This I Believe

Sandi - Tryon, North Carolina
Entered on June 10, 2007

I believe in visiting my mother, and people like her, who have Alzheimer’s disease. My mother, Agnes, is 86 years old, and she has lived in a Lutheran nursing home for four years.

Her heart is strong, but the disease has robbed her of nearly everything I would have ever mentioned in describing my mother. She is slowly retreating into a world so constricted that, like a clearance sale, everything must go.

My mother has Alzheimer’s; it’s severe; and it’s not pretty. She is not like she used to be, but she is not dead. I feel it is important to say that she is not dead. I want the world to know that she lives, and that this very difficult time is no less a part of the journey that is her life than are all the happier days we remember.

A family member recently said to me, ” I’m not going to go visit your mother: I want to remember her the way she used to be.”

If only I had that option. I could quit now, because it’s too difficult to see her so devastated by Alzheimer’s. I could just remember the mother who was lively, funny, and smart, I wouldn’t have to look at her and feel bad for her or for myself. I would savor the good memories and be happy with that.

It’s not an option. She is my mother; I love her, and I believe she should not have to go through this alone.

That’s the point. Not visiting her, may be self-protective, but I wonder how my mother, how anyone, feels about being left alone by the people you love most to face death. I don’t know what her thoughts are like now, but I’m certain that at some time during her illness, she must have noticed that family and friends no longer came around.

Absence takes away another piece of her life; leaving her diminished by the loss of love, comfort, and touch. Absence may spare your sensibilities now, but how do you think you will feel when it is your turn to die?

And by not coming, you will not know her as she is today. You will never witness her dignity and courage. You’ll miss her occasional smiles and sudden, unexpected connections of meaningful words, that raise you up with joy. You’ll miss the pleasure of sitting outside with her, drinking coffee, and listening to her beloved birds singing.

You won’t receive the three little kisses she gives each time someone comes and goes. You will not see her beautiful face and peaceful countenance or experience her contentment. You will only pity her and tell a false story about how it was good to preserve her memory.

She is alive. She is still Agnes. What you are missing is a rare and important experience – the opportunity to grow with her in strength and grace. By not visiting, I believe you are yourself diminished from what you could have become.