Last fall, long before we sold our home, and I started renovating a new home, I made plans to go east to see my mother. I haven’t written much about my mother because it is complicated—what mother/daughter relationship isn’t? For years, we each wanted to get along better but we never managed to do so. Then in May 2013 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and everything changed.
Alzheimer’s is a sad disease. I have nothing new or profound to add to the heartache that this cruel wasting away of a brilliant mind means. But I can add that much to my surprise, my life has changed in some ways for the better since her diagnosis.
First of all, every child of an Alzheimer’s patient worries about getting it themselves. And odds are that many of us will. This is not a pleasant outlook, but it forced me to make some decisions about what I do and do not want for the rest of my life—with or without Alzheimer’s. Within a week of her diagnosis, I found myself back on a yoga mat, after having been absent for many years. It was always one of those things that I thought would be back in my life someday. My mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis made “my someday” happen today.
Second, for some strange reason, our relationship started to improve dramatically. Over the years, we have both wanted a different relationship with each other, but neither of us managed to make it happen. We were both disappointed and had resolved to accept the relationship for what it was and was not, but deep in our hearts we both wanted more: more connection, more understanding, more loving. And now we have it.
She is suffering from Alzheimer’s; this is not a subtle disease. But she is still there and while visiting her last week we had some beautiful heart-to-heart connections. Alzheimer’s may have robbed her ability to remember words and where her glasses are and even large batches of information about her life, but it hasn’t affected her ability to open up her heart. Over coffee, we both talked about how much we are now enjoying our current relationship after decades of yearning for more from each other. Ironically we both think that the other has changed while the reality is that we both have. And this has allowed us each to open up our hearts to each other.
Alzheimer’s may be taking away all the details of her life, but it has left her heart intact. The bottom line is that she can still send and receive love and really what more is there?
Here are some photos of me with my mother, my brother and my mother’s husband on my recent visit east. She doesn’t like her photo taken and I know she would not like the way she looks in the photos, but they capture a loving moment of us together that I will remember.
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