It was a cold day in December. I had stopped by my mother’s condo to check on her and found her staring off into space, lost in thought. The previous months had been troubling. There had been several episodes that my brothers and I could no longer ignore and we had begun discussing the possibility of moving Mom into an assisted living facility.
She knew something was wrong. Years earlier she had watched her father fall victim to a particularly virulent form of dementia and mom was certain she was now headed down a similar path. Sadly, she was right.
On this night she was momentarily lost in despair, frail and growing weaker, but strong enough to understand what the near future held. She was frightened and after only a moment or so broke into sobs.
Words failed me. I watched her for an instant and then realized that now I was the parent and needed to console my child, a role that would play out dozens of times in coming months. I held my mother and tried to calm her.
I quickly understood that all I had to offer was the truth. I told her she had a large and loving family, four sons, their wives, children and grandchildren – at the time, even three great-grandchildren. I made her a promise. We would be with her every step of the way. We would all get through this thing together.
The darkness came quickly. It robbed her of her memory, her hopes and dreams and replaced them with hallucinations, tremors, anxiety attacks and fits of paranoia. Occasionally, the fog would lift and I would be able to spend a few special moments with Mom, talking about her childhood, friends and relatives that for the moment she once again recalled.
Such good days became less frequent, however, as the disease took hold of her mind and she lashed out at many of us, no longer realizing who we were. But a promise had been made. We would all get through this together. So we made sure she got the best care. We took her to the brightest specialists we could find and had her hospitalized twice at one of the best geriatric facilities in the region.
Then we struggled with rousing her after she had become over medicated and eventually managed to wean her off several toxic drugs that had left her helpless and unable to take care of any of her personal needs.
The journey grew darker yet, the disease finally robbing her of the ability to move around freely, then leaving her unable to articulate her thoughts. So it was that just several weeks ago I found myself sitting with my mother at a dining table in the William Breman Jewish Home, feeding her a mix of pureed veggies, realizing that now she had even lost the ability to swallow.
Frustrated and angry, I called out to a nearby aide and told her she’d have to finish feeding my mother. I leaned over to tell Mom that I was leaving and that I’d see her soon. She opened her eyes, looked directly as me and said, “I love you”. Those were the last coherent words I’d ever hear her say.
My mother died this evening. For days her boys, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and a great-grandchild – who, btw, just months earlier had given birth to the next generation, a great-great-grandchild – had sat with Mom as she battled for breath and another moment of life.
Nearly two years earlier I had held her closely and made a promise. We’d get through this together. I like to think my family kept that promise and that even during the darkest moments my mother managed to sense she was never alone and that she was loved.
God filled with mercy,
Dwelling in the heavens’ heights,
Bring proper rest beneath the wings of your divine presence,
Amid the ranks of the holy and the pure,
Illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the soul of our beloved,
Who has gone to her eternal place of rest.
May You who are the source of mercy
Shelter our mother beneath Your wings eternally,
And bind her soul among the living,
That she may rest in peace.
And let us say: Amen.
GOOD TIMES: The entire family gathered for Mom's 85th birthday (photo above), a wonderful evening of celebration two years ago. She was 87 when she passed away at the William Breman Jewish Home in Atlanta.