Recently I had an experience that was surreal in its timing and a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. Mid to late July I was anxiously awaiting the illustrations to be done for my book For I Am Yours and enjoying a rare time of fulfillment and joy.
The day finally came that Lorraine Watry told me that she was done with the illustrations. A few hours later, my brother told me that my mother was in the emergency room. After some brutal ER situations stemming from her Alzheimer’s, my mom was anxious and disoriented during her health crisis, which made things so much worse for her. The final stages of publishing the story I wrote about a mother’s love was juxtaposed with a new story about my mother’s life in jeopardy. And my heart ached with the thought of it.
That weekend I worked with Lorraine and the publisher to finalize the book while also making plans to drive to New York with my daughter Carol Linn to take care of my mother. What made my mom’s situation somewhat bearable was that my oldest, Nicole, flew into Rochester with her husband the very next day to take care of her Baba Ana. Carol Linn and I planned to join her a few days later. We planned our road trip, down to the book we were going to listen to on the 7-hour drive.
It wasn’t lost on me that I was about to spend an incredible amount of time with the child who was the inspiration for my book. It had been years since we had each other’s undivided attention. Once we dropped off Ian and Chico, we put the audio book on and…two minutes later we turned it off. We had so much we wanted to share with each other, from the inconsequential to the deep thoughts and feelings that we haven’t had time or opportunity to share with each other. We talked about stupid things that made us angry (and then laughed about them) and important things that made us cry. We talked about our roles as stepmoms and daughters, our fears and our dreams. And my heart swelled with the joy of it.
When we arrived at my mom’s home, we weren’t prepared for how much independence she had lost: She could no longer walk on her own or feed herself; she was unable to carry on a conversation; she was weepy and afraid—a dramatic difference from when I saw her just a few weeks earlier. Nicole was taking care of her as well as the move from an upstairs room to a main-level room—this after being in the hospital all night with my mom after the 4th ER visit in 2-3 days. I looked at Nicole and was amazed by my child, now a woman; I was completely blown away by her strength and diligence–whatever the job might be, she accomplished it. And my heart swelled with the pride of it.
We helped Mom walk to her room and get her ready for bed and then worked into the evening to finish the move. Nicole was leaving in the morning, and Carol Linn and I were taking over. I have to admit that I was nervous. I was an emotional wreck. Could I bind my breaking heart enough to take care of my mother? I’m not sure I would’ve been able to without Nicole’s example.
The next day, Carol Linn and I followed in Nicole’s footsteps. We helped my weeping mother get out of bed, go to the bathroom, brush her teeth, change her clothes, eat breakfast, and drink juice. We took turns sitting with her on the couch and holding her legs in our lap; we wrapped a blanket around her when she was cold; we held her hand and kissed her forehead. Most of the time she barely opened her eyes, but when she did, she was happy to see our faces, even if she couldn’t remember who we were at times.
We stayed for a few days, but then Carol Linn and I had to make our way back to New England to our other family members who needed us as well. Neither one of us wanted to leave her. It pained us to walk away. How could we leave her when she needed us so badly? Who was going to take care of her? Who was going to feed her, help her get to her room, change her clothes? Who was going to hold her hand when she was lost and confused? Who was going to say, “I love you” to ease her fears? And my heart broke with the thought of it.
Once home, I checked in daily with the staff on her progress. Every phone call confirmed my worst fears: She was crying and disoriented in bed, refusing to get up and eat. I wanted to run back and wrap my arms around her, hold her and wipe away her tears. But as the weeks went on, the new medication started to kick in. She wasn’t waking up weepy anymore. She learned to use a walker and eventually didn’t need it anymore. She started feeding herself and carried on conversations with staff and friends and family visiting her. And my heart swelled with the relief of it.
She is not back to where she was at the end of June, but she is much better than when we left her at the end of July. I know that eventually she will return to that dependent state because of the nature of the disease, but at least now it will be a slow decline. Even if she doesn’t remember my visits, I’ll be able to return and share the new book with her. I’m excited to read the words that epitomize my love for my children and that I now realize also echo my love for my mother. While I hold her hand and tuck a blanket around her legs, I’ll be able to tell her that I love her and that I am hers and she is mine, ‘til the end of time.