Friday, October 5, 2007

Walking with a Zen master

I found my mother in the living room with several other residents. She jumped up out of her chair when she saw me.

“There’s my sister,” she said, happy to see me. A few minutes later we were in the car, driving west into the lush hills of Vermont township. Lucky, my golden retriever, stuck his head into the front seat and licked Mom’s face.

“Quit pestering your grandmother,” I told Lucky.

“He can kiss his grandma as much as he wants,” cooed Mother.

Lucky gave me a quick look of disdain and then turned his attention once again to my mother.
“Isn’t the color glorious?” I said. We were surrounded by red and orange oaks and maples. “Doesn’t it remind you of West Virginia?”

“Oh yes,” my mother replied.

I’m not sure if she really did remember her childhood home, but the hills touch something deep inside her.
“We had a good time,” she said. “They had several of them. He did a good job. But that’s the way it goes.”

Most of Mom’s speech is now made up of short sentences strung together, making no sense. She can’t carry on a conversation. If you ask her if she has children, she’ll say no. She has no recollection of me as daughter or my two sisters or my brother. She can’t remember my father, who died in 1978.

Alzheimer’s disease has taken so many memories away. Yet on that lovely day on Lakeview Road, just north of Barneveld, I was thankful Mom’s sunny disposition was still with her. Although she no longer recognized me as her daughter, she was still very recognizable to me as Mom.
When she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago in Texas, I was gripped by fear. I knew very little about what kind of care she would need. I didn’t know how to judge the various assisted-living homes in the area.

I did know enough, however, to call the Alzheimer’s Association. I talked to Mary Anderson, the director, at least once a day for the first couple of weeks. She cared for her husband’s parents when they had the disease. She has extraordinary patience and compassion. Thanks to the information I got from Mary and the Alzheimer’s Association, I found a wonderful assisted-care home for my mother, who gets loving care there. And I am free to simply enjoy her, savoring each meeting.

On that day in the country, we got out of the car and walked up and down the hills of a friend’s land. I stood and watched for minute as Lucky bounded the hill and Mom sauntered along after him, smiling, calling to him, enjoying the beauty and the sunshine of the day.

At the bottom of the hill, Mom kneeled down and embraced Lucky, laughing as he lavished her with dog kisses. She was still my mother in essential, telling ways.

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal 1993
Debby Thompson de Carlo

1 comment:

Erin said...

I am glad you found my blog! I just finished Mr Emerson's wife a few days ago and I really enjoyed it.
I now want to read a biography of the Emersons.