In February 05, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t a surprise: she had been exhibiting the signs – repeating the same questions again and again, forgetting what had just happened, getting confused.
So, no, it wasn’t a surprise. My sisters and I expected it.
It was also the most shocking piece of news I’ve ever received. What can you say when the doctor pronounces Alzheimer’s? It’s a one-way ticket to a hostile environment, one whose language and customs we do not understand.
“You’ll need to start thinking about long-term care options,” the doctor told us. “I suggest moving her into assisted living.”
I hated the idea of selling our house. So many other things had already changed. I wanted something to stay the same. To me, it is as if my childhood was being erased, like airbrushed photos of the Kremlin elite. I wanted something permanent in my porous life.
In October, I flew in again from London where I was living and working. We packed up my mother and prepared for the move to New Hampshire, where my sister lived and where my mother would now make her home after 70 years in West Hartford, Connecticut.
My mother moved into her two-room “apartment”. She spent most of that first day wandering about the facility, observing the activities from the safety of emotional distance, certain that we’d soon be repacking and returning her to her rightful spot in Coonnecticut. When it was clear that that wasn’t the plan, my mother threw up and observed, “I never thought you girls would put me in a home.”
Later, I was driving through Exeter, a beautiful New England scene ahead of me. I eased the car into the bend, noticing and feeling how the car leaned in to the new terrain. There was something clarifying in the moment.
“I’m leaving London. I’m coming home.” I said the words out loud.
There was no question mark at the end of my sentence. I am leaving London and I am coming home. I will dismantle my life and take care of my mother.
If I were 100% honest, I think I would’ve said that I was voluntarily ruining my life.
I wasn’t. I didn’t. I was learning to let go of one kind of life – a professional life – and learning to embrace another kind of life – an emotional life.
What I now believe is this: that in the stillness of that moment I made room for love to play the leading role in my personal play. I let go of ambition and I cleared the decks for love.
I love my mother. She disappointed me in a million different ways. AND I love her. She wanted me to be classically beautiful. She wanted me to be very thin. I am neither. I don’t know if she ever really appreciated me for who I am. At the same time, I love her. She is my mother. There is that umbilical understanding between us, a connection of the kind that cannot be easily severed, not even by years of disappointment.
My mother’s illness has made it possible for me to understand all of this. In that way, this saddest time is also a wonderful gift. And I am grateful: for being able to receive it.
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