Dread fills me. Throbbing, dull pain radiates in my palms and fingers. I relax my stranglehold on the steering wheel, slowly loosening my grip, but it’s temporary. Within seconds, I am squeezing once more.
I hate this journey, especially this one. The last visit I will make to see my mother. Duty is the purpose, but this fact does not cause me to hate it any less. Overriding my inner hatred is a bubbling cauldron of guilt and grief which threatens to drown me. I search my heart for some relief of the pain I feel, but I can find none. There is a strange absence of joy that my mother is finally free from her physical prison.
I realize, as the miles click by, that one year and fifteen days have come and gone since my sister and I were forced by my mother’s doctor to put her in a home. A locked-down unit equipped to house different levels of Alzheimer’s. Now, deep, solemn quiet accompanies me on the drive. Music fails to offer comfort, and the rumble from the diesel engine causes an ache to build behind my eyes. My thoughts stay away from the image of the childlike shell my mother has become; a fragile china doll, empty of memories, existing until the moment her physical body refuses to function. Instead, scenes, all from the years before the disease destroyed her brain, swirl like a kaleidoscope through my mind.
Mom was always there for me and my sister, guiding our lives so we too could grow into strong, independent women. She loved my father but she had the ability to stand on her own, not an extension of him but an individual able to survive on her own. He loved her for that reason. They stood side by side during their over fifty years of marriage. The laughter and tears brought on by life never defeated them but rather made our family strong, secure in the love we shared.
A smile flitters over my lips at the thought of my Mom shaking her head over my tomboyish ways. She wanted me to be a proper young lady to the bone like my sister was, but I was my Daddy’s girl, enjoying the outdoors, climbing trees, and taking long hikes. But Mom gave me the love of reading. She finally gave up during my teens and allowed me to wear the jeans and tee shirts I loved to wear.
When her vision became worse, my sister and I would read to her. Hours upon hours, we would sit by her chair or on her bed and share the worlds within the story. She was always there, even after we left home, married, had children of our own. A short car ride brought us to her door, a long phone call several times a week just visiting and laughing brought joy to the days we couldn’t see each other. I shudder as I realize those days ended over a year ago.
Memories are all I have left. Times passed never to happen again. I wonder how I can continue. Would the pain slip away and ease as the years careen by me. I hope so but I also fear what my future will be like. I don’t desire my children to live through this with me. It breaks my heart at the prospect of this happening.
My sons stopped visiting Mom a life time ago, so my journey on this dreary morning is taken alone. The younger boys do not understand what is happening to their Gran. The youngest one’s wide eyes beg me to leave him at home. I believe he can sense the hopelessness of her illness. How do I explain to two small boys that their grandmother loves them, but cannot prevent forgetting who they are?
I cringe at the thought.
I do not want my sons to remember their grandmother in this way. So, to keep their childhood vibrant and alive with good memories, I leave them at home. Only my oldest son comes with me. At eighteen, he knows the depth of my mother’s illness. He does not complain or gets angry when she calls him by my brother’s name. Smiling and answering her questions, he visits with her. She is ecstatic, laughing and touching, her eyes brilliant because her son is with her. For this, I am thankful.
The moment I pull into the parking slot and turn the key, silencing the engine, my gaze meets my sister’s eyes where she waits for me at the door to the building. Fear builds within, and my body refuses to move.
Had it only been five hours ago that Mom, speechless for days but in a rare lucid second, murmured that she loved us? Her next words were an order for us to go home, and obedient children that we are, we left to await word of her death. We stood in the hall and watched her talking yet when I returned to her side and ask if she needed anything, she shut her eyes and wouldn’t answer. My sister believed she spoke with my Dad, that he’d come to take Mom with him.
My spine stiffens. I pull the door handle and allow the inner strength my mother cultivated to fortify my muscles. I have to go forward with this even though fear and anguish is eating at me.
No words are said, just a long hug between sisters, and then arm in arm, we walk the distance to her room. Step by long step, a strange feeling opens inside my mind and enfolds me in a welcoming embrace. Peace and joy enter my heart shoving the fear, hate and disgust away. For the first time in several years, I look forward to seeing my mother. We stop in the doorway and smile. Serene, beautiful, and so delicate, she is at peace. My sister moves to one side of the bed, while I go to the other. We sit as we had in the past, holding her hands and rejoicing
wordlessly with her for her freedom.