She May Have Alzheimer's but She's Still My Mom

My mom and I celebrated her 69th birthday on Sunday, but today she probably doesn’t remember.  Dementia has been slowly stealing my mother.  Just four days before her birthday my dad moved her to a full time nursing facility in a town near his PA home.  I had already planned to make the five-hour trip from VA to celebrate Mom’s birthday, and her change of residence didn’t change my plans. On Saturday night, I got my first glimpse of mom since Christmas.   Her eyes were still vacant, her mobility nearly gone, yet she still wore a smile.  Dad, one of my brothers, both of my sisters, and I sat around the table exchanging conversation and trying to piece together a conversation from her short, sometimes nonsense responses.  She stayed awake the entire time and enjoyed the cake we brought.  It was an unusual but sweet birthday celebration.

On Sunday, I returned to have some alone time with Mom and “to have church”.  She never missed a Sunday and most were spent serving the body of Christ with her exceptional musical gifts.  Her face showed surprise and a big smile when I found her sitting in the dining area with the other residents.  I greeted her with a hug and a kiss and then pulled up a chair to sit beside her.

Words cannot adequately communicate the reality of our time together.  On paper, her words are neatly strung together, one after the other.  In reality, there were many stops and starts and pauses.  Though the paragraphs here flow together swiftly, there was actually much silence and hand-holding during the course of my 45-minute visit, with little more conversation than what I recorded.  This woman was surely not the intelligent, vivacious, creative mother who raised me, but I saw glimpses of her.

I made some small talk with Mom about her birthday, how old she was, and what she had for breakfast. (She couldn’t answer, but the nurse had told me).  We sat quietly together observing the surroundings—a TV blared in the corner, a nurse was taking a resident’s blood pressure, and several residents walked aimlessly through the room.  It was hardly a setting for church, but I opened the service with some hymns.  I started with, “Heavenly Sunlight,” her favorite hymn and one she and her sisters had recorded on a CD about a decade earlier.  I repeated the chorus very slowly.  She knew many of the words, but she watched my mouth intently to help her keep up. She still loves to praise her Lord.

Next, I read from Psalm 34:  "I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.  I will glory in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together."  Then I read the first few verses from Isaiah 61, her life chapter.  All the while I read, she nodded her head and said “uh-huh” at appropriate She still loves the Word of the Lord.

Next, I gave her the updates of my girls.  When I told her that Victoria’s graphic design work had won a contest and that she was excited, mom replied, “That makes me happy, too.” She still rejoices with those who rejoice.

When I told her that Elisabeth had her own piano studio and was giving lessons to young children, she remarked, “I know she’s good at that.” She’s still an encourager.

I mentioned that Anna still wants to be a nurse and go to Africa.  Africa holds a special place in her heart since her sister had been a missionary there for 15 years and mom had traveled there on a mission trip in 2000.  She responded, “Oh, I hope she can make that happen.” She still has a heart for the nations.

Lastly, I told Mom that my musically gifted Abigail was still playing violin and that her talent must’ve come from her (Mom).  Mom played piano by ear with only 3 months of lessons and had a beautiful singing voice.  Mom’s response was that she got it from me.  (I have a degree in Music Education.)  When I disagreed, she said, “She got it from both of us.” She’s still humble.

There was a lot of activity in the community room where we were sitting.  When someone walked close to the stool where her swollen feet were propped, she moved her feet.  “Every time they walk this way I have to move my feet,” and she flexed her foot slightly to demonstrate. She still thinks of others.

Later, one of the patients knocked over a chair and she remarked, “Some of them don’t know how to act.”  When I mentioned that the staff thought she was pleasant, she said, “I’m glad you told me that.” She still brings peace in chaos.

Before I left, I asked her if she wanted me to pray for anything.  She said, “No, I try not to hold onto anything,” and proceeded to hand me the wet washcloth she had been holding in her hands.  Maybe she was talking about the washcloth, but it really is how she has lived her life. She’s still teaching me how to grow in Christ.

I prayed with her and she agreed throughout the prayer at appropriate moments.  She was clearly in her element with her Savior.  For years her days began around 4 am as she spent time with her Savior in my old bedroom turned prayer room. She’s still in love with her Jesus.

After the prayer, I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  Through tears I told her how special she is, how I glad I am to be her daughter, and how much I love her.  She responded, “I love you, too—well, you oughtta know that.”  As I stood to go, she kept repeating, “I love you. I love you so much.” She’s still my mom.

My mom and I before she was diagnosed.

My mom and I before she was diagnosed.