It’s the First Time

music

It happened for the first-time last night. We took Mom to a Christmas concert, and after we got her seated she looked at me and asked, “Do you know who I am?”  The look in her eye told me she didn’t know who I was and she was wondering why I was helping her.

I answered, “Yes, I know who you are…you are my mom. And I am Michelle, the oldest daughter of Mike (pointed to dad) and Martha (pointed to her)…that’s you.” She smiled, but I am not sure she connected.  And so, the loss of us has moved beyond photographs.

She has struggled with pictures of the grandkids for a while, but in person she seems to know them…maybe not by name, but the familiar faces light her up. Same with us. She sees us and says, “Hi Sweetie” and that’s good enough for me.  She doesn’t have to know my name or where I live, or even which kids belong to me. I am good with the recognition.  But this was different.  I saw no recognition in her eyes. No spark there. This past week, she lost us in pictures.  She doesn’t know when she sees an image if it is someone she is supposed to know or a stranger.  And last night, it appears that it has moved beyond photos to the real in-person me. I’m not sure if it will be every time I see her or not, because this disease is hit or miss. Yet, it is moving quickly these days, it seems, which is ultimately a good thing because I don’t know how many years any of us can continue to do this.

Around Thanksgiving, we were looking at an old photo album from a trip she and Dad took to Switzerland years ago.  She laughed so hard as we read the story she had written under some of the pictures.  It was about a harrowing ride up a “goat path” that Dad had driven down trying to find the place they were going.  It included her screaming at him that “this can’t be right” and all manner of other details about this particular experience.  We were all laughing so hard at her laughing. We could totally picture this ride with the two of them because it was so accurately written.  As we read it she obviously remembered, and she tried to communicate even more details between her joyous tears.  It was a fun moment.

However, it came just after the realization she had no idea where she was.  As we pulled into the driveway to Melinda’s house, she said, “Are you sure this is right?”  She came into the house and said, “This is a pretty place” as if she had never been there before.  Melinda told her it was pretty because she (Mom) had decorated it.  She was surprised at this fact. She sat fairly quiet the entire meal, but seemed to know we were all her family.  She engaged with us as much as she could, which is mostly smiles and head nods, as well as a few attempts to add to the conversation.  Still, there were lots of blanks stares as well.  It is always a mix these days.

At the concert last night, I watched her to see how she responded to the music.  She always seems to respond, or at least be listening.  You can tell by her head nodding to the beat, or her hands moving with the music.  Last night, there was none of that…except during the short sing along section where she moved her mouth as if she was singing along, and the Hallelujah Chorus at the end.  Otherwise, she sat quietly, but was just kind of staring off.

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I cannot tell you how this breaks my heart.  It brought tears for me as well, because I realize that even if she is physically present next year, she will not be with us mentally.  It is her last Christmas with us.  It was her first time to forget me, but it will not be her last.  As the days run together, and time keeps on moving, the long goodbye will continue.  It will be painful for all of us, except her.  She feels no pain.  She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.  For that, I am grateful, but it does make all the “first times” even more difficult for the rest of us.

15 thoughts on “It’s the First Time

  1. Thanks, Michelle,for sharing. This hits very close to me. We are going to similar situation with my Mom but she is only not recognizing my Dad. This makes me so sad because she has known him since they were kids. I’d give anything to switch and have her not remember me if only she’d know him. Fortunately for now its not everyday so he’s thankful for this. It’s such a terrible disease. Praying for you and your family.

    • Laura, I am so sorry. My dad is my mom’s security blanket. When she loses him it will crush him. We are all preparing our hearts for that day, but it is not today. Today, we hold our memories of her close. It’s a terrible disease. Praying for your mom to have some good Dad days.

  2. I can so identify with this. Once when both of my sons were in college, they came together to visit my my in-laws. By that time, my mother in law Helen was in a wheelchair. The boys came to her and each one kissed her cheek then stood in front of her chair talking to her. She completely freaked out – she was terrified of them. I think it was because they are both very tall and she must have felt like they were looming over her. I had them to sit down across from her and she calmed down. That absolutely broke my heart – her only grandchildren- whom she adored! You can never prepare yourself for these situations. My husband & I would always try to find the humor in the situations but some are just tragic. Praying for all of you.

  3. Michelle, you don’t know me but I went to Clemson with Melinda and high school with Steve. Reading your story today reminds me of a story about my grandmother who had Alzheimers. It was a blessing to my family that it wasn’t really full-blown until I was grown and married with kids. My husband and I were visiting and my mother (her daughter-in-law) was in the kitchen. (My mom and dad lived here in SC, but were spending most weeks with her in Jonesboro, GA, while my grandfather was in a rehabilitation home.) My grandmother looked at me and asked if I knew “that lady in the kitchen.” When I said yes, Grandmother commented, “She’s so nice.” I was grateful that even though she obviously had lost my mother and me, her sweet personality had not changed.
    We are now beginning this journey with my mother-in-law. It’s painful to consider how this is going to go, but I am determined to do my best to help her and my husband and his brother walk through it with grace. Thank you for your beautifully written words.

    • Thanks for sharing Kim. It is sad to see the decline. I think we prepare ourselves for these kinds of interactions, and handle them when they happen, but then struggle afterwards when we realize what they actually mean. We are fortunate that my mom is also very sweet, and hasn’t had the angry outbursts that so many have. We are praying she can stay her sweet self all the way to the end. You guys will do what you have to do. Having done it before will be a tremendous help to you this time around.

  4. Thank you for sharing your heartache with us. It truly is sad the way this disease robs our loved ones of their precious memories. May God strengthen, comfort and surround you with his peace as you walk through this difficult time.

  5. This journey is familiar to me and my sis. God bless you, Michelle, as you walk it.
    – and God bless Martha and Mike and your family members as you walk it.
    The love is still there!

  6. Michelle: I know we have not spoken face to face in quite a while but I have been a “Fan” of the Hunter family for most of my life. My memory is still pretty keen when it comes to knowing Mike and Martha, I remember sitting around that round table in Clayton or the swing having many conversations with Martha and it makes me smile. You guys are part of my life and my journey. Probably 7 or 8 years ago when you reconnected with Beverly and her struggle with cancer, I put the both of you on my prayer list and lift you up daily. I run thru that list everyday and you and this journey you travel are lifted up everyday. I tell you that not for my sake but so you know that sometimes God is all we have in times like these….but He is also all we need. Stand strong and know you are being prayed for…

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