The Bee and the Memory Book

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Dear Reader:

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/handsince 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:

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Then I began adding some special pictures for mother….of days gone by…happy days…

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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.

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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.

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About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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8 Responses to The Bee and the Memory Book

  1. ambikasur says:

    That was an extremely heart wrenching and touching story of your mom, Becky! I’m sure that she is enjoying up there in Heaven with God! Her sufferings and hard-works with a single hand paid off well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Becky Dingle says:

      God sure knows whom to place us with…i got to see life through her eyes and determination…quite an amazing woman…the epitome of sacrifice for my brothers and myself.

      Like

  2. Johnny Johnson says:

    What a GREAT story about your Mother! I love that your brother knew the bee was Your Mother saying I am free. Thank you for sharing that. I lost my Sister in November and I took care of her every need because she had several strokes and a bad heart. She never gave up her freedom and independence and lived in Oakbrook Towers until she was hospitalized and went to see the face of God. I had a love/hate of having to take her every where but now I am glad I had that time with her. It is very hard on you to take care of someone you love that is sick and she had to go every where too. She refused to just let me get her groceries for her she had to do it herself. Like your Mother she refused to give in or give up on life. She cooked for herself but in the end my wife and I would bring her food and had meals on wheels deliver her lunch. But I would go check on her and she would be cleaning or cooking even though we had someone come and clean for her. Even at our insistence to go to an assisted living home she refused always saying I can take care of myself! So, until the very end she did just that. Your story just reminded me of my Sister. How against all odds she kept on keeping on as it is said. So I thank you for reminding me that she is free to fly now. I continue to find hope and now comfort in your blog. Thank you for sharing some of your gift!
    Again, Rutledge is such a handsome little man and I noticed he is growing so fast!

    Like

    • Becky Dingle says:

      Thank YOU Johnny for sharing your story…we all have a story to tell…and I am so happy you took time to share yours with us. Your sister came from “pioneer stock.”

      Like

  3. Sis Kinney says:

    Becky,

    I LOVE hearing the stories you tell of your mother – especially how she persevered and refused to give up. I cannot imagine raising 3 children without a husband AND with only one hand! Stories like this are really awe-inspiring. I wish I knew more of my own family’s “stories,” but, alas, my brothers and I are now “it” – the “older generation.” I know SOME of the history, but not all and, unfortunately, there’s no one left to fill in the gaps. The memories book for your mother must have really brought her comfort.

    Hope you are well this chilly Tuesday morning. We got sleet and about an inch of snow here in central NC. Now we have to face the elements and get some groceries. (Still unpacking “stuff” and also need to find glasses and flatware!)

    Happy Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday!!! Stay warm and safe.

    Sis

    Like

    • Becky Dingle says:

      Sis….So happy to hear from you. Burr….sleet and snow. I know how lucky we are to have missed all that…will happily settle for just plain old rain. Is the address that came with the surcies your address now or do you have another address Sis?

      Like

  4. Jo Dufford says:

    Oh, Becky, your story was so moving, and because I can truly understand this, it really brought back some memories. I only wish someone had suggested the memory book to me because for a period, it would have made such a difference to Mother. I had heard the story of the Bumble Bee, but had totally forgotten it. I will definitely use it at some point. I think Rutledge is the cutest little boy ever. Aren’t grands a special gift from God?

    Like

  5. Becky Dingle says:

    I think Rutledge is adorable…even if I am pretty….actually totally, bias in love. Thank you for your sweet comments about mother….God really blessed me when He put me in her family.

    Like

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