Even though this is entirely based in my home in Charlotte, this is still an entry in the annals of “Life On The Road…” although this is a road that traveled only by one, at this point.
Let me begin by saying I’ve been reluctant to acknowledge publicly a situation in straight terms under the garish light of reality… but there is a truth that I’ve been operating under indirectly for the better part of five years, and under my roof for the last one. The truth is that, like a candle wick drawing on its last vestiges of wax, my mother’s memory is slowly exhausting itself. It’s something that has been coming on… but I didn’t really notice until October of 2017 when a tornado struck Spartanburg, less than a mile from her house, knocking out her power.
When that happened, I came down from Charlotte with my generator on my truck… and during that four day stay, I noticed that something was amiss. My mother is a very proud person, and as it goes, she had been hiding the fact that her recollection was diminishing for years before that… but she had relied on the love of friends to keep us in the immediate family from knowing.
And that, to be honest, was pretty easy to do. I never stayed with her more than a day or two, so I wouldn’t notice the little things that should have tipped me off. Now, there were hints. I’d often get a call from her saying someone had changed her computer login, and I’d have to ride from Charlotte to the Burg and figure out how to get her back in. It got to the point that it was taking a trip down every two to three days to get her logged on… a necessity because she was still holding down important functions in her church. Even so, I didn’t realize… or didn’t want to realize what was happening. A friend of hers had called me in June of that year, saying that I needed to look after her because she was forgetting things… but it still hadn’t sunk in, until that stay in October.
I’ll choose not to get into details, for I prefer preserving her dignity. Let me just revisit my early comment about a wick to bring us forward from that time.
Mama came to live with me a year ago, and since then she has maintained her joy for life and her amazing sense of humor even as her memory fades. Anyone who faces the agony of Alzheimer’s can tell you that you get used to things not remembered… but yet and still there remains things that are just about sacred between a loved one and yourself that keep you in the present, in the moment.
While I was a very young child, before the age of five, my mother was teaching in Rutherfordton and then Spartanburg. She left me in Wadesboro, just east of Charlotte, in the care of my grandmother and grandfather. I loved it when she would come home… but I got confused by the roles my grandparents were playing.
One time when she came home to Wadesboro, my aunt Fannie was there visiting from Fayetteville. When Mama arrived, I was happy to see her, but instead of calling her Mama, I called her “Dorothy” because I was calling my grandmother Mama. So, when I did that, my aunt tried to correct me… and it went kind of like this…
“Dorothy!” “Say Mama!” “Daaaaaaathy!” “Say MAMA!” “DAAAAAAAAATHY!”
They got a big kick out of it, and it became a running family joke, and over the years I’d say “DAAAATHY,” Mama would say “Say Mama!” and the giggling would commence. It never failed to get deep, hearty laughs from the both of us.
This morning, I went down to tell Mama that I was ready to fix breakfast, so I poked my head from behind her bedroom door.
“Daaaathy!” She laughed. “Daaaaathy!” She giggled again, louder and longer. “DAAAAAAAAAATHY!!!!,” I said this time in less of a joke but in a dawning sense of realization, almost desperation. “What’s wrong? You okay?” “Yes, Mama, I’m fine.”
These things are to be expected, and they are milestones along a road that does not beckon with a sign of welcome. Some milestones are occasional… and they may return for a quick flash… a moment in time… and live on until they slip behind the journeyman traveler, never to recur. Indeed, this may revisit, and if it does I’ll smile. But this one was a reminder that this journey is not a sweet one, but inevitable. God bless those who find themselves on this voyage, and God bless us all.