I remember the moment so clearly. I was a mom of three small boys ages 4, 3, and 1. It was a beautiful spring day so the boys and I packed up the stroller to walk down to our park. As the older boys ran and jumped and played, I pushed my giggling little guy on the baby swings. Not meaning to eavesdrop, but being too close to avoid hearing, I listened in on a conversation between two moms.
It was Mother’s Day two years ago. My mom had come to my home for dinner. We exchanged flowers and cards with one another. As I pulled my card from its envelope and read the inside, I paused.
That’s my mother’s name. She had signed her card to me with her name, not mom.
It was that moment…the moment that I realized that my mother no longer knew who I was.
Since that time I have been going through the motions of mourning the loss of my mother. Although she is still with us in body, she has passed away emotionally and cognitively long ago. It has been a long, slow progression. Through the years her forgetfulness and disorientation have eventually given way to panic and fear as everything and everyone around her have transformed into strangers.
Dementia has stolen my mother, has swept her away, has emptied her of everything but breath. Its arms hold her, not in comfort, but in prison. Dementia has snatched her sight and clouded her vision. It replaces the faces of loved ones with the visages of foreigners who are aliens in her land. Like a thief in the night, dementia comes and ransacks, raids, and pillages memories, names, faces. It drains motivation, will, and life leaving only the comfort of a wing chair, a wall, and a world of silence. Dementia has robbed the world of a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor.
Dementia has taken so much from my mother…from us… and left behind so little. All that remains is a shell, a reminder of the life that once was.
As I was working on this post, the Lord laid on my heart a little object lesson of sorts. It was a much needed reminder for me.
I’ve always loved the ocean. There is a calmness in the sound of the waves, a serenity in the water lapping over your feet. The refreshing ocean breeze seems to infuse one with peace. My favorite moments at the beach are spent combing the sand for shells. I’ve always admired the colors and shapes of each one. They are little treasures that the ocean brings forth and the handiwork of the Lord. I’m always sure to bring home shells from each beach excursion we have. My prize find was a shell that I picked up on the Gulf Coast of Florida: a Lightning Whelk. While not large in size (it only fits within the palm of my hand), this shell is completely intact with brilliant colors and stunning patterns. I remember finding the shell tumbling in the tide. I snatched it up and ran to my family like a little child; I was so excited to share my treasure.
As each of us was examining the shell, I explained to my then young boys how that shell had once held life within its curved walls. That shell was a beautiful home for a creature of the sea. But in the cycle of life, the creature either moved out in search of a larger shell, or most likely, was eaten or died. What remained was an outer shell, beautiful and vibrant, yet fragile and lacking life.
That empty shell is much like my mom. Even though the mom that I have known continues to fade away, even though living life has been replaced with mere existence, there is still beauty to be found in the shell that remains. While my mom may no longer recognize my face or know me to be her daughter, I can choose to look past that and opt to remember the life that once was and try to honor the life that still is.
So this Mother’s Day I will choose to not allow dementia to steal the day. I will allow it to remind me that all life is precious, that all life is important, that all life has purpose. I will use it to remind myself that my mom is a child of God and that He loves her dearly. I will hold fast to the knowledge that dementia doesn’t take Him by surprise.