For those who know me and those new to my blog, my mother has been dealing with Alzheimers now for many years. It is a journey our family started on 15 years ago. It has been frustrating, sad, discouraging, maddening, heartbreaking. There are more adjectives that could be added.
It is a disease that affects the entire family. I remember when mom was first diagnosed with having a short term memory disorder. They called us kids together to tell us. My mom was so embarrassed she couldn’t sit in the room with us. She went downstairs so she didn’t have to hear dad tell us. My mom has always been a fighter. She grew up in poverty, had an alcoholic dad who drank his little earnings. She lived in a two room house with a water hand pump, shared her bed with her two siblings, and walked outside to use an outhouse. She dreamt of going to college but there wasn’t any money. She fell in love with a sailor, home on leave. She married him and saw the world, literally. When he decided to get his college degree, she went to work to support the family. Her earnings ultimately paid for all of her kids to go to college as well as covered the short comings of his GI bill.
At first it was the little things mom forgot. Then she would be upset and deny she ever knew what ever it was. She got good at covering up and pretending she knew things long forgotten when having a discussion. She would say, I know. Gradually it got worse. It was a slow progress. Then about 4 years into this process, the determination that it had become Alzheimers was made. Each of us handled this differently. Ultimately the greatest stress and hardship was on dad who was with her 24/7. It affected his health. Yet his love and devotion to her was complete. He willingly sacrificed to be sure she was comfortable and had what she wanted. The strain took its toll.
Nothing I could say here would be unusual for any family who has had to walk this walk. It is a dreadful disease. It steals family memories and changes the dynamics in ways you can’t imagine. This week, after 15 years the journey is winding down. Mom has been on hospice for 14 months now. Yesterday she entered a new stage. She slept the entire day, not eating, not drinking. Hospice nurse was called in. We have been notified that she is transitioning. She unexpected rallied today. We were advised to have the family come see her while she could respond.
I spent the night with her last night and all day today. I was trying to figure out what to say to her. I saw my brother struggle with what to say. As I was with her, what I really recognized was that after all this time, that there is nothing new to say. What needed to be said, has been said at some point. The only real thing of any importance is the expression of love.
Mom can’t speak much, but what she can say and has been saying repeatedly is, “I love you”. Sweet wonderful words to hold on to for the rest of my life. My response is always that I love her too, always and forever. When we come to the end of our lives, all the things we struggled with, fought for, worked for; really don’t mean much. We aren’t going to take them with us to heaven. The only thing that will stand and last is the love we have for our loved ones. That expression of love is what will be treasured by the ones left behind, and the gratitude of knowing we expressed our love to the one going on before us.
In reality, our lives together really are just summed up by that one word. Love. It encompasses so much. It says it all. Gratitude for having shared this world together, appreciation for what another has meant to our lives, the impact of their lives on ours.
Life is short. Take the time to really remember the ones you love, take the time to spend quality time together. Tell them you love them. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any one and anything can and does happen. Don’t live with regret. Your expression of love will mean the world to someone and could be the last thing they ever hear. It may be the last thing you hear. Love makes us whole, it makes us feel as though life has been worth living. In the end it is the only thing that matters.