Conversations. I like to have them. Meaningful ones. Heartfelt ones. In person when possible. Or on the phone rather than through texting or email. I enjoy the sound of someone's unique voice. The interaction of thoughts can be healing. Connection enlivens a spirit that is otherwise dying. One thing I am grateful for is that my mom never wanted a cell phone, never got used to using one, and never learned how to text. Over the years, when we are not together, we have talked a lot over the phone. If I had a column titled "What I Learn While Caring For A Loved One" to help someone who is going through a caregiving situation not feel alone, one piece that I would include is this: Pay Attention to Conversations.
Why do I say this? Because delicate and life-giving words are spoken at unforeseen times offering a lantern of hope and love when the lights appear to be dimming. Through the journey of my mom's decline, our conversations have transformed from talking to one another with clarity about her wishes and desires and what's going on in my life, to ones where she talks about whatever enters her mind or has escaped it. I go along with it and listen. Sometimes I try to redirect. On occasion, she asks me who I am, who she is, who my husband and kids are and I, as patiently as I can, explain our family tree. There is no shame in me sharing this.There are millions of people in my situation. It can be a natural part of the not so natural disease of Alzheimer's.
If you have a parent who has a difficult time expressing his or her feelings, you have me as a friend. It wasn't easy for my mom, God adore her, to tell me how she felt about me. It's ok. We are all incomplete. My weaknesses are her strengths. If there is one thing that my mom and I did well together, it is knowing and accepting each other's personalities and levels of ease with sharing feelings for one another. It was always more comfortable for me than for her. But on an April morning in 2017, I had a conversation with her that I knew would be my last of its kind. I had a feeling. My gut told me, pay attention to what she is saying to you. Things are changing.
I had stepped outside in my backyard to inhale fresh air. An invisible wire connected our home phones bringing our distance closer. It was a morning of clarity both in mind and relationship. She opened up as brilliant as the clear blue sky above me. A spring breeze caressed my cheek with the gentleness of a mother's touch. And she said,
Marie, you have been a good daughter. I appreciate all you have done. I am sorry I couldn't give you a sister. I know you almost had one. But it wasn't meant to be.
Full disclosure: I am not perfect and not all my moments are good! There is a reason we call ourselves human. Of course, her words cemented me in love, and I stood still as they attached themselves to my heart with a permanent adhesive. My eyes welled up before releasing peaceful tears. Even though we are both still breathing, I knew this was our goodbye before a ghost would slowly steal her mind away. I made sure she knew how much I appreciate and love her. I Let her know that I am walking with her and not pulling her to do something she can't do. Or pushing her to do something she doesn't want to do. And as for a sister, I reminded her that it is out of our control as one girl and three boys have run in the family for three generations.
That cloudless spring morning, as my mom and I reminisced, practiced getting through the present, and hesitantly anticipated the future, grace glued our personalities together with a conversation that would be scribbled on my heart forever. It is a string of words that I treasure and gaze at often. An illumination brightly etched in the full night sky of living with someone who is aging or fighting a disease.