Christmas Once More  12/23/2015
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Some of you know that our family has been devastated by the dementia that has a stranglehold on my mother. She has been slipping farther and faster from our reality into a gruesome wonderland of her brain’s making. My sister and I took a recent journey into the country she now inhabits to bring her a little Christmas spirit during her favorite time of year. I had made her a memory book, full of pictures of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I labeled each picture with names, knowing she could no longer read them, but also knowing that someone who read the book with her would be able to point out the name that went with the face. I had no idea she’d already passed the point where she could even recognize most of the faces in those photos.

We noticed an ambulance and fire engine when we pulled into the parking lot of the complex. Little did we know that my mother was the occupant of that ambulance. Fifteen minutes into the visit with my father, we received a phone call saying that she had been taken to the hospital. She’d fallen and split her head open. My father fumed because he couldn’t go to the emergency room with us. He was still getting over the flu and had to stay home. So we went, my sister and I, to see what was going on with our mother.

The hospital was not far away, so we were there within minutes. The first thing I noticed was all the blood.  Head wounds bleed awfully and make everything look hellish. The next thing I noticed was her look, which said ‘I’m ready to smile at you, but I have no idea who you are.’ Not until we told her our names did she really respond to us, and even then, I could tell she didn’t remember me. I thought I was prepared for it, but I was so totally not. However, within a short time, I did see shades of my mother emerge. In the sweetness of her responses to the hospital personnel. In the ready laughter and the wry sense of humor that still made its presence known, even though she wasn’t sure what we were joking about. And in the love her voice held when she talked to her younger brother, who had also come to the hospital and who she remembered.

After ten staples and trying to wash out the worst of the blood that stained her white hair pink, we took her home to her small studio room at the care facility, wheeling her in so there was no chance of her falling again. We tried to have Christmas then, the four of us, and although she couldn’t figure out that she was supposed to open the packages, her delight with the soft pajamas that my sister had bought for her was evident. As was her childlike eagerness to taste some of the fudge and cookies we’d brought for her. And she did finally remember me, but only as the two-year-old whose bright smile looked up at her from a picture I’d included in her memory book. Her words I’ll remember for the rest of my life. They were, “Oh, how old were you then? You were so sweet.” In that instant, she knew me.

This isn’t a cheerful message, the way my Christmas blogs have been in the past. The blankness in my mother’s eyes as I walked into that hospital room will haunt me for a long, long time. But I’m reminded that eventually, she knew my face and my name, even if she didn’t know I was her daughter until she saw that so very young picture of me. I at least have that and the fact that she is still here when so many others, including people very dear to me, have lost one or both of their parents.

I suppose you could consider this year’s message one of comfort – that despite knowing this disease has robbed us of the vibrant woman we all knew, she is still feisty enough to argue and fight with my father when he tries to make her do something she doesn’t want to.  That her arms, though lacking in physical strength, still have the emotional strength of the woman who kissed our injuries away and hugged us through the crises that shook but couldn’t break the foundations of love she built us with. These memories that are the bright spots in the darkness of dementia - a warm quilt to cover the cold days that lie ahead. 

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