Mom's Last Little Light

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My brother recently had some of my dad’s slides digitized so that we can all enjoy them again. The slides begin a year before I was born, and continue to a few years after my birth. (Yes, the photo with this article pictures mom and me.) With these slides, I get to take a stroll through the life of my family before and after mom had her “baby,” her youngest child, which she insisted on calling me throughout my life.

For a long time, I resented being called “baby.” But now, when I visit mom, I announce my presence to mom by saying my name and using this familiar term. “Hi mom, it’s Mark, your baby.” Mom’s memory has continued to fade; like others who have dementia, her life has slipped away a word and a step at a time.

Long before she moved into assisted living, she forgot how to brew coffee and perform other tasks of daily living. Fast forward a few years, mom does not seem to recognize me, but she still appreciates my company and the company of others who visit her.

She hasn’t been able to initiate conversation for several years, but only a few months ago yet, mom and I could have two sentence conversations. I would say a brief sentence, and she would usually give some appropriate response. Those appropriate responses are gone too. Except one.

At this point in her life, she doesn't respond in any way I can understand to things I say to her, except when I conclude my visit. When I get up to go, I always tell her "I love you," and kiss her on the forehead or cheek. Until my last visit, she has always responded, "I love you too."

When I saw her about a week ago, she never looked at me and never said a word. I sang a couple of her favorite songs, recited the Lord’s prayer, and Psalm 23, and Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1. In the past, these familiar words would always elicit a response from her like, “Isn’t that wonderful.” Not this time. Just a blank stare and silence.

When I got up to leave, I did as I always do. I told her “I love you,” and kissed her on the forehead. Then, slowly and deliberately, she reached out her hand and took mine. Not finished, her other hand made its slow way to our joined hands so that she clasped my hand above and below. Then she gripped me so tightly that she trembled. She never used words, but with this gesture, she said, “I still love you, my baby, with all the energy and ability I have.”

Mostly, mom’s communication has gone dark. I praise God and thank mom that this wonderful little light is the last to shine!

Do you have a loved one who has had dementia? How has he or she reached through the cloud of confusion to touch you or another loved one?

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 My maternal grandfather developed senile dementia in his last years, mostly from age 87 to 90 when he passed away in 1984, and when I went to see him with my mom he seemed only a ghost of the man I'd known as a child and young adult when he taught me how to make his liver pâté, so we began our mourning process long before he breathed his last.  I wasn't there on that day, but my mom and dad were.  I'm sorry that you're losing your mother that way.  Mine, however, is still "all there" on the verge of her 89th birthday, which will be on January 31st.  She even drives her car still and got a new one last spring.  She's also planning on moving to a larger apartment in her seniors' residence in March that will be closer to the elevator to make it easier because some of the medications she takes for her heart condition make her dizzy and the hallways are long there.  But it IS a seniors' residence and NOT a nursing home.  And it doesn't smell like a nursing home.  

Sorry that the contrast between my mom and yours is so stark, but I'd rather have my mom the way she is than with senile dementia any day, and I imagine you'd prefer it this way too.

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Michele, no apologies necessary. I praise God with you that your mother is doing so well. My mother-in-law is almost the same age and is just as sharp. It's wonderful.