“Did my mom die?” This was the question my mother asked me as we sat in her room, day five or six of her battle with antibiotic resistant E. coli. It was also day 1,200 or so of a dementia decline that was robbing her of even her most poignant memories.
My breath drew in. For a moment, I wanted to say, “No, she’s fine. We need to go see her when you get out.” How could I save her from the pain of knowing this truth once again? But the look in her eyes told me she already knew. Somewhere in the broken puzzle of her mind, she knew enough to ask the question. To seek confirmation of what is real and what lies scattered.
I told her about her mom that night. And about the others she loved so much who were gone. Even though I had watched dementia rearrange the very fabric of my mother for several years, that night in the hospital I knew I had become her fellow traveler through the curtains of confusion she was trying to navigate, even as they were closing in on her.
The Dixie Chicks recorded a song that sums up the change in roles that happen to children of dementia:
And I will try to connect
All the pieces you left
I will carry it on
And let you forget
And I’ll remember the years
When your mind was clear
How the laughter and life
Filled up this silent house
This job of connecting the pieces has been very hard for me. You see, like so many others say about their mothers, my mother is special. I smile when I say this, because I know how foolish I am to feel alone in this battle. Many, many have come before and only now do I see them.
I think about what I’m learning from all of this. Well, I’ve learned how deep the roots of love are, for one thing. I’ve learned about the all-inclusive role my mom has played in my life as mother, mentor, best friend, caregiver to my children, the one who has always walked steps ahead of me on the path, reaching back to help me find my way. I’ve learned how the mix of love and pain in even this brief description of her is almost unbearable and how my mind and body push these feelings down until I’m numb. I’ve learned that I’m scared to death of the tidal wave that is overtaking me. I can see it in the distance and, times like these in the hospital, I feel it closing in and I know she will be swept away and I….I am going to drown.
“Did my mom die?” No, she’s fine. I walk ahead of her now, reaching back to help her find her way, quickly, before the tide comes in.