Update: my mother is still as loving as ever, but Alzheimer’s continues to rob her – and her family – of so much. It’s heartbreaking, and not a day goes by where I don’t want to collapse with grief (and some days I do). Conversations and outings have become even tougher since I wrote this post two years ago. Every daily activity seems to be challenging now. And yet, the hugs and I love you’s are still plentiful and for that I am so very grateful. Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful Mami.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past couple of years, but a big part of me hasn’t been able to admit the truth: my mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
The diagnosis of dementia given to us about three years ago still feels like a mistake. Knowing the disease will inevitably get worse? That feels paralyzingly frightening.
I miss my mother. She still knows who I am, knows to ask about my husband and kids, and still tells me she adores me (and, I know I need to hang on to all of that with dear life), but my siblings and I all miss what we knew, miss what perhaps could have been.
How to describe her? Mami, as we call her, is a successful career woman who also did absolutely everything at home – as in wait on my dad and four kids kind of everything. She grew up on the Mexican side of the Texas-Mexico border and crossed the bridge daily to attend private school in Texas. Later, my mom became a boarder student, and never mind that English was her second language, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class. In college in San Antonio, she majored in French and spent her junior year in Paris studying languages (she spoke five) – all unheard of for a young girl from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. After marrying my father, Mami went on to become an English and French teacher in Laredo, Texas. She earned her master’s degree while working full time and caring for four young children and then went on to spend 30 years as a court interpreter for the U.S. federal courts. In short, she was our superwoman.
The lessons she imparted are countless, but here are a few: love reading and value education; put family first (as in you are the last to sit at the dinner table and the first to rise and start cleaning the dishes, which used to make me protest and roll my eyes, but darn it, now I do it too); sit and behave “like a lady” (apparently, ladies sit up so straight they are later teased by friends who can spot their good posture across the AT&T center); turn a raw tortilla only once when it’s cooking on the griddle; save your skin by staying out of the sun (that pic above must have been an exception) and your sanity by putting your kids to bed early; laugh until you cry, especially when watching a Chevy Chase movie; be both a strong woman and a kind and giving one.
I can only imagine what my mom would be doing if Alzheimer’s wasn’t robbing her of her short term memory. Would she have gone back to school after retirement to finish that PhD she began long ago? Would she have been up for a girls’ trip with my sister and me? Would she still cook her famous chicken and rice when we visited? Would she have read another 100 books (my mother is a book-a-day kind of reader)?
The best part of today’s Mother’s Day was the phone call to my mom. She couldn’t tell you the date on the calendar, but when I called her, she knew it was Mother’s Day. With joy in her voice and her heart, she wished me a happy Mother’s day, too and even remembered to tell me to thank my brother for the flowers that arrived yesterday. We told each other we not only loved each other, but adored each other. We always do.
Today was a good day for my mom. They aren’t always. But, while her golden years are undoubtedly different than any of us expected, here’s what Alzheimer’s can’t take – my mother’s love for us. She may not always know what day it is or where we are going or whose birthday we are celebrating, but she knows how much my father and siblings and I matter. We are everything to her.
I can never live up to the woman my mother was and still is, but I am so grateful the most generous, selfless, hardest-working, affectionate and loving woman I have ever known is my Mami. I won’t let Alzheimer’s take that away.
Te adoro, Mami!