I can barely remember my mom. I know she was warm, spiritual even. I know she sang off key to me when she put me to bed as a boy, but that her voice was so sweet and reassuring it somehow obeyed another, more beautiful law than harmonics (it’s also why to this day my wife politely closes the shower door when I sing).
My mom was a Long Island girl who chafed at the cultural desolation of her surroundings and discovered literature and feminism and then less radical but perhaps more useful forms of cultural change. She was funny, stubborn, eccentric. Caring. Sometimes relentlessly so. She could put a man in his place with a joke, but didn’t often feel the need.
In her early 50’s – when we look back on – or forward to – huge professional strides or begin passing on wisdom and affection to grandkids, or struggling with the challenges and expectations of these things – Alzheimer’s plaque began spreading across my mom’s brain.
She said nothing to any of us, as it turns out maybe to save us the torture we’d end up suffering anyway. Ashamed, scared, and -maddeningly – alone, my mom confided in only a few close friends she was “having trouble remembering certain things.”
I was just out of college, my younger sister was away at school and my older sister was giving my mom her first grandkids. A progressive high-school my mom founded and helped ferociously to guide was growing into an amazing place of learning.
But the woman who had helped shape all these experiences and lives was unraveling so steadily that, ten years later, all but her humor are nearly gone; and can hardly compete with the impatient, fearful infant she’s become – devouring her grandkids’ ice cream, heedless of our exhortations about how upset they’ll be.
I know that this is but one phase in what, for us, is proving to be a long journey, and there may yet be another renaissance of some of her gentler traits. But for now, the woman who put my childhood terrors to rest is caught in her own nightmare of restlessness, confusion and suspicion. The person who taught me empathy and who I turned to to help make sense of the world is dissolving before my eyes – wrenching me with a powerful and destructive grief.
When im with her i find myself wanting more than anything now to put her anxious mind to rest, to reassure her that all is OK. I am learning to be content with the feeling that locked in some remote part of her psyche, peering out into the world and expressing herself in jumbled words, she is taking some small solace simply in our being together. And I know that this jumble of words you’re reading now does hardly more to express how terribly I miss her.