I was excited to see her. I passed through the double doors, down the hall and into the dining room. I knew lunch should be almost done, so it would be a great time to have a nice visit.
Tiny and frail, she was sitting at a table in the middle of the room - alone. I walked up to her, smiled and said,
“Hi, did I miss lunch?”
I knew it would be a surprise, not because I hadn’t told her I was coming, but because her memory could only hold thoughts for about 10 minutes before they disappeared.
Since she moved into the assisted living facility, I had traveled 6 hrs from my home to visit her every chance I could. Every time I told her when I would be there. Every time when she saw me she would clap her hands, unfold a full-face smile and react as if I was the biggest surprise she had ever received.
This time was different. She looked up from her plate with no excitement or surprise. Confusion crinkled her face as she raised her hand and used her pointed index finger to paint a circle in the air around my face. This emphasized the comment she was about to crush into my heart.
“I think I know you, but I don’t know your name.”
I knew this day was coming. The day that dementia would win. The day she would no longer know me.
It was her finger in my face that flashed my memories. The memories of a mom who would shake her finger with a strong, “no, no, no” when I toddled over to touch something breakable or dangerous.
The finger that she raised in my face when at 13 I whined and complained that I wanted to be older and do the fun things my siblings could do. Her finger shook in my face as she told me to never wish my life away- it would pass way too quickly on its own.
It was the finger that tickled the tummies of my babies and tapped the noses of her great-grandchildren.
It was the finger that adjusted the oxygen machine levels for my dad as he was dying.
It was the finger that always added power to her lectures that began with, “Let me tell you something,” and ended with a profound proclamation of her opinion about life.
It was the finger that pointed to her entire family as she aged reminding us that we were not the boss of her.
I froze. I couldn’t breathe.
The painful crack caused by watching the mom I knew disappear broke deeper through my heart.
I reached for her finger, folding it in so that our hands clasped together. She was always proud of her hands. She informed everyone that her doctor said she has very young hands - much younger than the almost 90 years old that she was. Her nails were always manicured and the rings she was so proud of sparkled on her delicate fingers.
I helped her stand and told her I would walk to her apartment with her. The lump in my throat was thick with fear. I wondered if she was gone forever. If I would always be a stranger, a visitor that occasionally stopped by.
I chatted about the weather and how good she looked, while arm-in-arm we walked the hallway to her apartment. She sat in her chair by the window. The topic changed to her bird feeder and the number, color and size of the birds visiting her that day.
An hour had passed when she looked away from the birds and matched her eyes with mine. Her blank stare turned to a smile, she clapped her hands and her eyes twinkled as she said,
“I’m so happy you are here!”
I hugged her burying my tears in the shoulder of her shirt and told her I was happy too. In that second my mom was back.
She knew me!
The month of May brings Mother’s Day, her birthday and a lifetime of memories. I can still see her hands as she raised that finger to my face and reminded me to not wish my life away. In my heart, I always wished her life would last forever.
I will honor her wishes and do the best I can to enjoy life, not rush time and I will forever be happy that she was here.
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There is a certain magic about where I live both physically and spiritually – on the crossroads of Spirit and Brave.
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