Watching your children grow up is magical. One minute, we’re dressing them in the cutest little clothes, and it seems the next, we’re watching them walk out the door with a group of friends, headed to the mall (or some other place where teens gather in mass). One minute, we’re rushing to get the video camera to capture that first step, the next, we’re walking next to them on a college campus as they decide where they’ll pursue a higher education. They grow, we beam. They reach new milestones, we beam. There is however, the inevitable growth of a set of people in our lives, that can cause all the opposite effects. Watching a parent grow old can tear the heart apart.
About six years ago, I began to hear the changes in my mother. At the time, she was 78, and at first, the slips in her memory seemed normal. She had always been a “worrier” and since she had shouldered so many other people’s problems, she was known to forget little things here and there. She was born in an era when it was not unheard of for young girls to be married in their teens and begin giving birth. She had my oldest brother when she was merely 14 1/2 years old. Things turned around for her when her own mother died at the very early age of 38. My grandmother had given birth to 16 children (one of whom was stillborn), which meant that there were very young children left behind. My mother was by her mother’s side when she died of complications from diabetes, heart issues, etc. By this time, my mother was 18 and had developed an incredible level of maturity for someone of that age. My youngest aunt was five; my youngest uncle was three. There were two other pre-teens. My mother raised them. At that young age, she became the mother of her even younger siblings. What a huge undertaking! Because she had learned the hard way that being dependent on others represents risk, she pushed us to become independent, strong-willed individuals, especially the female children.
Fast-forward to 2007 when her mind began to slip. I’ve always called her several times a day, in the beginning for advice on raising my child, for dealing with my marriage, even on cooking; later, the calls were to be assured that she was okay and hadn’t taken another fall. I needed to hear her voice. Here we are in 2013 and many things have changed. I no longer have to go to Louisiana once a month just to handle her business and check on her as my two sisters are now living with her. Before, these visits were 1-2 days and I hustled to do everything I could in that short period of time. Now, my visits span several days and are filled with memories. Our last visit was this past weekend. My 17 year-old son had an incredibly hard time seeing his Maw-maw in that state. She took a fall while we were there and he had to assist in getting her back into bed. His heart was crushed. He, like the rest of us, is used to seeing that determined, strong-willed woman who pushed forward regardless of the circumstance or situation. Having to help her from one room to another, having to feed her sometimes, listening to her refer to you as someone else and especially not recognizing you at all, is devastating. Those moments when she is lucid are more infrequent, so we grasp at them with everything in us when we see them. We are aware that dementia is ridiculously harsh and uncaring, so we take what we can get.
Our seniors are to be cherished. They are our past and they are our future. Glean from their knowledge and wisdom. It will carry you a long, long way. Give them you time and energy. Keep their hearts in your hand.