Goodbye to Mom: Alzheimer's Story

Three weeks ago, I sat in a Connecticut nursing home, holding my mother's hand. We were positioned side by side, she in a wheelchair.

I knew it would be the last time I'd be seeing her for quite a while—maybe even the last time I would see her alive. I wanted so much to connect with her, to tell her how much I loved her, to describe my new job, my new home, my new life.

But that Friday was not a good day for my mother. She is in a later stage of Alzheimer's and her ability to understand what is being said and respond to it is largely gone. Still, some days are better than others, and sometimes she absolutely astounds me by saying something so beautiful, so meaningful, so poetic it almost takes my breath away.

Like on that particular Friday when, frustrated at my attempts to elicit even the smallest bit of conversation, I encouraged her to sing.

Mom always had a wonderful voice and loved to roam around the house belting out show tunes and popular songs from the 1940s and '50s as she dusted, did the dishes or made dinner. That was one of the things about her I loved the most.

"C'mon, Mom, sing," I prompted. "I'll sing with you."

I paused, expecting her to start some number from the big-band era.

Instead, what she sang—in a girlish, high-pitched voice that I never heard before—was "Find me. Find me where I sit."

I was thunderstruck.

In those few words she summed up the ultimate challenge family members face when a loved one has Alzheimer's.

Certainly this person who sits before you now is not the mother, or father, or wife, or husband you knew and loved. Sometimes—'although, thankfully, not in my mother's case—they no longer even recognize you.

So how do you continue to love that person in the stained housedress, the one who no longer remembers how to walk or feed herself?

"Find me. Find me where I sit," my mother challenged me.

She was calling me to look beyond the disabilities and inabilities so obvious to the naked eye.

She was calling on me to search for her amid the confusion and the gibberish.

She was challenging me to find her heart and soul, the warmth and humor that were such hallmarks of Dorothy Hodge's existence.

She was telling me she was still there among the fog.

She was telling me the journey to find her was still worthwhile.

She was telling me to find the spark, the glimmer amid the heartbreak.

She was telling me to do it now, before it's too late.