Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Mother's Day Visit

My 87-year-old mother lives in an assisted-living facility and is in the unyielding grip of Alzheimer’s, moving steadily toward the late stages. She retains some recognition of the names and faces of her immediate family members, but she has difficulty with the specific relationships. She still has a grasp of the concept of family, however, and the deep meaning it still holds for her, even if she can’t quickly resurrect someone’s spot in the family tree.

We visited her on Mother’s Day, bringing milk chocolate which she still indulges with a childlike enthusiasm, and chocolate-chip cookies which also raises her eyebrows and produces a mischievous grin. My son and daughter-in-law brought along their 4-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, the sight of which instantly relegated the chocolate to insignificance. Those kids brightened her day like nothing else, like they always do. And while she greatly enjoys the adult visitors, nothing transforms her face quite like the visit of one of her great-grandchildren.

Nothing. Not the latest chit-chat nor the cookies nor the resident cat who saunters in for a visit.

We stayed for a little while, and the children warmed to her. She has a heart for kids, and they can sense it. It’s in her eyes. And her smile. And her gentle touch. Even under the circumstances.

When we made ready to leave, she commented on just how special the visit had been for her, how much she had enjoyed it.”We were all together,” she said with evident satisfaction. And it showed on her face, exactly like it would have had the visit been twenty years ago, or forty years ago. I know that expression as clearly as I know anything, as timeless and unchanged as if I myself had been the child.

I was glad for the visit. Glad for her. Glad for us. And especially grateful that her love of family still somehow resides in her mind, and especially in her heart, despite the harshness of her disease.

She’s truly still a gift. Even the kids can somehow see that.

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