This is part of the I Remember Christmas series.
Mom arrived months ago in my home by private ambulance. My sister watched with anxiety as I tore my house apart getting ready for her. I herded my precious solitude out the door, and welcomed a nursing home complete with mother and live-in caregiver.
I put on hold my plans to write in a western Maryland farmhouse overlooking 150 acres and entered the murky incomprehensible world of health care, Medicare, hospital supplies, and pureed food.
Yesterday, Bernadette (an acquaintance from church) stopped by. She sat beside Mom in her wheelchair, listening to her soft endless babble. Occasionally Mom waved her hand at the ceiling, perhaps seeing angels, deceased friends, or just as likely, nothing at all.
Later, as I walked Bernadette to her car, she turned to me sympathetically. “It must be so hard for you to see your mother like this.”
I paused, thinking about the past several months. After all, no one thus far had consoled me.
I know everyone’s experience of Alzheimer’s is different. Sometimes the person, once gentle, becomes abusive or even violent. I thought about that. But finally I turned to her and said,
“I hate to tell you this, but we’re having a great time.”
For the first time, I realized how much I was being steeped in love.
Mom opened up like a flower under the aide Hawa’s care. She became mischievous, stubborn as a toddler, her eyes twinkling. We were all being bathed in the strange glow of love, much of it emanating from my mother. Her inner light—the essence of Elsie—was getting stronger and stronger.
I couldn’t have put words to it if Bernadette hadn’t offered sympathy.
Perhaps Mom is experiencing a better childhood than the harsh one where her father died when she was 10. A Depression childhood where she had to tend her younger siblings and worry about a grieving mother. A time when she stopped crying because it did no good.
Now after eight decades, she is Queen Elsie.
Occasionally she’ll stop babbling to issue an order to Hawa or me such as, “No, I’m sick!” which means, “I refuse to do this.”
But the story is not so much about Elsie as about her transforming effect on others.
She is like an onion, now peeled down to the last layer—and that layer is about a woman who loved life. And now when she no longer has to be responsible in the world—or even reasonable in her demands of it—she eats all that is left of life with autocratic childlike enthusiasm.
Of course, one day she will actively begin to die and I do not look forward to that day.
But dying is not a tragedy.
I do not see Alzheimer’s as dehumanizing but as humanizing. I am in awe of my mother — much more so than when she could give me wisdom and advice. For now I see her as she is and always was: A woman with an immense love for life.
A woman who reaches out and grabs it with both hands. And a woman who laughs, even now, with indecipherable knowing in her eyes.
I don’t know when I’ve been happier than now. I really don’t need a Christmas tree, or tinsel, or lights, or even the manger scene.
I have my mother-child in my home.
~ Barbara Erakko
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room