As any artist can attest to, there are bound to be dry spells. This can be very disheartening. I find that even when I feel foggy and blah, if I just push through it and put my fingers on a piano or a laptop, my heart is rekindled and something is born; a song, a story, or a fresh “harebrained scheme.” So here I am, pushing through.
There’s a nip in the air and a rustle in the leaves. It’s time for a cozy sweater, a steaming cup of coffee, and writing songs and stories about home and hearth. My home and hearth are different this fall—I no longer have my mother’s sparkling eyes, a happy sigh and a clap of her hands, her “Pinch me, I can’t believe it’s you!” every time I’d come into view.
My mom had Alzheimer’s, but I was truly blessed to have her in my life, throughout it all. She sparkled until the end. Her optimism, even in the midst of a ravaging disease, still leaves me humbled. When her memory faded and then left her completely, she still loved me. The love wasn’t taken. And that was enough. That was so much. There were times when she would look at me with kind, warm eyes, trying to place me. I would kiss her soft velvety cheek and say, “It’s your little girl Rosalyn!” and rock her in my arms. She always hugged me back. I would say, with a fake English accent, “Me Mum…”
And she’d answer with an exaggerated accent, “Me dough-tah!”
Love transcends. It was okay if she didn’t remember my name. The little “Mum and Dough-tah” dialogue was an old memory, and somehow stayed with her.
The last day before she was hospitalized, we celebrated my Dad’s birthday at a park. The sun glistened upon the lake, the sky was a vibrant blue and the emerald grass seemed to glow. Everyone was there—her children, grandchildren, and her beloved husband who sat by her side holding her hand. Throughout the afternoon she watched with delight as her grandchildren blew wand bubbles for her and played. We brought her favorite music; old songs from her childhood. Music is the magic formula for Alzheimer’s, for those who don’t know; it is the last memory to fade. Mom remembered music till the end. She could barely talk, but she could sing.
Music was always a part of Mom. My earliest memories are of Mom washing the dishes and singing. Walking on the beach and singing. Driving and singing. Singing to us, singing to no one, but always, always singing, with her soft gentle English accent and her sweet pretty voice. No wonder I became a musician.
And here she was at a park all these years later, still singing, or nodding her head to the music, or smiling at a familiar tune, perhaps triggering a flash of an old memory. It was, by all accounts, a perfect day. The most alert we’d seen Mom in a long time.
Strangely, fifteen minutes after we left the park, she was rushed to the hospital, and then brought home with hospice care. Her last words were to her youngest daughter Cathy, her precious baby who traveled from Washington to be by her side. Mom was unresponsive, as Cathy said with a broken heart over and over, “You are my beautiful Momma.”
And then, Mom’s eyes opened one last time. Clear eyed and clear minded for a fleeting moment, Mom answered, “You are my beautiful.”
And then she was quiet and still. It was our turn, our loving duty, to sing to her.
We played Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust.” Cathy had to leave the room to cry—that was Mom’s and Cathy’s favorite.
We played “Over the Sea to Skye” and I sang along, as Mom would have done. I remember as a young girl, Mom pushing me on our swing set, singing that song to me. I remember the sunny day, the contentment in my heart, being with my mom like that. I remember Mom saying it was written for “Bonnie Prince Charles” of old, and I visualized “The lad who’s born to be king” sailing in a great ship with sails unfurled, exhilarated.
My daughter Shannon sang songs from movies she used to watch with her dear grandma.
And, in case mom’s spirit had already left her unresponsive body, we played “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” so she could dance to it like she used to. It’s strange how you can laugh and grieve at the same time. It is a very cathartic thing to do.
When Mom passed, we held each other and cried. I remember saying, through my tears, “I know she had Alzheimer’s. But it was enough. It was enough for me.” There was a remnant of Mom till the end. In her smile, in her sparkle. In her music. She…was my music.
A month before Mom died, she started fidgeting with her hands. It is a natural progression of the disease. I bought her a little stuffed bear, and I’d place it in her hands so she’d have something to fidget with. Dad asked once, “What’s the name of the bear?”
I didn’t have a name, so Dad said, “How about Comfy?”
We laughed, and Comfy Bear was christened.
After Mom’s funeral we all gathered at my sister Charlotte’s house. She brought out some knickknacks and costume jewelry of Mom’s. Strangely, it was the medical alert bracelet that caught my eye. I lost the old mom years ago. But the “Loopy Mom…” the one I could hold in my arms and rock, the one that said, “Pinch me, is it really you?” just because I walked to the kitchen and back…oh how I miss her.
I took that medical alert bracelet and placed it around Comfy Bear’s neck. It sits right by my bedside, and I ache every time I look at it. It is a good ache.
Now when I look up at the sky, I see mom in the birds, I feel mom in the wind. I feel her love. Perhaps, after a long hard road, she is at last free to sail “Over the Sea to Skye.”