Alzheimer's is a disease that ravages the patient, but it also takes a huge toll on the family. Occasionally, I've heard people say they don't visit a loved one who has Alzheimer's because their family member no longer recognizes them, and it's too painful to see their mother-father-grandparent-aunt like that.
My beautiful mother suffered from this incurable illness.
During the last few months of her life, we often weren’t sure whether she recognized us, or whether she even realized we were visiting her. But we came anyway.
One evening, I was about to leave after having been there several hours, and she looked up and said, as clear as ever, “Oh, Janet, you came.” Suddenly, some hidden place in her devastated mind had connected, and she knew me. She knew I was there.
Another afternoon, only a couple of weeks before her death, a group of our family brought a cake for her and my father’s birthdays. My father loved old hymns, so we sang a few songs there in the nursing home. We come from an acapella tradition, and we easily fell into four-part harmony. Mother perked up and quietly asked if the church was having a singing service. She'd connected with the familiar music.
And one of the last days that I was privileged to spend with her, she was barely eating, according to the nurses. I sat beside her most of the afternoon and rolled her crumpled body to the dining room for supper. Gently, I rubbed her arms and back. I spoon-fed her Jell-O and soft foods from her plate. She ate the small bites that I offered, and declared, “This is delicious.” Once she finished, she struggled to lift her head with those weakened muscles for just a second and spoke. Her words etched into my heart.
A simple phrase. “I like you.”
In that moment, she no longer knew I was her daughter, her baby girl that she'd raised. She no longer knew me at all. But what she did know, and what mattered was, that I cared. I was kind to her. She wasn’t alone for a moment in her scary, disappearing world.
So though, she didn’t know me, my mother liked me. And that was more than enough.
Under the Southern Sun
Janet W. Ferguson