Memories of Holidays Past
It's been two months since Mom died. Two caring friends called me this week to see how I was doing. Although these conversations differed in many respects, they each had a common question for me: "How was Thanksgiving? I'm sure that that holiday was hard for you since your mom wasn't with you and your dad." My response, honestly given, proved to shock them. "Actually, Thanksgiving was fine. Halloween ended up being sadder for me."
You see, this mourning process hasn't gone the way I thought it would. Movies and novels alll portray this great sorrow being unleashed at the time of the loved one's last breath. We didn't have that - my mom died in the middle of the night, and my father, brother, and I all declined to go and view her body. My reasoning was that I had watched Mom's decline the last two years as her body became contorted and constricted due to various health issues. Seeing her one last time in that condition wasn't what I wanted to remember; instead, I wanted to begin to move my image of her to a time prior to 2001, which was when her mental decline started.
Currently, most of my memories of my mom revolve around Alzheimer's disease and her time spent in the nursing home. I still can vividly see her in the wheelchair, shuffling her way down a hallway in order to complete a fictitious race that her mind had dreamed up. Or I can hear Mom telling me that I should leave my dog, Zoe (who often accompanied me on a visit to the nursing home) with her in "the hotel room" (which was really her room at the nursing home) while I ran errands.
This brings me to Thanksgiving. My most vivid memory of Thanksgiving (at this point) is of the 2005 holiday when Mom, already diagnosed with Alzheimer's, came over to my home to celebrate the holiday with Dad, my brother, and niece. My brother and niece went to pick up Mom at the nursing home around 2 p.m. They carefully escorted her into my home, and we offered Mom a chair in the living room. For three hours, Mom just sat there quietly, not participating in the conversation or watching the football game. Her ability to concentrate for an extended period of time was gone.
We had dinner that night, again, with Mom mutely sitting at the table, picking at her food. And then my brother and niece escorted her back to the nursing home. All in all, Mom was physically present that holiday, but the Mom that we had known was already gone. That's what I currently associate with Thanksgiving.
Then, there's Halloween. I chalk up my sad feelings this year about Halloween to the fact that none of my memories of this holiday involve uttering "Mom" and "Alzheimer's disease" in the same sentence. As I offered bits of candy to the miniature princesses, hippies, and commandoes (as well as a Spider Man and a Harry Potter) who congregated at my door, I found myself remembering my own childhood. I can easily picture Mom designing my costume (one year it was a Martian) and also serving as mistress of ceremonies for our home's festivities as the many kids came ringing our doorbell. That is the memory that brings tears to my eyes and causes me to mourn Mom's passing.
Last night, I watched the movie, "The Namesake," which follows the lives of the members of an Indian family who live in America. Toward the end of the movie, there's a scene with the father and young son atop a stone breakfront jutting into the ocean. The father realizes that he has left the camera back in the car and debates whether to go get it. Instead, he leans over to his son and says something to the effect of, "Since we don't have the camera with us, you'll need to take a mental picture of this moment." The young son looks into his father's eyes and innocently asks, "How long will I need to keep this picture in my mind?" The father replies, "Always."
Those mental pictures of times spent with my mom -- some of which are from my childhood and some of which happened as recently as 2001 -- are the ones that I now want and need to bring to the forefront. As I start remembering moments together that were marked by Mom's intense intelligence, sense of humor, and creativity (traits erased by Alzheimer's), I'll be able to truly mourn her passing.