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.