73: The Heart Remembers

73: The Heart Remembers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Heart Remembers

In my life I find that memories of the spirit linger and sweeten long after memories of the brain have faded.

~Harry Connick Jr.

I punched in the security code and walked through the gate. I was used to the quick turns and corners to get into the facility. I had been coming here for months. I could manage the turns, but it was more difficult for the residents. That is why the turns were there. No dash for escape through an open gate.

Escape was probably the wrong word to use. They weren’t prisoners here. They were patients—specifically, Alzheimer’s patients. I had come to see my mother as I did almost every day. The fences and security gates helped to keep the patients from wandering. They could be outside in the yard, but not go too far from their cottages. My mother had her own room in a cottage with others at about the same stage as her. For my mom now, that meant End Stage. This would be the last place my mother lived, and she didn’t even know where that was.

When my sisters and I first placed her here, she did know. She had been diagnosed six years prior. During that time, my father had cared for her. She had gone through the various stages, such as misplacing things, frustration, and then anger at everyone. The anger was based a lot on her fear about the situation as well as the uncontrollable emotions that come with this kind of illness.

My father had been confused when she asked about a purse she had never owned. Maybe it was a purse she had owned in high school, but her brain didn’t know that the purse no longer existed. Or when she lost her purse, and they had to cancel all the credit cards. Dad filled her wallet with old, expired membership cards, and she never noticed.

They had to leave the security alarm of the house turned off after the police showed up for the third time when she opened the front door in the middle of the night. My father had to be aware at all times.

Then my father got sick. Actually, he had already been sick. His doctor gave him six months to live. At this point, we knew we had to find a place for Mom. Luckily, my family is good about planning. My sisters and I had been researching and checking out different places for a year. Once my father said it was time, we told him we had a place. The morning we placed her, he held her hand and merely said, “Fifty-three years.” They had celebrated their anniversary just a couple weeks prior. He knew it would be the last time they saw each other.

That was more than a year ago. Now my father was gone, and my mom didn’t even remember she was married. I had learned how to relate to her in this new way. I didn’t ask her to remember things I talked about. I asked her questions and never knew what kind of answer I would get.

My favorite answer was to the question of who her best friend was. I knew the names of her various good friends throughout her life, so I asked her who her best friend was. Would she pull a name from her childhood? Or perhaps a friend from later in life? Maybe she would call up a name of one of the staff or other residents in her cottage. Instead, she surprised me with her answer. She looked at me with just a hint of confusion before she replied, “I thought you were.” It took a lot of strength not to break into tears of love and joy for that one simple statement. Instead, I managed a deep breath and agreed that I was her best friend.

My mom had no idea what my name was. She didn’t know I was her daughter. Some days, I came to visit, and she thought I was her sister. One time, I was introduced around as her roommate from college who had traveled a great distance to visit her. I just went along with it. Trying to redirect or correct Alzheimer’s patients only confuses them more. When she asked me a question, I answered honestly and as simply as possible. I did my best not to confuse her.

I came at lunch and fed my mother. She had forgotten how to use a fork. As the disease progresses, things we’ve learned are forgotten. How to tie shoes, feed yourself, use the toilet and get dressed all fade away. Alzheimer’s is often referred to as a return to childhood because everything we know how to do is forgotten.

This small, frail woman had raised me with intense love. During this time, I did my best to make her happy and comfortable. One day, she fell asleep on my shoulder. When she woke up, she apologized for drooling on me. I merely said it was okay, and I was sure I had done worse to her.

As she got closer to the end, I spent more time with her. I stroked her hair as she had stroked mine when I was sick. When she was scared, I held her as she had held me. I sang to her the song she sang to me many times as a child. She commented that it was a pretty song as if she had never heard it before.

I never knew what to expect each day. We were on a new adventure together. I valued each moment we got to share. I painted her nails and sang and danced for her. On her last day, my sisters and I played her Christmas music and told stories. We surrounded her with a feeling of love.

I will always miss my mother, but will always have her love. She forgot my name and that I was her daughter, but she was always glad to see me when she saw me. She wanted me with her even if she didn’t know exactly why. Her heart remembered even if her mind didn’t—and in the end, that’s what really mattered.

~Traci E. Langston

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