My mother has always been one of the most Christian, caring, sweetest and generous women that I know. I am confident other people who know her would say the same thing.
While my brothers and I were growing up, she rarely raised her voice to/at us, she never cussed (at all), never argued, and never spoke badly of anyone. She didn’t drink or smoke. She always told us, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
From her, I learned the importance of a sweet heart, a caring spirit, and a giving attitude. She taught me how to find a silver lining in any situation, and she taught me the lesson of “making memories” with my children. She knew the importance of enjoying life, one day at a time, and tried to instill that into my brothers and me, as well.
As an adult, whenever I was torn between different things to do, or I was undecided in decisions, she would always ask me, “Will [this] really matter in 10 years?” With the answer to that one question, I could always make my decision on what I needed to do and how to handle it.
We were in church every Sunday. We wore our Sunday best and often heard, “God gave us seven days, the least we can do is give Him one hour and wear our best clothes while doing so!” My mom always made sure I had money in my little purse so I could drop it in the collection plate; thus, teaching me the importance of tithing. (One Sunday morning, however, I raided my brother Harvey’s coin collection and put many of his coins in my purse. I dropped “my” money in the collection plate, passed it down, and he recognized his coins and began taking all the money back out of the collection plate. My mother was horrified I’m sure, but then realized what was happening and helped him retrieve his coins. But, I’m sure she was as embarrassed as she could possibly be, at that moment).
One of my fondest memories of growing up is my mom sitting on the side of my bed, scratching my back and singing me to sleep at night. Each night I would fall asleep to songs of “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”
My mom was the healthiest person I knew — until about nine years ago, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After my father died, her Alzheimer’s disease spiraled. The stress of his death spun it into overdrive. This disease took my healthy and active mother and turned her into someone who takes pills, gets tired from very short walks and doesn’t remember anything after five seconds. It has turned a strong, independent woman into someone who needs her food cut up for her, and who stares at a television that she no longer truly watches or understands what it is. She has taken to wearing multiples these days; several necklaces adorn her neck, several bracelets are around her wrists, and a layer of shirts and jackets are always worn to keep her warm.
Of course, it wasn’t always this progressed. It took years to get to this point. A year ago, my name started becoming harder to remember. Sometimes I was introduced (to people we already knew) as “my daughter” or “my sweetie.” And now, she never says my name; but when I call her and say “this is Emerald” she understands who I am and when someone says “Emerald’s here” she understands who I am. She knows my face, and she knows she loves me, she just doesn’t quite remember how she knows me.
It’s a different kind of life now. For me, I sometimes feel like I’ve lost my mom in a way. I haven’t really, not physically, but she’s just a different mom now. But, she still remains one of the most Christian, caring, sweetest and generous women that I know. Alzheimer’s has not taken that from her.
From the time I walk in her door, she gets the biggest grin on her face and tells me she’s glad to see me and she loves me. She may not be able to recall my name, but she knows I’m someone she loves. We sit and talk. There’s not a lot we can talk about, but we figure our way through it. I help her with her puzzle books, coloring books or reading books. If I leave the room for a few minutes, she forgets I’m there; but, just as soon as I walk back into the room, her face lights back up with a huge smile and I’m told, once again, how glad she is to see me and how much she loves me.
When she is eating her lunch or dinner, she will still constantly offer her food to me, or whomever she is with. She wants to share what she has with anyone that is with her.
Whomever she meets now, in her outings, is a stranger to her yet, she smiles and talks to them as if she’s known them for years. And many of those folks she has, indeed, known for years but just can’t seem to remember them anymore. She loves people, she loves children, and she loves talking to everyone. Her kind, gentle heart is one of the most beautiful aspects of her.
It is a proven fact that Alzheimer’s patients react exceptionally well to music from their past, so when we go on outings and/or Sunday afternoon drives I play my old Southern Gospel Hymns CD while we drive. She can sing every song. She might not be able to tell me what my name is, but she can sing every word to all those hymns. One day, as she was singing, she stopped singing and started talking about how too many people in the world don’t know Jesus and how she wishes everyone knew Jesus.
Alzheimer’s might have taken a lot from her – but it hasn’t taken Jesus out of her heart and soul.
It’s these kinds of memories I’ve learned to catch hold of and hold on to.
When this journey first began, many years ago, I prayed constantly for God to teach me patience. My strong Type A personality didn’t have much patience in it. I used to leave her house and just sit in my car and cry. I cried for her (for what was happening to her), and I cried for me (for who I was losing). I don’t cry much like that anymore. Sure, I still cry; for sometimes it’s overwhelming and just heart-breaking, but I don’t cry the true “meltdown” cries, anymore. Perhaps I have finally accepted that this disease is part of her, and me as well. And God did teach me that patience that I prayed for; along with a whole new level of love, that I love my Mom with now! For even in her weakest state of being, she is still teaching me. She is teaching me how to be strong and how to be loving even in the darkest hours of life.
I know her future. I know what this disease will do to her. I just don’t know when, and I don’t know what it will do to me. But no matter, I still have my mother and that’s enough for me! I will cherish every hug, smile, and laugh I get from her. This time I live in now, it is still so precious to me! And I am still trying to make memories … just like she taught me!