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.