Mom called this morning to tell me that she was having some problems with her memory. She wanted me to know. This happens once a week or so, and I can literally hear her blush like it’s a dirty secret. Every time. She’d just finished a big talk with Mirm, the kind that I think takes place more than I know but that Mirm simply doesn’t talk about, where Mirm explains the last couple years, and decades, to bring her up to speed.
This afternoon Mom called again to say that Mirm had left. Mirm had apparently walked into the bedroom where Mom was playing solitaire on the computer and asked if Mom wanted her to leave. And Mom said yes. She was calling me to tell me that she was okay. She thought I should know. That she’d stay at home. That everything would be fine.
In my head I was already making plans to get there, to move in right away. And at the same time I was spinning, trying to figure out what could have happened, what Mirm might have not been saying, wondering how it could have gotten so bad, mentally rearranging my life to make room for taking care of her full time.
The world receded a bit and my ears started ringing. Around fifteen minutes later, the gears not really meshing but the engine revving at high speed, Mom’s name popped up on my phone again.
It was Mirm. The aforementioned conversation apparently took place, although I still think I must be missing part of the context, but Mom had told her that she’d called me and Mirm wanted me to know that she’d just gone for a walk with the dog. Just for a bit of air. She said that everything was fine, that she would never, ever just leave like that. That everything would be okay, but Mom was having a bit of trouble this week. Maybe with some changes to her medication. Maybe.
The truth: It might not be a thing that we can fix with an adjustment. It’s a degenerative disease. There’s a progression that we can’t avoid and this… this might be that and not a reaction to a change in regimen.
We are such fragile things, and yet so tough, sewn together from bits and pieces, scenes and fragments of scenes, scents and colors, faces and eyes and the brushing of finger tips. I often despair a little bit, sometimes more, at the thought of Mom drifting away until she doesn’t remember me, doesn’t remember herself. That is the decline that most terrifies me. If I was deaf and dumb and blind I know that I could still tell myself stories in my head. But to lose that… That scares me shitless. I don’t know how she does it.
When Mom called to say Mirm had left, completely convinced that it was forever, she sounded so settled and sure. She reminded me of the woman who made the strong choice to send my Dad away so he could (or could not – they couldn’t know what would happen then, after all) get his own shit together, and so that she could keep herself and the little boy I was safe. There was no tremor in her voice, and I could only hear the fear way back behind the words she was saying.
For that moment I saw her face young again, as I imagine she expects to see herself in the mirror many days; a younger her, resigned and yet girded, prepared to survive whatever came next no matter what. What must it be like to receive that shock every day, to look expecting a face that matches the memories she has left and find, instead, this woman that has seen so many more years.
I can’t help but wonder when the moment will come that I tell her I love her and it’s the last time she knows what that means. I’m not sure I’ll be strong enough for that moment.
There are new conversations to have now. There is Mirm to consider too, after all. It’s time for more honest talk and, perhaps now or maybe soon but unavoidably, hard decisions. And this too is love.
Fragile things, and yet tough. Everyday miracles, every one of us.