Recently, I watched the Glen Campbell documentary “I’ll Be Me”. Glen Campbell has Alzheimer’s and is still able to play and sing beautiful music. This starts me wondering about life, and old age, and Alzheimer’s. I see, in his story, how he is still “in there” — still himself in the middle of a disease that steals. And in his story, I see my mom’s story too. There are days when she is her old self — joking, or giving advice filled with wisdom. Then, there are those days when she isn’t capable of getting out of bed, or forming words that have meaning, and we wonder where “she” has gone to. But I have learned that, in all of this, there is still a life and there is a death. My sisters and I attempt to take from each day what is given and we cry over that which is lost. When our dad died from cancer, we went through it together the best we knew how. We are challenged now, my sisters and I, to face this head-on, through the tears and the sadness. We try to go through this mist, where one day we can touch her with words and memories, while other days her world is out of reach. But, as with our dad, it’s the love, and the memory of love, that sustains us — all the way through the valleys and up the mountains.
Our mom turned 90 in September and we felt fortunate that up until that time she was still living at home, able to go out for the occasional adventure. During the last week of August we went to the county fair and a family birthday party; a true gift for all of us. Now, at the end of September, everything is different. And it causes me to look back, once again.
Growing up, we were a family with troubles and joys, struggles and celebrations. We had times of riding the wave, and times when we were tossed in its surf. But thru it all, or because of it all, we formed a close, tight-knit bond, one to the other. While we learned from dad about being our own person, mom taught us that together we formed a picture of completeness — a one for all, all for one philosophy of sorts.
It is from this whole family picture, ever growing and changing as each new member is added, that the shadow of dad is still seen. Now, due to dementia, there is a forming of the space my mom leaves; a space deeply filled with love and memories. And it is from this place that my sisters and I, our husbands, and our children, keep the memories warm, the home fires still burning, the light still on by how much we love our family, with all its flaws, unusualness, bumps, warts, bruises, and stumbles.
I know from experience that, in time, our little 3-ring circus will re-configure around the spaces, and bond together in a much different way, forming a new picture. And that, eventually, this new family picture will take hold, tying our hearts together, re-shaping our lives.
But, for now, we are caught in the in-between of dementia. I wish, more than anything, our mom could come back to us the way she was. I still catch myself going to the phone to call her, expecting to talk the way we used to. But, there is a truth here to accept now, and only prayer can reach it. And, we know that there is a much better place waiting for her.