the inability—to improve Mom's status. Coming to that realization has at times caused bouts of depression and upheaval among those of us closest to her because we know the direction in which she is moving but we are in our own state of suspended animation as it continues for as long as it continues.

Not without faults, Mom's greatest failing in life was a lack of confidence in herself and her potential. She never really had an opportunity to spread her wings and fly, nor did she believe herself capable of doing so.  Still, nothing Mom has done warrants this sentence. In fact, it's not something I would wish on the most despicable of people.

So you'll understand if I give in to nostalgia this Mothers' Day and prefer to remember what was--instead of what is. If I publicly explore the overwhelming challenge of letting go of someone in slow motion as heart strings stretch beyond threadbare. 

The only solace is letting myself feel Mom's love and believing she loves each one of us to the best of her ability. Sincere and deep, not overly demonstrative but never cold, she strived to do the right thing in every situation and you rarely left her feeling anything but warmer for the experience.

I love Mom. Her legacy will always be unconditional love. She gave it, ached for it and in the oddest of ways, somehow communicates it—even in her current state.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all are Mom's words in her productive days when faced with frustration or pressure: "I just want to be left alone." I'm pretty sure this isn't what she meant.