Being Found in the “Here-ness” of Love

For the complete poem by David Wagoner:

Before dementia, among other things my mother was a teacher, life long Guider, Supervisor for student ministers, leader in Women’s groups, School Board Trustee and full partner with my dad in his community leadership and in the family business.

Growing up I thought it was normal for women to speak to groups, even to lead a Church service on occasion. It gave me confidence to do the same. It was only years later that I learned of the courage required for my mother to speak in front of others; she did not enjoy public speaking.

My mother had a sharp wit, quick temper, forgiving nature, discerning intelligence and sense of humour. She loved music. She was always singing and she and Dad waltzed together like a prince and princess.

As her dementia progressed Mom spoke less and less. She knew that she was losing her intellectual capacities. She withdrew from leadership in organizations. She spoke less because she didn’t want to repeat herself, or show her diminishing memory.

She became unsure of herself and had to depend on Dad. Her world was drawing smaller; it is one of those degenerative physical conditions that isolates. In our visits we knew that she was struggling to hold onto what was most important as we pored over photo albums together, naming her loved ones.

By the time Dad died, Mom’s dementia had advanced such that she said very little. Nevertheless, she was in the moment, fully present throughout the funeral. She knew Dad had died. She could no longer string together a sentence, but because she could read, she could still “sing” the words of hymns. And she knew that her family and friends were gathered around her.

In the days that followed, Mom went about the long-term care facility as if Dad were still with her. And, in her mind he probably was. Living in the moment she may have felt that she was with him just a few moments ago, and when she returned from walking in the halls, she would be with him again. Much of the suffering in bereavement is coming to terms with the permanence of one’s loss, and this at least she did not have to suffer. 

If dementia has a compensation, perhaps it is that one doesn’t have to work at letting go of past regrets and pain, and future worries. Peace for any of us must be found in the present moment. And Love can be shared in the present moment.

Throughout my life what I most appreciated about my mother was that she always had time for me: a listening ear, encouraging word and shining eyes.  In her dementia she could no longer give me an ear that understood my situation, or offer an encouraging word. But her face always lit up when one of us went to visit. Her eyes shone and without words she communicated her love for us, in the present moment.

I know that our experience with dementia is not that of another. The brain is very complex and diseases of Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not well understood. It was our experience that when dementia stripped away Mom’s wit, humour, problem-solving, discerning, and doing – what remained was loving and being loved.     

Gratitude Prompt: Recognize and give thanks for the gifts of this present moment.