the last glimmer

“We are all the pieces of what we remember. We hold in ourselves the hopes and fears of those who love us. As long as there is love and memory, there is no true loss.” 

― Cassandra Clare

Yesterday, my mother did not know me.

Such a torrent of emotion in those seven little words.

It was not unexpected. With her advancing Alzheimers, I knew that one day my mother would lose me. I just didn’t know how devastating that it would feel.

Six days ago, we moved her into memory care. I had put it off as long as I could. No amount of reassuring myself that she was still safe and well cared for by us, could quiet that little voice inside of me that knew she needed to be taken care of all the time. I felt like the fireman in the cartoon, the one that keeps running from fire to fire trying to put them out with a little red bucket half full of water. More water sloshing out of the bucket than extinguishing the fire. Every minute of every day, no matter what I was doing, there was a constant stream of worry, analysis and problem solving running through my head. Even in my dreams, I tried to care for her. It was never enough. I was never enough.

I anguished over the decision. To say that I have been consumed with trying to do the best thing, find a good place and figure out the best way to tell her is the biggest understatement of my year so far. I replayed every scenario in my mind a million times trying to prepare myself. But in the end, she went willingly and almost happily… in her mind she was going to the senior center to stay a while until her home was finished with renovations. Her one worry was her dog and after I promised to look after her, she was satisfied.

Yesterday was my first time seeing her in five days. The staff asked that we wait until she was used to the routine there so we didn’t risk unsettling her. That made sense and in a way, helped postpone my worries about how she would react when we went back. Would she be mad? Upset? Demand to go home? Yesterday, when we got to the memory care facility, I had that lump in my throat that you get when you are a kid and you are going home after you got in trouble at school.

But for the first time in my life, my mother did not know me.

I have been with her continuously since 2019 when I moved back. Daughter, driver, cook, nurse, caretaker. I’ve sparred with her when she got feisty, cajoled her to do what she needed to do, dressed and bathed her, cleaned up after her and laughed and listened to her stories over and over. I guess somewhere in the back of my heart I thought that would protect me. That it would give me some kind of “memory insurance” with her. As a mother myself, I can’t imagine losing that part of me that knows my children. Carrying them for nine months, bringing them into the world and raising, protecting, cheering them on, calming their fears and celebrating their joys. Even as adults, their cells are still a part of my cells. Their hearts, a part of my heart.

My mother knows she has a daughter named Dottie. She just doesn’t know it is me anymore. She talked about Dottie yesterday to me. I just listened and tried to carry on the conversation with her. As if it were normal. As if my heart wasn’t breaking with every moment that passed.

We dropped my mother off on Monday, confused but happy and talkative. She still knew who we were. Yesterday, I almost didn’t know her. She was smaller, more fragile, softer and seemed so sad. I played some music and she sang along and we tried to talk and I even got her to laugh a couple of times but a part of her has disappeared. Alzheimers has stolen a little more from her and from us.

I know that there is a chance that she will know me again. That the veil will lift and the fog will clear for a few minutes. That I will catch a glimmer of who she was. I know that I can still reach her through music and some of the stories that she likes to hear told. But we have passed over into a place that we cannot return fully from. The door isn’t fully shut but it is closing. There is still light, even if it is only a glimmer.

I’ve felt like I’ve been in much the same fog as she was, since I left her yesterday. A numbness descending over me as my heart struggled to understand what my mind has known for a long time. The weather outside is wild today, strong gusty wind and blowing rain as the remnants of Tropical Storm Claudette goes past. It echoes the feeling in my soul. I feel the turbulence, the unsettling feeling as one squall after another passes through me. I’ve circled through so many emotions. I’m trying to just absorb it all and wait for the sting to subside into acceptance. And hopefully peace.

My mother does not know me anymore. But I will always know her.

My mom and me.

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I am a landscape painter living and painting on the Georgia coast. Painting and writing is a way to reach out and share my observations, my experiences and my inspirations with you. It is how I tell my story and the story of the wild, beautiful landscape where I live.

8 thoughts on “the last glimmer

  1. I’ve been there, and I was only in my early 30s when my mother stopped knowing me. I was 35 when she died of early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s just heartbreaking. My only consolation was that she did seem relatively happy most of the time. It does get to a point when we can no longer give our loved ones the care they need. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read the opening to your post without looking to see who had written it. It is beautiful and sad. I immediately thought that I wanted to send it to dtl on Instagram. Only dtl had written it and touched me to my soul. You are not only a brilliant artist but a thoughtful writer. If you ever post a book about your experience I will buy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Alan. Yes, there are so many of us on this journey with a parent, spouse or loved one. It is such a fascinating and at the same time devastating disease. I have yet to decide if “the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s “ is a gift or quite the opposite. Thank you for your thoughts. I look forward to reading your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So sorry you and your mom are going through this terrible disease. It’s so wonderful that she has you. You speak so eloquently, and paint such a clear picture, this time with your words as opposed to your paint brush. My heart goes out to you and your mom. Prayers for you both.

    Liked by 1 person

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