There are times in life when we question whether the truth should be revealed or if we should leave well enough alone. Having a parent with Alzheimer’s, I hop on the porch swing with Mom daily. Growing up in the South, her childhood home had a porch swing which we all remember fondly. Due to her disease though, I never know where we are on the porch swing when we come together to enjoy an afternoon. Sometimes we are in the past, sometimes we are in the present and sometimes reality gets muddied. It changes sometimes very quickly so I am never sure where she is at any given moment.
Mom is a happy and healthy otherwise. When she is in the moment, a great Present of Presence, we talk about the day and enjoy a chocolate milkshake because everything is happier with ice cream. We laugh and joke and nothing makes me feel better than to hear her laugh. I will say outrageous things to her just to see if she’s actually listening to me or if she is taking her cues from reading my expression. I will ask her to recount funny stories from her past, sometimes initializing stories I have heard hundreds of times before, just to hear her tell them to me again and to share a laugh.
Her sister passed away earlier this year and because they lived in the same home, it was hard on Mom. With Alzheimer’s, they stay calm in the moment when something doesn’t trigger a memory and believe me, I try to stay in the moment with her often. But when I went to visit the other day, chocolate milkshakes in hand as per our tradition, after a few moments, she told me how sad she was that her sister Mable had passed away. I wrote about it here. She told me how she missed her and how she was sad that she hadn’t attended her funeral. I assured her that she had and that she had been with her whole family, seen her childhood home and reminisced over countless photos surrounded by her loving extended family. She listened carefully and calmly told me she didn’t remember any of it, but that she was grateful that she had been there.
Then she began to talk about my Dad who passed away years ago. She was angry that he hadn’t been talking with her and she didn’t know where he was. She was embroiled in the hurt and anger that she felt because he wasn’t here with her. I debated for quite awhile as she told her side of the story and how if he wasn’t talking with her, then she would not reach out to him (mind you, she didn’t know how to get in touch with him). I took her hand in mine, looked into her eyes and spoke the words I dreaded saying again.
Mom, I am sorry to tell you this, but Daddy passed away.
What? He’s dead? Tears began to well up in her eyes and I immediately felt so badly. We have had this conversation countless times since he passed away and it hurt me to tell her and have her hurt again. But in my heart, I didn’t want her to feel that he had abandoned her by not being here.
Yes, Mommy. He passed away a few years ago.
Oh, I didn’t know. Oh my, where is he buried? Did I go to the funeral?
As I began to answer her questions, it soothed her to know that she had indeed been there, that his funeral was greatly attended and then I threw in a few giggles that only our family could at a time like this – because I couldn’t stand seeing her so upset. I soothed her sadness with love and light and hugged her, trying to heal her hurting heart.
I guess I”m losing my mind here. I just don’t remember anymore.
It’s ok. It happens to the best of us Mom.
It’s better sometimes to allow the grief to fade and to concentrate on today, on our milk shakes and our happy times.
So, I snuggled up to her, like only a daughter can, on her bed, by her side, holding her as if she were my daughter and reversed the roles. She held on tightly in my embrace and my heart overflowed with sadness and yet, with gratitude for this one precious moment.
Moms comfort their children throughout their lives. That’s what we do. But sometimes, there comes a time when the roles reverse and we are our Mother’s Mother. We comfort and soothe in the maternal way we learned through our Moms.
I wish she didn’t have this disease for it has robbed her of her memory. But I am also truly grateful that she remains in there, loving us with all her might and knowing who we are. Sometimes we just know that these moments are precious and are to be treasured. Isn’t that what life’s about? Stringing together those precious pearls of connection? And swinging on a porch swing, sipping a chocolate milkshake and enjoying the calm in a Southern hospitality way?