I did what she wanted me to do. I sang Ding Dong the Witch is Dead but my heart wasn’t in it. At 1:30 AM this morning my brother texted me to tell me our mom had slipped away quietly. Christian had arrived only hours before. Maybe he had the power to help her let go. It was apparent when I saw her a few weeks ago that she was heading towards the door and I was glad I consciously said good-bye then.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. I feel like I’ve been mourning my mother for a solid ten years. Back when she sometimes knew who I was was the worst. Recent years were hard because I hated seeing her trapped in a physical shell she had lost control over. Now she is free and I feel relief. My thoughts, as always, are with my father who has carried this burden and carried it well. He could not have taken better care of his wife, our mother. He did it on his terms and he did what he thought was right. While I felt my mother had left long ago, his wife was always in there and he treated her accordingly. His commitment never wavered. I won’t be canonizing him here. I’ll leave that to Pope Francis. As dad says he finally figured out what my mom wanted. It just took 50 years to learn to be the best husband. Unconditional love and acceptance. It’s a lesson for all of us.
As for the facts of Pat, how do I distill her memory and rinse it clean of the stink of Alzheimer’s? I’d pushed aside the idea of who my mom was for so long so I could accept who she had become. Only in the hours since she has died do I feel room for the woman we lost. On the flip side Alzheimer’s gave us a brief gift of a charming childlike person who had left anger and resentment behind. It gave us a window into Mom as a delightful child.
She loved nature, food, traveling, and gardening. I caught most of it from her. She was wielding a chainsaw in a tree in her late 50s. Prior to that she had not used a chain saw and hadn’t been in a tree in 40 years. Not the best idea and possibly a sign she was losing her wits but it was her. She could decorate a home and make it feel cozy no matter the era and locale. We lived in colonial, we lived in country, and lastly elegant beach. She taught me to play Scrabble. No abbreviations. What’s an abbreviation? She encouraged me to read. My favorite story about learning to read is this:
My mom offered each of her kids a dollar a book to encourage reading. She paid me $1 once and I never stopped reading. She paid my brothers over and over and over again and they would never read without the bait.
She learned to play music in her 30s. I did the same thing. She was a career woman and put herself through school while working. I helped her with her algebra. She pushed me hard but I think she was pushing me to defy society’s expectations for women. She knew I needed to get away to turn into who I was meant to be. She never asked for grandkids. She never complained that I moved too far away. She was unsentimental with me. I think I caught that too.
I can’t do more now. I am grateful Burt and I had the time 6 1/2 years ago to live with mom and dad for a few months. Back when she was companionable but I could care for her. I felt like I did what I could, when I could. Now it’s time to help Dad. Maybe someday you’ll meet him.