I wondered if he would remember my mother, even though they’d met several times over the years and had liked each other. Like me, she’d been enchanted by his charming, chivalrous European manners.
“Ed,” I began, feeling sad just thinking about it, “my mother died last week. You remember her? You met her a few times.”
He looked up from Adorable, one of the many stuffed animals he loved, which he was “padding.”
“Honestly,” he said after a few seconds, “I don’t remember her, but I’m very sorry she died.”
I gave him a prayer card bearing her photo. He turned it over and saw the praying hands on the back and thanked me several times for showing it to him. I also gave him the eulogy I wrote. He studied it for a long time. His ability to read was limited, so I wasn’t sure how much he would be able to understand, if anything at all.
“This is very beautiful, Marie,” he whispered. “You should be proud of yourself for writing such a lovely eulogy.”
Then he read the last sentence out loud perfectly.
“In closing, Flora often said ‘I’ve had a good life, and when I’m gone I don’t want you kids to cry.’ To that we kids say, ‘Sorry, mom, we tried to honor your request, but just can’t do it.’”
“Just can’t do it,” Ed repeated, the paper quivering in his shaky hand. He looked up at me and said it once more. “Just can’t do it.”
Then he put the prayer card and eulogy on his night stand.
When I got ready to leave I said, “I’ll come back again tomorrow.”
“Marvelous! Wonderful!” he said.
He always asked when I was coming back and I always said, “tomorrow,” not necessarily because I was planning to come back the next day, but because it made him happy and I knew he’d never know the difference.
I had been a little worried that telling him about mother’s death might make him worry about his own death, but I realized he didn’t have the capacity to make such links any more.
“Ed, you remember I told you my mother died?” I asked the next time I visited.
“My mother didn’t die,” he said, looking baffled. “I just talked to her last night.”
“No, Ed,” I said. “I’m talking about my mother. My mother died – not yours.”
In those days he sometimes thought he’d had conversations with people who had been dead for many years.
“My mother is fine,” he said, still confused.
I dropped it.
When he finished eating he put down his spoon, looked directly in my eyes, and said,
"You look so beautiful in that black shirt even though I know you're wearing it for death."I was stunned.
Marie Marley is the author of the award winning book ComeBackEarlyToday .
Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room