I've Seen My Mom Die Four Times
I've seen my mom die four times and have been grieving her for loss for 15 years. Two flats lines, cancer and now Alzheimer’s.
Last Monday was the dreaded day that we placed mom in a long-term care facility and as much as we already knew it, rationalized it and were counseled on it, the decision was made for us by mom's worsening condition and even though the confidence in our decision has not waivered, the acceptance of it has left the collective family discovering more about ourselves in the last 7 days, than any manual could teach.
They say that people play their roles in our lives perfectly, to teach us about ourselves. I believe that situations also play out perfectly in life to teach the same thing.
During the months leading up to the move-in day and including the week post move-in, each of us have been managing and processing our emotions quite differently and no one better or worse than the other, just different much like the grieving process. Experts say that there are different stages of grief and none are experienced in any sequential order. Well, I’d say the same thing about this situation. Some of the family is in denial of mom’s condition, while others are angry about it, or feeling guilty about it as if they were the cause of it, while the rest are depressed about the reality that things have changed forever.
What has been remarkable in the heat of this situation, is that we have all been respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, no one greater or worse than the other, just different. Unfortunately mom doesn’t understand this miracle in our behavior, nor can she see the fruits of her labor in her parenting, as her family continues to grow and come to terms with the demons that each of us have struggled with in our life times.
If mom could comprehend, she would see the “meekest” of the family rise up to become a rock-star in managing extraordinary detail with such grace. She would see the “fixer” of the family come to terms with the fact that there are some things that they just can't fix and slowly let go and trust the process of life. She would see the one who was “fearful” of the old and wrinkly, embrace the virtuosity of our elders. She would see the “peace-keeper” finally realize that they are not responsible for how everyone else feels and for once, focus on managing their own emotions first before managing someone else’s and she would see the young ones experience and accept the full circle of life with such maturity.
We are definitely a work in progress, but mom would be proud of our team effort.
Friendship Beyond The Boundaries Of Language
As the weeks progressed, I questioned how my mom would fare emotionally in her new home – the nursing home.
The first week was discouraging. I saw my mom, the ‘social butterfly’, hide her colorful wings from the strangers she now resided with and sit quietly and observe, as the others would participate in conversation and activities.
Knowing however, that there was no going back in time for her, I spent the second week desperately encouraging her to participate in activities and make friends, as best as she knew how to. To help, every time I visited, I tried to introduce her to the other residents who seemed happy, positive and outgoing, thinking that they would help mom spread her beautiful wings again. Instead, mom gravitated towards an elderly woman who was the saddest and most miserable of them all. Oh dear, I thought!
I was looking for someone to encourage and guide mom. Mom was looking for someone who she could encourage and guide.
Over the next couple of weeks, mom and new her friend became inseparable. As problematic as this new friendship posed to be, mom was thrilled to find a friend of her choosing. What was even more wonderful was that the friend found my mom and was able to replace her sadness and misery with joy and laughter.
The fact that this happened at all is a lovely story, but how it happened is a remarkable story. For one has to ask, how is it that 2 complete strangers, one with Alzheimer’s who only speaks Greek and the other with dementia who only speaks Portuguese, find and cultivate a friendship?
The answer I’d say is the heart itself. Even though their sentences are jumbled and the languages are different, they can still express what their hearts feel, through a smile, a nod, a glance in the same direction, finding humor in the same things, a wave to say hello, a wave to say good bye or a wave to say let’s go for a walk together. Something we should keep in mind, when we think others have no mind left.
Today when I visited, I didn’t see two old women passing the time away, I saw two schoolgirls giggling in such a way, that if they were caught, they knew they’d be sent to the principal’s office.
I was over-joyed.
© Athena Taddei