Mother of Mine
We can’t let her go, this mother of mine.
Which hasn’t stopped her from leaving us
bit by tiny bit.
The gods nibble pieces of her brain like
a mouse munching on a hunk of tasty French cheese.
They leave us feeling a cruel ache,
punch to the gut.
Her body is outwardly intact while the disease devours her brain.
She doesn’t even seem to notice that she no longer lives at home.
She remembers how to make jokes, and clever ones at that.
Maybe they ate around that part
the way my son will avoid the fat on a piece of corned beef.
We orbit around her still with each step of her decline.
Unassuming and self-loathing,
my mother would never have believed
the magnitude of love beaming her direction now.
Over and over I find myself remembering the character in a novel,
lifelong loyal servant to the heroine,
who died a tragic death,
with his own skull blocking one of the likeable heroes from an assassin’s club,
then bleeding to death in the square.
The heroine cried and mourned and wept.
She said that such a gentle loyal loving man
should have died in peace,
from old age and in his own bed,
surrounded by those he loved.
I want my mother to die that way too,
no extraneous suffering for her.
Having never discussed our plan directly,
we work to protect her
and to keep her safe.
We stand in a line, arms linked, holding tight,
determined to let nothing break through:
“Red Rover, Red Rover, we DARE you to come over!”
Unfortunately, each second of Alzheimer’s brain robbery
causes suffering anyway,
with seconds becoming minutes, then hours,
and eventually multiplying into dying for years without end.
We are the well-loved but eternally losing baseball team.
There is only so much that we can control.
Still, the body that has always housed JoAnn continues to draw us near.
We are compelled.
The cords pull us close.
She may still recognize us by name,
enjoying a classic jab at my father’s expense
or expressing pleasure to hear my voice on the phone.
But she is the tall tree in front of our house that had already died
before we even knew.
Lush green ivy surrounds the tree,
but if you look up at the branches, they are sparse,
with only a handful still bearing leaves.
In the springtime, rain and sun enter the earth,
causing sleeping waiting seeds to burst forth and grow
with wild abandon all summer long.
In the fall, the same rain and sun
may simply prolong a plant’s life
while it waits to turn brown, drop its leaves, and
eventually be buried in a blanket of cold white snow.
We are fooled by the green ivy that surrounds my mother.
If we look up, we will see that she too is mostly gone.
Still, we will suck the straw with all our might,
so thirsty are we for the remaining drops of JoAnn.
She has never been comfortable in her body,
but it is all we have left at the moment.
We won’t let go before time is officially up.
Shower her with love.
Love her until the end.
Holding hands, a loving voice,
the cards, the calls, the visits.
We will shower her with our love.
We will work to keep her safe.
Other families are accumulating achievements.
Ours is accumulating compassion.
It seems, quite honestly, like a poor consolation,
but it is all we have been given to work with for now.