Today, I decided to linger with my cream and cinnamon infused coffee since I didn't have to be out the door first thing. When I walked down the driveway to get the morning paper, the temp felt warmer than it actually was and the air fresh and crisp. Even though I planned to go for a solo run later, I was tempted to change my mind and meet my friends who were running early. But back inside, I stuck with my decision while my coffee warmed my bones and the grey November sky hovered low through the window. Some mornings these days, I don't want to move any faster or earlier than I have to.
My sister-in-law called me as an ice-storm had her working from home. Our conversation went something like this:
What did you do last night?
I went to Miss Saigon. It was wonderful. What about you?
Filled in at a euchre party. Great people. How long is the show at the theater? Maybe I should look into tickets and come in.
Early December. It's starting to snow here. How bad is the ice storm?
Branches are falling from the trees. Three people at the party have a mom or dad in their 80's and 90's. A few are home because they never wanted to move. Another is in a memory unit.
I stopped her from talking as another call was coming in. My mother. I stared at my phone screen as her name scrolled across the top as if her name is shining on Broadway. I hesitated to answer it before deciding I should and put my sister-in-law on hold.
Hold your thought. I should answer. If I don't come back in a minute, I'll call you back.
I have to admit that lately, I've been answering her calls with apprehension. Not only because some days she calls me every two minutes, but our conversations have been a bit challenging. When her memory and confusion get the best of her (I do believe she is well aware of her mind failing her), I become the target. To her, everything is my fault. She will say:
Marie, call me back. I have a troubled question. You can answer it. You got me into this mess. Now you get me out. You know what to do. Now call me back.
And she tells everyone else she calls to call me as well. Lucky for me, they don't! For the record, my mom is not in any mess other than the challenging mess of memory loss. Believe me, if I could problem solve this memory loss business, I would. Per her doctors, she has a type of Alzheimer's but we haven't gotten a formal diagnosis yet. I am not sure we ever will. As I keep reading and researching, it is crazy how much is unknown about this disease even from professionals. My mom is very well taken care of in her home 24/7 with wonderful caregivers who treat her like she is their mother. She wanted to stay in her home, so I am the one who has found and coordinated her care and am in constant conversation with these women when I am not visiting. Her blaming one caregiver or me for anything and everything is a pretty common characteristic of someone with dementia or Alzheimer's. When I tell this to her doctors or others who have been through this with someone, they don't blink an eye or question. They know.
Big wet beautiful snowflakes started falling out my window while my mom and I were talking. She was in a great mood. Hallelujah! I thought if there is a God, He or She showed up today. My mom sounded like herself. I wondered if all the Alzheimer's demons and dark thoughts escaped her mind and got sucked out her bedroom window through the night. I said a prayer that they stay away for a while.
I am still in my pajamas, she says.
I respond, Good. I want to be.
No need to rush to get dressed today, she adds.
Not at all. Don't. I say.
She continues, You should see the backyard. It's a winter wonderland. The squirrels are running around, and cardinals are all over the bird feeder. Wish you were here to see this. And I have a beautiful lady here taking care of me who fixed a nice breakfast. I'm looking at the book of Caravaggio paintings. Look for them when you are in Italy. Buy one if you can. But don't buy me anything. I don't need a thing to wear or any more to eat. Call me back later.
While thinking and laughing about the millions of dollars I don't have to buy a Caravaggio, it is now an hour after I originally planned to run. It would have been easy to find a seat on the couch with a book, but I laced up my running shoes. I fit my neckwarmer, gloves, and hat snug on my body and stepped out into the snow-covered earth. I called my sister-in-law back and told her about my mom's positive mood and the description of her morning. We both knew without speaking that my mom, for now, is right where she wanted and is supposed to be.
The joy I heard in my mom's voice makes walking through the desert for her the past few years worth it. Our conversation today makes all the difficult moments and days evaporate into nonexistence. This one phone call lightened the heaviness of her constant calls and voicemails and her difficult moods and actions that are not her but are a result of this strange disease. If her mood had been different, it would have the potential to mentally and emotionally put me in a rut; a rut from which I am slowly climbing out. Instead, this tease of winter made me realize why we need winter. Its clear air is a natural stimulant to help cleanse our thoughts that have been clouded by sameness. A soft blanket of wet crystals beneath our feet encourages us to slow down and notice how nature generously dresses the trees that have become barren. It helps my blood thicken to endure the inclimate weather of caring for an elderly parent. Winter makes me appreciate what once was and is no longer yet has the promise to come again, perhaps in a different way. Winter invites me to hope in ways that no other season can.
On a morning when others might be complaining of the arrival of snow and dread a long winter ahead, I ran through the streets with a stride of gratitude for the cheer in my mom's voice and her mind being her best friend today. The run by myself under the gentle white flurries soothed the stress of what Alzheimer's can do to someone who is helping a loved one. As snow packed itself under the heels of my running shoes, it reminded me that this walk, at times, has been as hard as walking in 6-inch stilettos but grace levels the path again and again. As the snow attached itself to me and melted into my clothes, I thought about the things that have threatened to dampen the situation with my mom. But the arrival of the sun has always miraculously appeared through someone whose rays have soaked up the flood.
The only music I listened to while running was the sound of falling snow while airplanes flew through the clouds to reach the high blue sea of freedom. As snowflakes kissed my cheeks and glued themselves to my eyelashes, I felt the quiet love and deep peace that only a snowfall can bring upon the earth. It also offers time. Time to slow down and be still. Time to be still and see. Time to reflect and for me, reflect on gratitude and appreciate what and who is good and beautiful in this world. When I am hesitant, tired, unsure or feeling drained, it is the delicate and genuine forms of beauty that uplift and carry me forward in this blizzard of a thing called Alzheimer's.
Thank you snow. You made my mom's and my day.