By Colleen Jones
They say growing old is not for sissies, well Alzheimer’s disease is definitely not for sissies.
As my lovely mother Anne loves to say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ So I search for the silver lining in my mother’s disease. Sometimes I have to think and look really hard, but I see it.
First, some background and mea culpa.
I often find myself talking about my mom in the past tense even while she’s with me. “She had a good life,” I often tell people. “She was always kind,” I’ll usually add and lastly; “She had nine children.”
And then I’ll hear her trying to remember and count her nine children on her hands - those same hands that used to caress us, rub our backs, feel our foreheads when we were feverish, peel the potatoes, knead the bread, sew our clothes. It’s on those very same hands she counts her flock of kids: Roseanne, Barbara, Maureen, Sheila, Colleen, Monica, Jennifer, Stephanie and Stephen Andrew.
It takes my breath away and I remind myself ‘She’s still here.’ Her life is good, she is kind and she has nine children.
Who is the one with the problem? There lies the silver lining. My mother, with Alzheimer’s, is still teaching me lessons. Teaching me to accept everything as it is and to stop clinging to the person she was. My kids, Zach and Luke were once infants who grew into toddlers. They morphed into teenagers and somehow changed into adults – everyone changes; nothing stays the same. So why do I have to want my mother to remain the apple pie making, tea serving mom she was when she was 65?
She’s moved into a phase of life where memories are a tangled, distant, Alice in Wonderland falling through the rabbit-hole mess. I must admit, it’s not always pretty, but through all of this, she’s still teaching. And when I’m open to the possibilities, there is much to learn. She is showing me to have patience with both of us. She is teaching me to find kindness, reminding me that she is very much still here with us.
When I look into her blue eyes, I look for her. I play her the music she loves, bring her the tea she enjoys and try to connect a few dots for her and help her let go of the dots she can no longer connect. She also teaches me to take better care of myself. She doesn’t say it of course, but I eat more blueberries and exercise harder in an attempt to ward off the disease.
Recently, I was with my mom at her memory care home and the recreation leader was playing a game where she starts the sentence and someone has to finish the old saying or poem. She said the first few words of the poem “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer, that starts with “I think that I shall never see.” I was cynically thinking ‘this is a bad game to play with the group and then my mother completed the WHOLE poem, while I cried.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
She recited the entire poem. I’ve never been able to recite a poem - ever.
But this magical moment happened and I was lucky to be there, because my lovely mom Anne is still here. She quietly reminds me “I’m still here!” And when I’m open to the possibilities, I wonder about the magical place her brain has become where she can recite poetry and song lyrics from the 1950s. And that is the silver lining.
Life doesn't end when Alzheimer's begins. Learn how to be there for those who are #StillHere ►