When dementia attacked mother….it did so gradually and subtly. At seventy she attended a cousin’s reunion and I later got a telephone call from one of the cousins asking me if something was wrong with Lucille. She seemed quieter than usual and repeated things a lot…asking questions over and over.
I remember hanging up the phone with a knot in my stomach. Mom’s cousins had just confirmed what I was suspecting but had been afraid to accept consciously. Something was wrong with mother.
About twice a week mother would cook supper for me and the kids…something we all looked forward to….mother, with one hand, could out-cook anybody I knew. She was unbelievable…today she could have her cooking show on the cooking channel…called something like “No Excuses…Everyone Can Cook.”
Now, however, the meals were not up to her standard of “yummyness”…she was forgetting to put certain ingredients in different dishes and her selection of side dishes became quite odd.
Mother was pretty much a meat, potato/rice, and green vegetable cook….topped off with delicious biscuits. Suddenly now…there might be a hamburger steak, some cold beanie weenies, and a banana. I could see the kids’ faces fall when they got to the table and saw the strange concoction of side dishes.
We never said anything to mom….but I found myself suggesting more and more that I would fix something or pick up something on the way home. Mother seemed relieved.
She played bridge once a week with Dee Dee and some women from the Presbyterian church. Now she made excuses every Tuesday as to why she couldn’t play that day and gradually became more and more reclusive.
The “call to arms” for me arrived, once again, in the form of a telephone call. Mother’s world had dwindled down to her driving to the beauty salon, once a week to get her hair fixed, the grocery store, and church. If she needed to go to the doctor, dentist or any other professional or medical appointment…I would take her after school.
One afternoon when I got home…her car was missing. That was strange…mother did all her running around in the morning…when it was less crowded. As I stepped in the house…the phone was ringing. It was Rene Harris. She had been at the grocery store and recognized mother….wandering around the grocery parking lot. She couldn’t find her car and was beginning to panic.
She told me she was following mother home. Rene is so wonderful…both cars pulled up and Rene quickly hurried over to mother to start grabbing grocery bags and making her smile with her tales of losing things herself and had mother and me rolling with laughter taking the groceries in. I will always remember the special kindness Rene showed my mother…and me.
Soon after…it was mother’s suggestion (when she woke up one morning not knowing where she was) that we start the paperwork for Presbyterian Home. In the initial interview…it was obvious to everyone that mother was struggling with her memory. The only room, however, they could give her was upstairs…rather far from the cafeteria.
We took it…so she could get in…but it was a struggle. Thank goodness…one of her “neighbors” looked out for her and took her to meals with her. Six months later mother suffered a stroke and ended up in the Alzheimer’s wing at the back of the “home.”
I think I might have told some of you that this was the time I was the angriest with God I have ever been. The stroke affected her right arm…she had lost her left hand to bone cancer…and now her right hand and arm were crippled by the stroke.
“Why God…I remember crying out…why couldn’t you have let the stroke affect the left arm/hand…since it was gone anyway…why her right hand? Hasn’t my mother suffered enough?” I was furious!
God is a “Big Boy” I learned and He can take it. Mother had to learn how to speak again and hold utensils in order to feed herself independently. Mother was, also, now resigned to a wheel chair and never walked alone again.
It was during this trying time that the occupational therapist suggested that I make mother a ‘memory book.’ Put pictures in it of her parents, pictures of her and siblings when they were young, then older pictures, pictures of her and her husband, pictures of us as children and now adults. Later…once she got the immediate family connection down…I could add cousins and extend the family.
Mother adored her memory book (title picture.) The only time she would really get upset was if it was removed from the side pouch on the wheelchair and she couldn’t find it. The memory book became her last link with reality.
On the first two pages I listed all of us inside a hand (which I thought was symbolic since she raised all three of us without one) and the story of the bumblebee…which I always thought was her story.
Mother opened it so many times…the writing gradually smeared but this is what it looked like:
Then I began adding some special pictures for mother….of days gone by…happy days…
Mother struggled for over a year and then died from pneumonia in November of 2000…she would have been 81 on her birthday in December.
As usual… with watching a loved one struggle physically and mentally ….her death brought mixed feelings of sadness and relief from me… for her… from the world of confusion and physical restriction that she had been forced to live in. Now ( I knew in my heart) clarity had returned and she was with my father and brother David…again.
We took her body back to Laurens for burial (beside my father and brother.) It was the most beautiful day….a slight chill…but sunny with the bluest of blue skies.
I handed our minister the story of The Bumblebee and asked if he would include it in the service. We were all under a tent for the graveside service….as Rev. Cushman began telling the metaphor of mother doing the impossible…raising three small children minus a husband and hand…like the bumblebee flying… It was then it happened…some flying insect landed on my head.
Since I am allergic to most insects….(walking and flying)…I remember freezing…scared to even turn my head. As soon as Rev. Cushman finished the story…the insect flew off.
It wasn’t until later that the incident took on new meaning… when Walsh called me after he got back to college at Appalachian State and excitedly said…“Wasn’t that cool, mom….the bumblebee flying in and landing on your head until Richard finished the story?” I think Me-Mommy just wanted to see us one more time and say good-bye, don’t you?”
I couldn’t reply…I was too choked up with the realization of what had happened….mother had given me her last gift. Her reassurance that she was fine now….no longer hampered by the loss of a hand or confusion…she was free at last to fly. She had done the impossible on earth…and now all new possibilities of happiness awaited her. Quite a gift!
As I told this story to friends over the next several weeks and months…I began receiving all types of bumblebee jewelry as mementos of this event. In fact…just a few months ago…Linda Carson gave me this memento.
So until tomorrow…as the story says….”Remember this when you’re losing faith or hope…God’s proof that the impossible can be.” (A.S. Waldrop)
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
Mollie and Rutledge stopped by yesterday…and we went looking at new baby items….I took Rutledge out in the garden since he always wants to be “outshide.” Maggie, my neighbor’s hound dog, howled and howled and Rutledge thought it was hilarious. He began to howl back and got so tickled he fell down.