When Mom began to slide deeper into her dementia, I could have heeded her long ago advice:
“Keep your distance Your father and I will be in a safe place and there is nothing more you can do. So live your life and don’t sacrifice it for us.”
In the early years, I did keep my distance—partly due to work—but really I was acting out Mom’s advice. My visits were regular but brief and, I can admit this now, an obligation rather than a joy.
But that changed when my father and Mom’s devoted companion of 66 years died.
I began to spend a lot of time with her.
I learned to appreciate the value of real time—taking delight in the moment and letting Mom set the pace.
I also learned that there a lot I can do. Being a reassuring presence and most important of all—keeping her engaged and connected to life.
She joined the Elderwise painting class offered in Assisted Living and surprised everyone with her fascinating art. Even though she has no conscious memory of painting and thinks of it as a childish waste of time, her paintings allow her to access thoughts and emotions she can’t express any other way.
We play Scrabble (she is fiercely competitive.) We sing, take walks, play with her many stuffed animals and enjoy the birds in the small aviary. We chat—usually on the same subjects: why more women don’t wear skirts and how the city is changing. She is intensely curious.
Gazing in wonder at the Seattle’s changing horizon, she talks about her grandmother and how she wouldn’t recognize the place. She asks over and over what I think Seattle will be like in 50 years. “I won’t be here so you will have to tell me what it’s like.”
“Where will you be—heaven?” I ask.
Naturally,” she replies.
But as much as I enjoy being with Mom, sometimes a fleeting doubt sneaks in.
Should I be doing more? By being her playmate, am I treating her like a child—somehow failing to honor the glorious woman she was?
But one only has to stop and look to see that she is still a glorious woman.
And Mom, it’s no sacrifice. It’s a joy.