I’ve been comparing notes with my best friend from elementary school. She recently lost her mom to Alzheimer’s. My mother-in-law is battling that famous disease’s lesser-known, evil sibling, something called frontotemporal dementia.
I almost sent my friend a picture of what I found this morning: four green, used toothpicks — evenly spaced on a carefully folded Kleenex. My mother-in-law places them that way because she likes how they look. She tells me she is married to her son, my husband. I smile, nod, and arrange the flowers I brought and fix her favorite coffee — with cream only.
We visit about the need for showers (which she does not like), how her husband built the nursing home (not), and how my sons were on her TV the day before (again, no).
I look at her sweet, gnarled hands and think of all of the times she cooked for us, held our babies, wrote notes of encouragement, and dealt cards around the table late into the evening while we laughed and enjoyed the magic of family. I kiss her goodbye and pick up the basket of urine-soaked laundry.
I am saddened to think of how mortified she would be if she could step outside of herself and see what she has become. But then I think about a mother’s role as a teacher and realize…she is still teaching me so many things. I am busy, selfish, and distracted. She teaches me to be in the moment. This moment is all that she has…this IS the moment. Be present.