35: No Matter What

35: No Matter What

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

No Matter What

Painful though parting be, I bow to you as I see you off to distant clouds.

~Emperor Saga

Fall 2013

My mother’s journey was not an easy one. She did not pass through the beginning and middle stages of Alzheimer’s gently. Confusion and mood swings were mixed with obsessive compulsions — such as counting change. Conversations were misunderstood and lead to volatile situations, or there were fleeting moments of lucidness when I knew I had my mom and she knew me as her child. Those moments few and far between.

Eventually there was just silence. Did a small part of who she was still exist? I’ll never be sure, but what I know and say to others when asked, is just remember that you love them and want them to know that, no matter what.

Spring 1997

My mother sits at the dining room table, her morning ritual underway. Silently I watch her. Her purse and its contents are splayed on the dark wood surface.

Her focus this morning is on the loose change in front of her. A pencil and paper lie beside her wallet. She is counting out loud. One hand pushes the change around on the table’s surface as she counts.

“Two times five is ten. I have one… two… three… four… five! Five 25-cent pieces.”

She starts to write the amount down.

“That’s five times twenty-five… but I also have pennies over here. I’ll start again… one… two… three…”

Along with the separated groups of coins are the beginnings of a pile of crumpled pieces of paper. Each piece of paper has crossed out, written-over, pencil-scrawled additions, sometimes with two or three partial or completed sums. Those sums will neither answer nor satisfy my mother’s need to count.

“There…” she says, looking at me, putting the pencil down, “that’s done.” And then a slight frown. “I think I should count it again. I’m sure I had more.”

This morning I don’t offer to help. I decide to make breakfast.

“Wendy…”

I push the button to start our morning coffee and turn to see my mother walking toward me. Her hand reaches up to touch my face. She speaks to me in those next few moments as my mom. The veil of Alzheimer’s temporarily lifted.

“I want you to know this. You are my daughter, my baby. I love you. Don’t ever forget that.”

We hug each other. “I love you too, Mum. Always, no matter what.”

Then the knowing flash ends. I see it in her eyes, then her face. My mother goes back to the dining room table to recount her change. I butter the toast and pour coffee for our breakfast.

Fall 1999

We walk up and down the hall, stopping at each cheaply framed painting decorating the otherwise barren hallway. My mother reviews each piece. Her comments have varied little over the last few months.

We stand in front of the locked door that allows visitors and staff in and out. She looks at the keypad.

“Lots of numbers. People play with them sometimes.”

We continue our walk.

“June,” says a voice from the nurse’s station, “you have a visitor today.” I don’t recognize the staff member. She must be new.

“Yes,” my mother says, “this is my sister.” I smile. Well, at least I am still a member of the family.

The nurse introduces herself, adding, “I take it you are the daughter?”

“Today, just happy to be my mother’s sister.”

The nurse smiles. “Good for you.”

My mother and I continue our walk. The sunroom is ahead of us. “Shall we sit down, Mum?”

We only sit for a minute or two. She is restless and needs to move. Once again, arm-in-arm, we continue our walk, stopping to look at cheap paintings that hang on otherwise barren hallway walls.

Winter 2001

I lean over the slightly raised bed railing. Our faces inches apart. My lips kiss her cheek. “How are you today, Mum?” I smile. A flicker of a smile softens her thin angular face. It is an automatic response to an automatic question. My mother is still polite — but her eyes tell the truth.

Her colour is good but she is thin, far below her normal weight, and she looks so fragile. My hand touches her gray and thinning hair. I lift it gently upwards. It feels clean and soft. Then I watch the strands of hair as they fall, not quite back in place, but not out of place either. I repeat this motion again and again. “When I was a child,” I say out loud, “you used to do the same thing.”

Silence.

I take her hands in mine. So warm. Soft. Our fingers explore the protruding veins on top of each other’s aging hands.

The bed rail digs into my rib cage. I raise myself up slightly. Leaning over again I reposition myself closer so she can hear me.

“Your name,” I begin, “is June.” My words are practiced and my speaking voice low. The narrative is always the same.

“Your name is June Charlien Carmen Card. Your maiden name was June Charlien Carmen Loucks.”

Her hazel eyes watch me. I think that perhaps today she is listening to my voice. I continue telling my mother about the life she lived, a life she herself had often talked about.

“Your husband’s name was Lorne.”

I feel my back spasm slightly from the strain of leaning over the bed rail. I try not to finish too quickly.

“You had a baby girl. I am that girl.” I smile at her, and continue, “I am your daughter. My name is Wendy.

“Your name is June. I am your daughter.”

My practiced words end. I stand up stretching my back. Her hazel eyes stare at my face. I hope she will just once more say my name, just once more soften the stare and give a smile of recognition. There is no acknowledgment.

Then her body turns slightly away from me and she closes her eyes. Like a child does when ready to sleep after the bedtime story has been told.

“And,” I add, leaning forward one last time, “I love you very much. No matter what.”

~Wendy Poole

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