I wrote this essay on Mother's Day last year to share with my siblings. None of them get to see Mom as often as I do as they all live far away. The closest one is 3 1/2 hours away. Most of them are much farther.
May 9, 2010
My Real Mom
Today I saw my “real” mother. Not the one that sits in a wheelchair and can’t remember how old she is, but the one that really is deep down inside the body and brain of Alzheimer ’s disease. She pops out every once in a while but not too frequently.
I surprised myself when I cried as I shared the moment with my 16 year old. You see, when the kids were little we always lived too far away from my parents for the kids to be able to spend much time getting to know their grandparents. Hannah was only five when I recognized the first signs of Alzheimer’s in my Mom so she really has no recollection of her “real” grandmother. The one she visited didn’t like noise or disorder and did not have a childproof house so she had to be on her toes all the time. Maybe it was my fault because I never wanted to make my mother unhappy so I couldn’t allow the children to be relaxed kids when we visited. In any case, Hannah doesn’t really know her Grandmother. Now she sees her weekly but the person she sees doesn’t always know who she is. She lives in a place full of other people who can’t remember their grandchildren either and it is uncomfortable for Hannah to be there. Her siblings feel that discomfort as well.
That is why I wanted to share the moment with Hannah. I wanted her to see a glimpse of her real grandmother. Because it is Mother’s Day, I went to The Homestead for church with my mother. When I arrived, Mom was still eating her breakfast. She uses her fingers now to get the food on her utensil. Sometimes she doesn’t bother with the utensil at all and just uses her fingers. That is NOT my real mother. Church services started before mother had finished eating. Mom has to concentrate to eat. It is the time when she is least likely to know who I am. I assumed she would be oblivious to church but since she can’t remember she has been to church 5 minutes after it happens I didn’t figure it mattered much anyway. As a matter of principle I said to Mom, “We are going to pray now”, but I didn’t really expect a response. She immediately set down her spoon and obviously participated in the prayer. We sang the Sacrament song. I’m not sure if she sang that one or not. I know she sang at least one of the hymns but I don’t recall which one. My real mother knows the words to hymns even if she can’t remember how to find one in a hymnal. As the Sacrament was passed to all the residents, employees and visitors I came to the realization that my real mom was there. She was reverencing the Sacrament. The reverence shone through all the inability and forgetfulness. My real mom.
I don’t allow myself much emotion when dealing with my mother. It would be too hard to constantly be emotional about her condition. I allow myself to laugh at the funny stuff but rarely do I cry. It would be too painful. But I wanted Hannah to see this moment when my real mom emerged. I wanted her to know that even though she has this horrible disease, Grandma still is reverent. She still has a testimony of the atonement of Christ. Her religious memory is still there. So I told Hannah what happened. At least I tried. I barely got started when emotion overcame me, just as it is now as I write about it. I think Hannah understood the moment well enough without my being able to say all the words that needed saying. I hope she did. It was the moment her real grandmother came.