I wished she would die.
I find it hard to read that right now; but I have to admit that I had that thought. Not because I didn’t love her. Not because I wanted her gone. Not because she did not deserve to be here. Not because I couldn’t be bothered to visit her.
Because I knew that she was living her worst nightmare…and I wanted to help her end it.
My beautiful mother is in the advanced stages of Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease. Her life, for the past 7 years, has been in a nursing home where she is cared for completely by other people. This proud, private, highly independent woman has been suddenly shackled by a brain that is betraying her.
It has been excruciating to witness. When she was still verbal, she was anxious and confused about why she had to ‘stay in jail’ while she was assigned to a locked ward. She begged us to take her away each time we visited her. As her ability to speak left, her eyes seemed to scream at us to please end her confinement and set her free. Then, for a period of time, her face seemed wracked with pain each time we visited.
Mom said over and over – since her mother entered personal care 30 years ago – that she did not want to live the way she is now living. She even stockpiled pills in her 50’s and 60’s, telling us many times that she would ‘take care of things’ when she started noticing that she was losing her memory. Of course, once she started losing her memory, she could not remember where she put the pills, or even that she had wanted to make that choice.
Mom is dying. Very, very slowly. I suppose, one might argue, we are all dying very slowly. For mom, she is dying very slowly and we – the people who love her most – who were filled with guilt at not being able to help her more – who were physically sick at watching her anxiety and agitation grow – wondered to ourselves if she was really ‘living’ in the process. “Who would choose this for themselves?” “Who would want to be bathed, fed, and dressed by other people?” “Who would choose to miss out on enjoying the company of their loved ones?”
As the years have passed, my siblings and I have all made a point to see mom on a regular basis. In fact, we often text each other weekly to set up a time to “meet at Ma’s” – to see her, to hold her hand, to rub her back, to kiss her, and to have her in our space as we chat with each other and catch up on our respective lives.
This, I have started to realize, has become the unexpected gift for our family.
As my siblings and I have aged, and our families have grown, the busy-ness of life has meant that we naturally do not get to see each other as often as we might like.
Visiting ‘Ma’ has become our way to stay connected with each other as an extended family.
Mom was always the one to bring us all together. There was nothing more important to her than having us all around her. She would giggle with joy when we had a family gathering, even though for most of it she was busy in the kitchen sending out delicious dish after delicious dish.
Well, mom is still bringing us together.
I have mourned several times over the last 15 years, as we have slowly lost our mom….we lost her eloquent conversation when we needed it most, her laughter playing with her grandchildren, her optimism and unending joy for life, her curious and wise mind, her resilient spirit when things were tough, her ‘you can do it’ encouragement when we didn’t believe in ourselves, her warm smile that could (and did) light up a room, and her sparkling brown eyes that were so full of love.
I know that the big mourn is yet to come.
I do not wish she would die.
I really just wish it were different for her.
But, it is not. And so, I will keep accepting this unexpected gift. There is indeed the gift of remembering, and of accepting…and there is also the unexpected gift of connecting with my siblings and their families … through – and with – the presence of mom.
I wonder if we would see each other as often as we do now, were mom no longer here. I wonder how different our conversations would be, if mom’s path had been different. I wonder if we would be as appreciative for the good things in life, as present with each other and with our own families, as cognizant of the impact a parent has on a child…were it not for this unexpected gift. The unexpected gift of a slow death.
What unexpected gifts, I wonder, are waiting for you?
Deri Latimer is an expert in positive possibilities for people! A TEDx Speaker and Author, Deri’s message reinforces that positive habits are the pathway to a happier and healthier life – at work, and at home! www.derilatimer.com