Friday, August 27, 2010


My mother went missing five years ago. She didn't leave all at once. It was like she just quietly slipped out of the room for longer and longer periods of time. Her doctors call it Alzheimers and they offer no hope that she will one day find her way back to me.

Our relationship begins anew each time I visit with her. I search for threads of continuity from one visit to the next. I have no battle with this woman. Our unresolved issues belong to another time and place, another woman. We have traveled this journey together she and I. I have gone from being her daughter to being the nice woman who will help find her daughter. And now, unaware that she has me at all, she has returned to the company of her parents and others that I cannot see.

It began over a cup of coffee seated at the counter of our local coffee shop. I stepped away for a second and my mother asked the woman seated next to her, "Who is that nice young woman seated next to me?" It culminated in my mother leaving her home and joining the ranks of so many other elderly unable to care for themselves. Forever etched in my mind, I hold the image of her walking out the door of my childhood home for the last time. An image I cannot let go of and perhaps one I need to keep.

My mother was a teacher of third graders for her entire adult life. Even today, she is a teacher. It is not unusual to arrive on her unit, only to find her trying to maintain some order in her classroom. Her voice rises over the din of her class as she calls for quiet. She stubbornly refuses to give up on her students, even those that are clearly disruptive, and hardly aware that class is in session.

My mother spends her days with a diverse cast of characters. In the mornings when I enter her unit, I am greeted by Vern who sits patiently by the door, day after day, waiting for his wife to walk through. I do not know if she ever does. John is a handsome man with beautiful brown eyes that are always focused in another time and place. His fingers move rapidly as he deals from an imaginary deck of cards. I like to imagine that he was a dealer in Atlantic City and that other dealers envied his skill and artistry with cards. Zelda, a Holocaust survivor can be found hugging herself in silent anguish in the corner of the day room. James cries all day, while Nan, counts endlessly from one to forty-eight over and over again.

My mother is my only surviving link to my childhood and my history. I am already grieving the loss of that connection. She requires me to live in the moment as that is all we really have. We sit in silence most days and I hold her hand, something we never did before. It is a small connection but so powerful. For her it is about texture and warmth and presence. For me it is the holding of our history. This moment, this contact with her, all I have, all that matters.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not Today

Estelle died last evening. Brenda, just last week. These are women who like my mom had alzheimers. I knew them for who they were now. I had no experience of them before. Sometimes it feels like my moms unit is a waiting room for death and like so many other uninvited guests, it can show up at any time.

I attended music group with my mom this morning. I was skeptical I'll admit. What possible benefit could music do for a dozen wheelchair bound alzheimers patients? My moms unit is the last stop....this is where you end up after you've started out on the other units. Suffice to say, folks here are in the advanced stages of the disease. They started the hour with a little Big Band ala Glenn Miller. Eyes slowly closed, smiles spread across faces in the group and suddenly they were no longer on the Cheshire unit. Bodies swayed in their chairs and feet started moving. My mother danced for all she was worth with her hand in mine and her feet keeping pace with the tempo. It was possible for an hour to forget why we were here. Towards the end, they lowered the pace somewhat and played a Mozart Concerto. Bert, a fellow resident and former violinist was transported to another time and place. His fingers danced in the air as he accompanied the tune. I caught a glimpse of the man he used to be. Who said there is no magic?

Death hovered at the edges, but for today atleast, it wasn't invited. Today there is only dancing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Country Mouse

My friends from the city came out for dinner last night. Mind you, I've lived here for two years and this was their first visit. Amid a bevy of frantic cell phone calls demanding to know how much further and which white church do we turn right at, they arrived. The dirt roads and no cell service zones almost did them in. It really was touch and go for a few miles.

We sat out in the backyard for awhile and let the evening fill in around us. Stories were told and laughter was shared. Much to their disappointment, no bears or moose wandered out of the woods to grace us with a visit. Finches, chickadees and chipmunks were plentiful and amused us with their antics.

At one point, a comment was made that once you got here, why would you want to leave? It's always good to look at a familiar place with new eyes and my friend reminded me aknew of all that I love about this home and this tiny area of forest I call mine.

They drove off a couple hours later and I waved goodby. No frantic phone calls on the way home, no bears in the road......maybe just a new appreciation for dirt roads, an absence of street lights and stars, clear in the night sky.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ode to Nancy Sinatra

I love shoes. I'm hard pressed not to find the good in just about any shoe. My mother loved shoes in her day. She had 71 pairs of pointed toed stiletos in every color of the rainbow. I remember dress up days as a kid...the world is your oyster with a good looking pair of shoes on! My mother never owned a pair of black shoes, can you believe that? I have so many pairs of black shoes, I predict a 12 step meeting just for me is on the horizon.

I build outfits from the ground up. Get the shoes and the rest just falls into place. Theres a visceral pull in my gut when I walk into a shoe store and "THE PAIR" find me. Helloooooo they say. Where have you been all my life, I say inside my head. Size 8 and be quick about it. Last year I bought a pair of really expensive Italian leather dress shoes with "great cleavage" as the salesperson said. He said they looked just fabulous. Little did he know, they had me at Helloooo.

The first pair of shoes I remember needing to have were a pair of ankle high/side zippered, white GoGo boots. My parents kindly relented and the world changed from the ground up that day. I was 6 years old and I even wore those boots with my Brownie uniform. I've been chasing that dragon ever since.
I have to say one thing here about white shoes.....NO! I know, I just told you about the GoGo boots..but with age, has come wisdom. Any way you slice it in my book...white shoes are a fashion don't. I was raised with the rule that you don't wear white before Memorial Day nor after Labor Day. If you must wear white....respect the rule. And by the way, "winter white" is still white!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Keep Them In Your Hearts

Hanging on the wall outside each room on my mothers unit are "memory boxes". They are filled with photos and memorbilia of each resident and are meant to help them find their room if they get lost. Frankly, I've never seen a single resident look at the boxes. I think they serve to remind the rest of us never to forget that our our moms and dads were once vibrant, passionate and fully participating people in our world.

Two CEO's, a physician, a model, a photographer, 4 teachers, 2 engineers, 3 accountants, 7 housewives, a postman, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and a large group of World War 2 and Korea veterans make up my mothers world now. They are all lost in the past and wage a far bigger battle than they ever did on the battlefields or in the classrooms and boardrooms. Forgetting the thought on the tip of their tongue brings tears of frustration. Feeling abandoned by all whom they love, when in fact those same loved ones visit everyday.

Alzheimers is the "thief of hearts", the robber in the night and the remorseless sociopath. It takes and takes from each victim and family it targets. When you think it can take nothing else, it finds one more thing. It robs you of your past, cheats you of your future and influences every moment. It denies the ability to say "Enough, I just want to go now". I have looked to find the hidden good in this journey with my mother. She has taught me a new level of compassion and she has taught me the value of appreciating each moment as it comes. I keep you in my heart mom.