“Why are you burying me?”
That’s what my mother asked at my father’s funeral last year. She has Alzheimer’s and was unable to comprehend the passing of her husband of 45 years of marriage. Sometimes she thought we were burying her, other times her father. When I told her we were burying my father, she asked, “Who was your father?”
For me, it’s questions like these that epitomize how heart breaking Alzheimer’s disease can be and how many layers of loss there are in the loss of memory.
My mother is 73 years old and has been living with this disease for over seven years. As her mind declines and her disorientation increases, I am learning what it means to hear questions like these on a regular basis, how to bear their weight, how to respond to them, how to let them go. Her questions teach me.
They teach me about grace.
When she asks, “Are you my mother or my daughter?” I say, “Both.” In caring for her, the line between the two words has disappeared for me.
Her questions teach me about patience and compassion. When she asks, “Where have you been?” and I just saw her yesterday, I say, “It seems like forever, doesn’t it?”
Her questions teach me about gratitude. When she asks “How is your life going?” and seems, for a moment, to be so lucid and available that I want to sob, I remind myself to appreciate that she is still here with me.