We learn a lot from our moms, much of which we don’t come to appreciate until we’re older, and often until we have children of our own. While I learned a lot from my mom growing up, her lessons were even more powerful when she became sick. A strong pillar of pride, and a petite person full of sheer strength and determination, my mom raised five girls on her own. Six years ago she was diagnosed with dementia, a disease that ravishes the mind of the affected and the hearts of all who love them, and in July of 2013 she passed away. Unlike the movies, my mom wasn’t able to understand or accept her diagnosis. It came long after we knew that something was wrong, and far past the point of her being able to cognitively process the ramifications. Just as I would expect, the more the disease threatened her independence and ability to care for her family, the harder she fought. While our personalities are a unique expression of who we are, when a disease robs us of our cognitive processes our behaviors are highly affected. My mom was no different. I soon learned that the best way to live with the heartbreak of watching someone you love slip further away each day, was to appreciate the moments of joy and go where they go; experience the journey with them.
My experiences in caring for my mom taught me many lessons and reinforced some of life’s greatest virtues. Even when she lost the ability to adequately express her thoughts and desires, her voice was just as powerful. It is my hope that our stories will reflect that we can still learn from those with cognitive decline, and we can appreciate even more the impact they have on our lives and in our hearts.
My mom taught me Patience- My mom hated the cold, and I realized just how much when we would drive to appointment in the wintertime. Upon arrival I would open the door to help her out, and thanks to the assault of cold air she would immediately scold me to close the door, while at the same time insisting emphatically that she was getting out of the car. We would replay this scenario several times. I learned what it’s like when cognitive decline severs the connection between a person’s cognitive processes and their physical response. Patience was the least I could offer.
My mom taught me to be Flexible- Though never a fan before she became sick, my mom became oddly obsessed with McDonalds iced beverages. No matter where we were heading or how late we were running, when she spotted the golden arches we stopped at McDonalds. She may have had one earlier in the day, but reminding her of that lead to agitation, which was generally driven by anxiety. Who wouldn’t feel anxious if someone was suggesting that you couldn’t remember something that happened an hour before? In the end, I learned that the moment of joy that came from the experience was far more valuable than the cost of the extra frappe.
My mom taught me Compassion- It was another doctor visit and a cold day, so I made a decision to pull up the curb and walk my mom inside, then ask her to sit on the couch while I ran and parked the car. While it only took a matter of minutes that’s all it took for my mom to disappear. As I stood there that day looking at all the hallways and directions she may have gone, the elevator doors opened and there was my mom with another woman holding her arm. My mom called out my name and the emotional response from both of us was as if we hadn’t seen one another in years. I realized that day how frightening it must be when you’re at the mercy of others to guide you along the right path and always keep you safe. Compassion is at the heart of all we do to walk in another person’s shoes and appreciate the difficulty of their journey.
The lessons we learn from our mothers take on even more meaning with age and experience. After their loss we appreciate more than ever the impact they had on our lives and in our hearts. May today remind you of your mother’s love and inspire you to share it with her in person or through the power of memory.