I don’t remember the last time I heard my mother say, “I love you.”
I don’t remember the last time she said it to me or to anyone else.
She died this past February. But the last time I heard the words, “I love you” pass through her lips was many years before. If I had to guess, I would guess it was in 2011.
It’s hard to remember much of what she actually said to me in my life. When I was 24 she was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. Even then in the early stages, conversation was difficult and awkward. Alzheimer’s was like the ugly elephant in the room stepping on our mouths, preventing the usual chatter exchanged between mother and daughter.
So I would sit and watch Family Feud with her or thumb through books of cross-stitch patterns, writing my name next to the ones I wanted her to stitch. I probably wrote my name on over a 100 of those patterns. I didn’t really want any of them. Cross-stitch wasn’t my thing, and it definitely wasn’t my style.
But she learned cross-stitch when she was young, and her hands remembered it even when her mind failed her.
She couldn’t work as a nurse anymore, couldn’t provide the emotional support to her children that she used to, so she spent hours on elaborate cross stitch patterns.
She threaded together words and pictures almost every day. I didn’t want those pictures at the time, but I wanted to give my mother purpose- and she wanted to give us whatever she could. So I wrote my name, and she stitched.
I can’t remember many significant conversations with her. I just remember hours sharing space with her on the couches in her living room and occasionally on long walks.
In later years I shared space with her in cramped nursing home bedrooms. Regardless of the venue, I strain to hear her voice in my memories.
Even when Mark proposed, I know she was one of the first people I told- but I have no vivid memory of that interaction.
I can’t picture her face when I showed her my ring, I can’t recollect if she cheered or smiled or what words she spoke to me when I explained I was getting married.
The words she spoke post-diagnosis are tiny fragments that somehow, along with mourning and hand holding, medication changes and wheel chair adjustments, I try to piece into a mosaic portrait of a mother.
Much of the time, the words I remember her speaking were just a part of random interactions, holding very little meaning.
For instance, when she would bake cookies or lemon bars, or those ridiculous low-fat buns.
“I made these today,” she’d say gesturing to a Tupperware container and opening it up because she had lost the word for what was inside. “You can have some,” she’d declare, offering them to me.
She seemed desperate in her desire to provide something I wanted. So whatever it was I ate it. Whether she offered me some ridiculous weight watchers recipe, or her famous lemon bars that no longer tasted as amazing because she measured wrong or missed an ingredient.
Some of these remembered words were ridiculously laced with Alzheimer’s.
Like the time she told me her gym was giving away water bottles, so she got me one. She then took me out to her yellow Saturn, opened up the hatch, and showed me the full 5 gallon water cooler jug she had somehow managed to haul out of the gym and into her car.
Most of the words I remember hearing her speak in those early years of the disease are bitter in their sweetness.
The day after my wedding she came up to me and asked if I had a new name.
A few weeks prior to my wedding when I was driving her to the gym, she asked me if Mark was going to give me something after we were married. She was trying to ask about something specific. I asked if she was talking about a house or a car. She said, “you know, like a dad or a brother,” and she motioned over stomach, as if she had a round pregnant belly.
She was asking if my husband, Mark, would give me a baby after we were married. At the time, I just laughed and told her eventually he would give me a baby. It’s a request, almost 10 years later, that’s yet to be fulfilled.
She had told me when I first got serious with Mark, right before I knew she had Alzheimer’s, that it was ok if I got pregnant before I was married. She said dad would get over it and she would be so happy. My dad later told me how much she had hoped to have one more grandchild before she stopped being herself, before she forgot who she was along with all of us, her family.
After her diagnosis, I had a short fleeting conversation with my then-boyfriend/now-husband about preemptively having a baby for my mom. But you don’t plan a pregnancy just because your mom is dying.
After more than 7 years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, her words haunt me, and I try not to wonder about right and wrong decisions.
I recall other words she uttered. I remember her telling me that no one liked her anymore because she had Alzheimer’s and I desperately tried to convince her otherwise.
I remember her running into an old friend and telling her she wished she was skinny as her friend was.
I remember her pleading with me not to leave her at the nursing home.
I remember both the trivial and the painful moments.
But I can’t remember the last time she told me she loved me.
I probably didn’t realize it was the last time I’d hear her say it.
If you or someone you know have lost someone to Alzheimer’s please comment below and share you experiences, or share this piece and help us remember those who can no longer remember.