Alzheimer’s stalked my beautiful mother for twelve long years. Her own father died from Alzheimer’s. During my grandfather’s progression of the disease, he did not know his own wife of fifty years. Yet somehow – no matter how many parts of my mother’s mind the vicious disease claimed, mother has always known me. She forgot where her mouth was, how to eat and what to do when I helped her onto the toilet but Mom did not forget that her daughter was going to get married. Mom loved the man I planned to marry and somehow rallied beyond the limits of body, mind and spirit to witness our wedding. Her doctor and I realized back in April that mother was hanging on for the wedding but as her condition deteriorated, it became necessary the first of May to enter her into Hospice care so that her live-in caregiver and I could continue to care for mother at home. Raymond Ansotegui and I considered staging a wedding so that mom would not have to wait to be free from her ever-present anxiety. We wanted to spare her the frustration, humiliation and dark depression that plagued her via Alzheimer’s. But my gut was pretty certain that something about the energy of the event was beyond our ability to stage. Two days before our ceremony mother was convinced all day that it was night; the day before our wedding mom slept all day, which she had never done but the day of our wedding Mom rallied beyond her “normal” state of confusion. She was more present than seemed possible. Just the logistics of getting her to our outdoor mountain wedding obviously drained mother but following our ceremony she was reluctant to leave. I have been told there was not a dry eye during the impromptu moment when I tenderly kissed my mother and told her “I love you,” just before Raymond took my hand in front of our guests at the juniper altar we made to honor my dearest friend Cliff. My high-anxiety mom was more calm and content for a few days following the ceremony than we’ve seen her in a year. Then she was simply “finished.” The day after our last wedding guest left, just five days into my marriage I packed and scooted to my mother’s for her final chapter. Good karma blessed me with a loving live-in caregiver for mom this past year and added a blessed bonus of the caregiver’s spirited spiritual sister during mom’s final two weeks. I dubbed Linda and her sister Debbie “The Angel Sisters.” Together the three of us tended each other and my mother so that during mom’s final eight days and nights she was never alone. We played old hymns, read aloud, sang, kept mom clean and comfortable. We laughed and we cried but mostly we beamed love. The gift mom gave me of her potent remarkable presence on my special day is beyond endearing – the stuff of magic – a treasure. Her gift powered me through the long bedside vigil and will remain a vivid miracle of love.
My dear mother, marvel of grace and beauty. I love you. I hear your beautiful singing voice when my heart plays the lullaby you used to sing to me, the same lullaby I sang over and over to you while you lay dying:
“Now the light has gone away
Father listen while I pray
Asking thee to keep,
Quiet watch while I sleep.”
Rest in peace dear mother, Betty Jean Reinhard, August 13, 1940 – July 21, 2006