At first I thought her stories were just talks to take the place of silence.
I smiled and listened a few times a week. She told me of her meeting her late husband, how she had surgery in order to at last get pregnant with her final son. I heard how her husband laughed before the war, and what was left of him afterward. She told me about her whole life. She told me about all the pets she had, what happened to them, and how she felt about it.
It was coffee at my place and tea at hers. She loved driving to see me. Hours of story telling were also hours of bonding. In time, I picked her up to visit at my place, or go to parks or coffee shops. She no longer had a driver’s license or even her beloved cars. My phone rang often; a lonely sounding voice asked for a visit. At times I became frustrated as I needed to concentrate on my upgrading courses. My compassion was greater than my study habits.
Less than a year later, she couldn’t tell me anything new. She struggled to remember what I said minutes before, and she was frustrated with her lost ability to remember what she had just said. But I had bonded with my mom-in-law, and I remembered for her. I was her external brain, and she would always say, “Oh, yes, that’s right.” Nonetheless, she honestly never recalled.
Within a year, Mom could not function at home. Her weight had dropped significantly. Our visits were at a lovely rest home. Her memory continued to decline, however, having a lucid few moments one afternoon, she directed me to sit with her on her bed and told me she had to clean out her in-laws home, and she knew of the hard work and long hours. She thanked me that day, when previously she had resentments for her son and myself taking her from her familiar home.
All those stories over that period of time were not silence fillers. I believe she knew she had only so much time to tell them. I’m certain she understood her mind had slipped and would continue to be eaten by something she herself could not identify.
In the five years she lived in the rest home, she declined to the point of not knowing me, hollering at me, and insulting me. I took it hard as I only hoped Mom lived in herself somewhere, and somewhere, she still loved me.
Dementia did not love me. It didn’t keep track of our bonding. Dementia hardly recognized her son. The disease took her away forever, and she died not knowing who we were.
Over a year has passed. I can write about this without weeping, although my eyes sting. I can still hear her story-telling voice. I can smell her White Diamonds perfume. I can feel her genuine hugs, and I can imagine a delicate tea cup in my careful grip. I’m so afraid these memories will fade like she did. Writing preserves loved people.