a mother without words

I did not visit my Mom today.

Most every day I stop in — if only for a few minutes.  Sometimes I stay awhile.

Today, I was busy from the moment my feet hit the floor until late — and never made it.

Her Alzheimer’s has progressed, and her ability to speak has rapidly diminished.

For quite some time now, uttering a sentence has taken on the difficulty of balancing a chemical equation.  Her efforts have sometimes born fruit, but most often give way to mute frustration.

In the past few weeks, she’s hardly said a word.

It’s not important that she talks — or does not talk.  That’s not why I visit.  These days, it takes all of her energy to take a step, sit-up, open her eyes.  So I don’t aggravate her frustration further by trying to get her to talk.

But when those rare, fleeting, audible moments happen, they are special surprises — and big moments in my life.

In order to speak to her, I have to bend over, get fairly low, and look up.  She tends to keep her head down, eyes pointed straight down at the floor (if they’re open).

A couple of days ago, I got in her face, as I was leaving, and said, “Bye Mom!”

She said “Where are you going?”

This was quite a lot for her these days.

A few days before that, I said, “I love you, Mom!”

She said “I love you…”  Then she uttered another sound.  I’m pretty sure she strained briefly to remember my name — and quickly let it go.

I visited her two weeks ago, on my birthday.  I think I’ve talked to my mother on each of my birthdays — if not in person then by phone.

Last year, on my birthday, we had a little party at her house that included her, my wife, and her caregiver.  We brought a cake.  She knew it was my birthday and joined the celebration.  We had dinner and I blew out a lot of candles.

In past years, she did what most mothers do:  she made a point to tell me how happy she was that I was born, and shared a few awkward details about my life as an infant.

In fact, I think this was the first birthday of my life that didn’t include an enthusiastic commentary from my mother about the virtue of my existence.  I always found this talk rather uncomfortable, tuned out most of it, and now remember few of the details — although I remember the gist of the message quite well.

This year, I knelt in front of her, looked up, and said, loudly, “Hi Mom!  Today’s my birthday!”

“I forgot,” she said.

My mother had been quite a talker.

I’ve spent much of my life waiting for her to finish talking so that I could move on to matters more important to me.

How many times did she tell me to get a master’s degree?  Hundreds.  I never did.  How many times did she tell me to get a job?  Many.  (Even though I’ve always had a job; one job was never enough for her).  How many times did she tell me to stop chewing my shirt?  So many.  (It’s a habit.  I’m chewing it now, as I type).

How many times did she help me with my writing — offering insight and critique that only she could provide?  Every time I asked.

How many stories did she tell?  That would be like counting the leaves on a tree.

Alas, those are only memories now.  She was a person who did not withhold her opinion.  If she thought she knew better, she said so.  Now, by not speaking, she’s teaching a different kind of lesson — probably the most valuable of them all.

3 Replies to “a mother without words”

  1. THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS,I LOVE AND MISS YOUR MOTHER AND YOU TOO,I SAW THE LOVE WHEN YOU WOULD COME TO VISIT HER EVERY NIGHT AT HER HOUSE,IT WAS A HONOR FOR ME TO GET TO KNOW HER AND YOU,YOU BOTH ARE VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE,

  2. Sam, your mother was always such a special person to me and I always looked forward to the time we’d get to spend together at Press Women events. She was so sharp and – Lord love her – she loved to talk. Talking to her was so inspiring and so inspirational. I always yearned to be a fraction of the writer she was.

    My mother also had Alzheimer’s, so I know the pain and agony you’re going through and I feel for you, too. It’s a tough road, especially for the family. I’ll be thinking about you and Rose.

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