Bina: A mother’s hugs not taken for granted
May 10, 2012
We in the family had suspected something “off” about mom for some time – the way she uncharacteristically interrupted someone during a conversation or how her beautiful eyes gradually appeared sunken and more vacant.
She was officially diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in the spring of 2008. The disease of frontotemporal dementia, we learned, had taken hold.
As she descends further into this neurological betrayal, I’ve found I’ve had to mourn my sweet mother long before her time.
The mother we’ve known, who with quiet strength and generous laughter has lived her life by the tenets of graciousness and selflessness, is no longer with us.
Our mother now is someone who can no longer write a letter, whose friendships have faded, who will never again follow a recipe plucked from an over-stuffed recipe box kept in the kitchen cupboard. Nor will she ever again find pride in the fine china she has long stored in the glass-fronted cabinet – pieces passed down from her own mother no longer have meaning to her, her life robbed of dinner parties where such treasures should be shown off.
I haven’t heard my mother utter a single word in longer than a year. FTD stole her language abilities, and she now receives help with everything from getting out of bed in the morning to returning to it at night.
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My dad has had to adjust to the new reality that life in their golden years – having celebrated their 49th anniversary last fall – will never be what they’d hoped.
Where long ago my mother displayed my elementary-school artworks on the fridge of their home, now, held by magnets on my own fridge are the coloring-book pages of my mother’s artwork. I gave the books to her, and sometimes she and her home-health nurse pass time coloring inside the lines.
During a visit home recently, I helped my mother with her shower in the morning. She stood there under the warm water contentedly, her hands crossed at the small of her back. She didn’t have a care in the world nor a day’s agenda, and it eventually took my coaxing to get her to exit the shower to be dried off.
I couldn’t help but think of how I used to linger in the YMCA shower after my swim practices when I was 8 years old. I’d be prune-skinned and rather cold at the end of a long practice, and the warmth of the shower was always heavenly. To my mother’s frustration while she waited for me in the locker room, I’d stand too long under the warm steamy water, my hands resting on the small of my back. Eventually my mother would have to coax me out.
My mother’s playful side has emerged more. During baths, she splashes her feet and hands in the water like a young child. But also like a young child, fearful, she now takes hold of us with both hands as we cross a street or enter a crowded space.
Knowing how our mother always took great care about how she presented herself, it’s too painful to think of her past self somehow being able to witness her present self. With this in mind, I once spent an entire afternoon pairing her misplaced earrings to ensure caretakers would conveniently find them, that our mother would never spend another day without this “prettification” once so important to her.
When my husband and I announced to my family over the holidays we were expecting a baby, my mom reacted when my husband directly said to her, “You’re going to be a grandma.” It was then she smiled in her way of smiling now. I think she sputtered a laugh. Soon, she will hold the baby, a moment I look forward to.
Although I miss my mother greatly, I find myself thankful this Mother’s Day for the small glimpses of her that endure.
She still recognizes each of us and will smile when she first sees me.
She hugs me back when I hug her. She grips my hand when I hold hers, and when she does, I am reminded of the strength of the woman she was.
And when we tuck her into bed at night – like she always did for us – she’s placed her hand gently on my sister’s cheek, then mine when its my turn. She looks into our eyes endearingly, it seems at least for a moment, as we each lean in to kiss her goodnight.
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