31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 14 — Valuing the Old

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Of course today’s topic is one close to my heart. I am graced to have my 94-year-old mama still living. I myself am now 70. I am personally familiar with old things. And old people.

But you know what? We are not a society that particularly values old anything, maybe most especially people. That is painting with far too broad a brush, I own that. But there are times when it surely feels that way. I’m not sure it’s entirely intentional. We get busy, our lives are full, there is more energy to be found in the company of younger folk. I get it, I’m guilty of it, I know it.

But.

The sixteen people who live in my mother’s Alzheimer’s unit were once thriving, contributing members of society, living lives rich in friendship and family. Now, many of them seldom see any young face other than that of their closest caregiver — the one who is paid to be there.

I myself am deeply, DEEPLY grateful for those paid friends. My mother’s life is incredibly richer and safer because of the place where she lives. And for a long list of reasons — most of them to do with my own emotional and physical limits — I see my mom only about every five or six days. For years, I called her nightly on the telephone. Now, that is too confusing for her, so I stopped doing that this summer. It was both a relief and an opening for yet another kind of grief, deep within me.

I love my mother very much. I miss my mother very much.

Yet she is still here.

And the pieces of her that remain have been lovely to see for the last two years or so. Just in the past two weeks, however, I have seen a deepening level of confusion and ‘lostness,’ which come yoked with an exponentially deeper sense of panic that permeates almost all of our ‘conversation’ of late. Three days ago, she was frightened to use the bathroom before we left for lunch, sure that someone was going to get her wet (she now hates the shower.) And she insisted that she had never been to the Cafe before, though we have been there at least once each week for the last six months.

“Are you sure it was me you took here?”

“Yes, Mom. I know you. It was you. You are Ruth Gold, right?”

“Yes, I am. But there must be another Ruth Gold because I’ve never been here before,” she said in a frightened, trembling voice.

I patted her arm, told her I was going inside to order our lunch and left her, sitting at the counter, peering at the view with a troubled look on her face.

Seven or eight minutes later, I returned with her diet coke in hand and told her the cheeseburger would be coming soon. She turned and looked at me, much calmer, and said with conviction, “I think that other woman must have left.”

Clearly, she had been thinking about our earlier conversation, something she is generally unable to do. Something about it hit her deep inside, requiring her to ponder and try and figure out how she could be so lost. Her conclusion was unbearably sad to hear.

Yet something deep within me resonated strongly with that so-sad sentence, that oh-so -carefully prepared sentence. Because she was right, you see. That other woman has indeed left, never to return this side of heaven.

And oh, I miss her so.

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Comments

  1. While reading this poignant post the radio played in the background. It is a internet radio that plays Christian music sung and written by the youngin’s. While reading the youngin’s started singing an old song out of the shape-note hymnal called “Never Grow Old.” I’ve been at the doc with my mom this morning and realize I haven’t really come to terms with my mother’s diagnosis of dementia. Thank sharing your feelings and processing concerning your mother. I just lifted a prayer asking God to help me begin to understand how to be the daughter she needs in this time in our lives. She (your mother) is lovely. May God grant her peace as she faces anxiety and fear. It’s heartbreaking I know. May God give you peace and strength as she slips further you.

    • Oh, Dea. I am so sorry to read this. There will be beauty along the way, but overall, this journey is a tough, tough one. It is frightening to feel so lost. And it’s hard to watch. Now my MIL, on the other hand, never seemed to be aware of her own confusion — she was convinced it was everyone else’s fault! And then she just stopped talking very much at all. That, too, was hard because it was such a marked personality change. My mom’s journey seems to be exaggerating things that have always been true. She has always dealt with anxiety and she has always been a lovely, outgoing, vivacious person. Those things remain, even at about stage six of this dreadful disease. Many, many blessings to you both. Especially as you help her decide when (and where) to find a living situation that will provide more care.

  2. Kelly Greer says:

    Diane..what a tender piece of your life you just shared with us. Your words ring true and resonate in the hollow places..maybe the fearful places that we all must face one day. But somehow you encouraged me to go there, to have no fear. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Kelly – and what a lovely thing to say. If anything I say can help any of us face into the possibility of this happening to us or to someone we dearly love, then I am deeply grateful. I’ll admit, I’m not fear-free yet! But I’m praying my way through that and learning from my mom that she is still lovely and still so very lovable.

  3. Oh. Just oh.

  4. Thank you for this poignant, beautifully written piece. A season of great loss.

    • You’re welcome, Karen. Yes, it is a season of loss, loss over time for us right now. And for you, too. Lots of love to you and to Buzz.

  5. Gwen Acres says:

    Such a tender story. I was thinking how our mothers watch over us as babies and children and delight in each new accomplishment. Every day new growth until we fly from the nest. But now you watch over your mother as she is daily robbed and becomes the one cared for. Both of you learning loss instead of gain.
    Over the years you have written of this journey. It has been a privilege to hear the stories. How much longer I wonder for both of you to endure this slow good bye? I pray for peace and rest for your beautiful mother . And strength for you Diana, her loving and dutiful daughter.

    • I wonder how much longer as well, Gwen. In fact, as I left that lunch table last week, I found myself praying for the Lord to release her before her confusion overwhelms her. But I will take each day as it comes and thank God for the gift of her life, even as it ebbs away. Tomorrow, we take her to the dentist and then out to lunch. Hopefully, she will be calm and cheerful – we shall see.

  6. Donna Baker says:

    Hurting for you and yet grateful for the glimpse into this particular loss. 🙁

  7. Thank you for this lovely piece. Sharing this part of your journey with your mother is helpful as I go down this same road with my Dad. I need reminding now and then that I’m not alone in this strange stage of life.

    • Oh, Brooke, I’m glad you find this helpful on your own journey. And I’m so sorry you must take it. More and more us will do that road, I think – either with a parent, a spouse or our own selves. I’m hoping that research will discover ways to both detect and treat this dreadful disease before our kids have to deal with it for themselves! And NO, you are definitely not alone.

  8. Thank-you, thank-you for sharing that story. I need to stay aware of the importance of older people. I needed to hear how you process that in your one life.