As I am losing my mother I am also trying to find her. What an odd journey it is when a caregiver traverses the road of Alzheimer’s.
Trying to find her? Yes. Trying to find her. That is what I have been doing all my life.
I fear writing this because not all my siblings and not all who know my mother have experienced her in the way I have. And, I have not experienced her in the way they have. But, and I mean this with all respect and love toward her –all my life I have been looking for my mother.
I remember the fleeting moments as a child, those moments when Mom had the time just for me. The time was not for any other of my 5 siblings or for my demanding father. The time was for me. It was fleeting, always fleeting. My head on her lap while her long fingernails caressed. My body next to hers in the station wagon bench seat for 30 minutes on my way to Oboe lessons. I recall seeing her in the back row of the audience, while I performed with perfection the role of Lucy in the Charlie Brown musical. I found my mother that day, if only for a while.
But those moments were rare and they were fleeting. I saw more her eyelids as she napped than the smile in her eyes as she paid attention. She had good reason to be tired. Who could blame her? Unfortunately, for years I did.
But as a girl, I missed her eyes when I was Johnny Appleseed’s mother in the school play. I missed her clapping hands after I led my school band as major in the parade. And at my college graduation, my acting abilities were far better than when I was Lucy in the Charlie Brown Musical. “Oh I’m fine that she isn’t here. Why would it matter?” It was way to save face as I spoke to my friends that day.
But I was lying to not only to them, but to myself. I was trying to find you that day Mom. You weren’t there and it really hurt that you weren’t. I couldn’t admit it that day.
As I moved into adulthood after my college graduation, I began looking for my mother in other places, in other people.
To my girlfriends: Are You My Mother? To my female boss in Seattle: Are You My Mother? To my accomplishments, successes and even later….to my own children: Are You My Mother?
That can’t be good. A mother shouldn’t be THAT missed. But she was. By me.
One of my mother’s favorite books to read out loud to a child was P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother. I remember her reading it to my baby sisters, the one’s I mention here. I would sit 10 feet away, pretending to not listen. But my mother caught me up in the narrative. She has always been a drama queen. She knew how to animate a children’s story with the use of her voice. Ever the actress my mother.
Thank you P.D. Eastman*. You wrote my story.
Are You My Mother?
In this tale, a baby bird begins to hatch and his mother leaves to find food. But before she can return to the nest, the baby pops out of his shell, falls from the nest and begins his search for his beloved. To the kitten, a hen, a dog, and a Snort the baby bird asks, “Are you my mother?” He doesn’t know what she looks like. He has lost her and is now trying to find her.
And now, in these last days of my Mom’s life – these days that seem to be lasting far too long – I am this baby bird. Have I lost the mother I never had? Probably. I find it no fault of hers. And yet, she is still here and she is changing in some ways for the worse and in some ways for the better. I hate Alzheimer’s, but I thank God IN it. I hate Alzheimer’s for how slow it is, for how relentlessly it steals her. But in its slowness, as I am losing my mother, God steps in and gives me the opportunity to find her, to find the mother I never really had.
She played the piano for me a few days back. This was not like the days when she would perform on stage for the Spring Frolics at Heather Gardens. The Alzheimer’s has stolen that mother. But in the evil of that loss, God has stepped in and given me a mother who simply played and sang for her, for me. This was no performance. It was a gift. Why? Because it was simply her. There was no pretense. Certainly, similar to my childhood, this moment was fleeting. It didn’t last long. Listening to her sing was short but it was sweet. I felt like when I was a child, my head in her lap.
A video of this moment is below. I didn’t plan for this. Usually she won’t sit and play. But on this day she did. Normally I would not record her. But on this day I did. Please listen all the way through. It’s only 3 minutes. Hear what is said at the end. It is worth your time. It will feed your soul.
And will you marvel at one thing? Despite the loss of her short term memory and the start of her losing her long term memory, she can still sing and play her piano. How long she will be able to, I don’t know. But will you marvel with me that she still can?
If after reading this story, you’d like to read more of our Alzheimer’s journey go here to this part of my website and scroll.
*Thanks to a kind reader who pointed out that my original post indicated this book was by Dr. Seuss. It was not! My error has been corrected.