50: Mourning Ahead

50: Mourning Ahead

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Mourning Ahead

Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.

~George Eliot

When did it start? Looking back, I’m really not sure. But now that we are going into our seventh year, it seems like it’s been forever. You know how things start to happen but you don’t really pay attention. Little things, not important events, but you only remember them when you look back. When was the first time she forgot where she was going? When was the first time she called two times in a row, forgetting that she had just called? To cover, she made it into a joke so I didn’t pay too much attention. At first. Little things.

Can you grieve for someone who has not died? Someone who is still alive? Yes I think you can. I have done it. My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. It is a hideous disease. The only positive thing about it is that the person who has it doesn’t know what condition he or she is in. I tell people that my mother HAS Alzheimer’s disease but my family and I SUFFER from Alzheimer’s disease. It changes everything.

And I grieve. She is still here, but I grieve. She bears no resemblance to my mother. She is just a shell... but she is still here with me. I treat her with respect and dignity, the same way I treated her when she was aware. I can touch her. I can talk to her. But there is no response. I look into her eyes. Nothing. I hug her. I tell her I love her. I tell her she is the best mother in the whole world. Nothing. Nothing at all. Where is she? What does she understand? What does she know?

And I grieve. I feel that I have been doing it for years and finally I have reached the end of the process. At first I tried to deny the signs that were right in front of me. Signs that she was slipping away. That took a while. Denial does. I had to take over and become the parent while she regressed and became the child. And she let me take over. She didn’t fight me. Somewhere, somehow she understood that I would take care of her and that she was safe. The circle of life.

Then anger. Oh, so much anger and resentment. Not at my mother. Never at my mother. But at the disease that was taking her away from me one day at a time. A teacher, university professor, therapist, writer and lecturer by profession and now she can’t remember what day it is. A mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, sister and aunt and now she can’t remember any of the names of the people in her family. She used to know that we were familiar but that’s gone now. There is no recognition now... nothing.

The bargaining and depression came together. I would think: if I do “this” then please let my mother be able to remember “that.” Just for today. If only for one more time. And the depression turned to sadness. Every once in a while the depression will creep back into my life. Something will set it off. I don’t seem to have any control over when, or where, that will happen. It remains with me to this day. To combat the depression and sadness, I remember that my mother doesn’t have a clue as to her condition. She is well cared for, warm, comfortable and at peace. There is nothing more that I could or should be doing. That is a blessing.

And finally, acceptance. In order to get on with my life I needed to get to the point where I had to accept the reality of the disease and its progression. My life changed. The lives of my husband and my children changed. That is the reality of the progression of the disease. That first Thanksgiving she was unable to be with us, sitting at our table, was so difficult. Although she was still alive, she was unable to leave her house. I was the one who had to make that difficult decision. That was three years ago. And I grieved. And the first year she didn’t call me to wish me Happy Birthday was bad. She always called at the exact time I was born to wish me Happy Birthday. She would then tell me about the day I was born. Every year. The same story. It was a joke between us. The first year she didn’t call, didn’t even remember it was my birthday, I grieved. There were many more “firsts” I had to deal with. But since we are going into our seventh year, there really aren’t too many more “firsts” left. The loss has gotten easier to deal with and I have accepted the reality. This is just the way it is.

So although my mother is alive, I have already grieved for her. I have gone through all of the stages of the grieving process that a person goes through who is mourning the loss of someone who has died.

And when she actually dies, when her heart stops beating and she stops breathing, when she is really no longer with me so that I can touch her, hug her, tell her I love her, what will I feel? Of course I know I’ll feel shock and an overwhelming sadness. I’ll miss her. I’ll cry and wish I could touch her just one more time. Tell her I love her one more time. Thank her for being the best mother in the whole world and a wonderful role model. All those things. But I know I will also feel relief. Immense relief. Relief that she is no longer suffering and that she is finally at peace. Relief that this terrible ordeal is over... for her and for us. And how about the guilt? Will I feel guilt? No. I do know that the one thing I will not feel is guilt. There is no reason to feel guilty for feeling the relief at her passing. I have nothing to feel guilty for. I did the best I could for my mother while she was alive and I have already mourned for her. I went through the mourning process while she was still alive. And I am at peace with that.

~Barbara LoMonaco

Editor’s Note: Barbara’s mother died a few days after she wrote this piece. She reports that, although she is sad, she is very much at peace with her mother’s release from her seven-year ordeal.

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