She still knows me, of course she does, she’s my mother but to what degree she knows me, I have no idea. She lights up when she sees me and I love those moments. This time, she was in bed when I first got there. In fact she is always in bed these days. Wherever she goes when she sleeps is where she likes being.
It’s a rotten disease, Alzheimer’s. It steals away the essence of the person and leaves the shell, the bones and body but not the mind. There are moments of lucidity, especially when thinking of something that happened long ago. My mother can still recount details of what happened on the day that her mother died, when she was 16, nearly 70 years ago. She can tell you about the dances she went to long ago when she and my father were courting. But she can’t tell me about what happened yesterday, or a moment ago, and she is not able to remember the names of my kids.
You see, they were born after Alzheimer’s took a hold of her. After she started to slip away from the present and into some other time and space in her mind. She was fine up until my father died some 15 years ago. He had been physically ill for years and she was the strong one, taking care of him. They had been together for over 45 years, raised 6 kids and built a small farm into a bigger prosperous one as he also held down a 9 to 5 job. She worked damn hard in that head down, never ask for acknowledgement or even a break, kind of way that women of her generation did. “The Accountant”, my brother called her, as she was in charge of the money, bill paying and any sort of financial strategising. If a new tractor was needed, The Accountant needed to be onside with the business case or you were going nowhere.
The loneliness hit her very hard after my father died. She was lost. In her years of raising kids, she had not really held on to her own friendships and her own sisters and brothers were now too far away to see regularly. She started to wilt like a spring flower from her own garden, I don’t think we realised the extent of it at the time.
I was there with the kids for only 5 days over Christmas or in romjul as it is called here in Norway. We are lucky that she is still at home in the house where she spent most of her life. That’s because her care is shared between my brother and my sister on a daily basis, with help from my other sister too. They are absolutely brilliant. It’s a tough job as she has become so stubborn and also distrusting, grumbling if people are putting her under pressure to eat, get dressed, take medication and so on. I think she would call herself plain old disagreeable.
Like many mothers, she has shared many wisdoms over the years which have shaped my life greatly.
” God gave you two ears so that you could let things in one ear and out the other” when dealing with people who are talking rubbish.
In my dating twenties ” When you meet someone, make sure they are not mean. If they are mean, it will run right through everything. They will be mean with money, mean with kindness, everything”
Ever the pacifist, “Don’t argue for the sake of it. Most of the time, it’s better to keep your mouth shut.”
“And keep away from Cork men, Kerry men and Donegal men because you couldn’t be up to them”, an Irish expression for being crafty and in this instance, likely to break your heart. I never figured out what was her basis for writing off a good segment of Irish men as pure schemers.
And then one of my favourites, “I don’t care if they tell lies to me when they come into my kitchen, as long as they talk to me”. Didn’t I tell you that the Irish like to talk, all the time, about anything.
When you emigrate and live far from family, ageing parents is one of the very hard things to deal with. You are just too far away to be of any use. You miss the day-to-day life participation that you simply can’t have when you live in another land. You leave someone else with the burden of care. There are of course two sides to this, as with anything. I am a lot more removed from family politics and even though I may hear about most of what’s going on, physical distance is a great diluter of high emotion and any need to stick my nose into what is not mine.
And to hell with Alzheimer’s, the essence of her is still here. The odd caustic comments, the fussing over the kids, telling me I shouldn’t be bringing them out in such cold, at 8 deg C. She still represents home for me, she still is what is home for me. Winter visits home are not great as she doesn’t want to leave the house, it’s just “too miserable” she says. She’s right, as always. The next trip will be in late spring or summer when I hope we can take some day trips and I get a chance to get her view of the world again, Alzheimer’s or not, it’s always worth hearing.