38: My Mother’s Eyes

38: My Mother’s Eyes

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

My Mother’s Eyes

The eyes are the window to your soul.

~William Shakespeare

As I head into the nursing home driveway I see the first “Visitor” parking space is open and I pull in. You’d think I’d have a “Reserved” spot after coming here almost every day for the past five years. I walk up, hit the button and go through the door like I’ve done so many times before. It doesn’t get any easier, day after day, year after year.

I see her sitting in her wheelchair at the end of the hall. I kneel down in front of Mom and tell her hello and how much I love her. I look at the familiar crooked smile on her face and I pause at her eyes. She is in her eighteenth year of Alzheimer’s disease and is now confined to a wheelchair. When I look at her I don’t see how old she has gotten. I don’t notice the two missing front teeth she has grinded out due to the dementia. I don’t notice how thin her hair has become. I just see my mom.

I see in her eyes the same pride she had for me decades ago as she sat on the bleachers cheering me on though my sporting events. She always told me you have to learn to lose before you can be a good winner. I see the love she felt as she rolled my hair every Saturday night in those pink sponge curlers for Sunday Mass. I see the laughter in her eyes as she pushed me into the lake to get her cane pole that broke in half while we were fishing. And I see the worried look in her eyes from those nights I snuck into the house after missing curfew.

I wonder what she sees now. As I set up her tray to feed her supper, I wonder if she sees me putting pepper on her food because before Alzheimer’s she loved pepper. I wonder if she notices I wash her face and hands before the meal because before Alzheimer’s she was always such a tidy lady. Does she see how patient I am as she takes more time to eat than all the other residents? Is that because she always waited to make sure my siblings and I had enough food before she took seconds?

I wonder if she sees me brush her hair and try to style what little is left. Before Alzheimer’s she had her hair styled every Friday. I wonder if she sees that I straighten her closet. And I wonder if she sees that I remove all the tags in her gowns because after two or three washings at the nursing home the tags get stiff and scratchy. And if she sees I take her clothes home every couple of weeks and soak them in fabric softener. I wonder if she sees I iron her name patches on the top of her socks so the patches don’t tickle her feet.

I wonder if she sees me struggle with the parent-child role reversal as I am forced to make decisions about her health and wellbeing on her behalf. And if I make a mistake with her care, does she forgive me? Does she notice that before I leave the nursing home each night I kiss her, tell her how much I love her, and that God loves her, too?

Because before Alzheimer’s became her life that is what she did for me every night as she tucked me into bed.

I wonder — but only for a moment. Because I am sure she does. I can see it in my mother’s eyes.

~Theresa Hettinger

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