My mother has been losing things for years. I wasn’t around when it started, but I’ve seen what she’s lost over the past seven years.
She lost me, for one thing. If she knows who I am, she’s unable to say my name; she hasn’t said it for more years than I can count.
She’s lost most language. She used to speak word salad: words that made sense individually, but not the way she put them together. Now she says more letters than words.
She’s lost the ability to feed herself. Before she lost it completely, she was able to raise a roll to her mouth, so we asked that she have a roll at every meal so she could still feed herself a little. She still gets that roll. Now she can only eat it if we feed it to her.
For a long time after she couldn’t feed herself, my mother could still walk – with help. Then she didn’t walk anymore, but she could still stand. That meant she had some say in moving from toilet to wheelchair to bed. My mother doesn’t stand anymore. A Hoyer lift does the moving for her.
In the midst of all of this loss, my mother still holds on to at least two things: her eyes and her smile. When I look into my mother’s eyes, I still see something – someone – there. Her look isn’t vacant; it seems purposeful.
And my mother still smiles. Everyone involved in her care comments on my mother’s smile. One of her caregivers told me that her smile reminds him why he does this work.
My mother was an anxious woman. She worried about everything. She worried about germs. She worried about sins. It’s not that she didn’t smile, but she didn’t smile nearly as often as she does now. If she is awake, she smiles.
The protein plaques in my mother’s brain have stolen so many things from her, but one thing they’ve given in exchange is a ready smile.
I find it hard to visit my mother. Seeing her, seeing the people she lives with, makes me afraid for my own future. But I have to visit her.
She’s my mother. And she smiles.