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.
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.