My coworker asked me this morning if I had any new pictures of baby Eliza. While I thumbed through photos on the iPad my coworker asked, “Do you have any baby pictures of your mother? I mean, I see you in Eliza, but does she look like your mother or father too?”
I’d never thought of that question.
When Eliza was weeks old Katie and I held up her photo beside my baby photo from around that age. The resemblance was uncanny…and a little flattering to me, not so much to Katie.
Looking at my Mom’s childhood picture I can see her in Eliza. They have the same eyes, and nose. They share similar smiles. Looking at Eliza, you can see that the “Power of Helen is strong with this one.”
It is moments and discoveries like this I know my Mom would love to consciously be part of. She would have a fun laugh comparing pictures like this. The sad reality is in the near future these two women will not remember each other. Eliza Helen met Helen Katherine too early, and Helen Katherine met Eliza Helen too late. As Eliza gets older my mother will be a memory, a spirit haunting picture frames, existing as lore told in stories by Matt, Katie and me. However, it is comforting to know they will share more than their name.
Eliza, I believe, will grow up to be headstrong, kind, stubborn, able, compassionate, patient, determined, and have an unwavering sense of family. Some of these traits she will get from Katie and me. If you ever wonder where she gets the rest of her character just look her in the eyes, and remember she is a Helen.
Music and singing were always a part of mom’s life. And they continue to be a way we track the progression of the disease. It’s been a while since I posted some singing clips. Here are two short ones…plus a bonus reprise from the toilet! (Oh yeah, we sing there too!)
This little light of mine…
You are my sunshine…
A reprise from the toilet…
An Amazing Village Designed Just For People With Dementia
Centuries after Shakespeare wrote about King Lear’s symptoms, there’s still no perfect way to care for sufferers of dementia and Alzheimer’s. In the Netherlands, however, a radical idea is being tested: Self-contained “villages” where people with dementia shop, cook, and live together—safely.
See pictures and the full article:
I’ve been traveling the last three weeks. Traveling has this effect on me where I remember things that don’t come up in my day-to-day life. I remember words in different languages, I remember people I’d forgotten, I remember smells and foods from another time and place. Part of my love of travel is how it’s a key for a locked memory box that opens when I leave home.
Sometimes I don’t get a memory, instead I get a flash of something. It’s like someone holds a picture up to my face but pulls it away two seconds later, so I don’t get a chance to really focus on it. I get colors, shapes, cryptic familiarities. It’s a tease.
I used to spend a long time trying to figure out the flashes. Trying to see the flashes more completely and more clearly. When my mom got sick, the memory flashes scared me. I thought they were a sign that something was wrong with my memory, because the flashes are confusing. I couldn’t remember if the flash was a something I experienced or a movie I once saw. I couldn’t remember who was with me or where I was. I was scared it meant the things I once knew vividly were eroding to just flashes.
But what I figured out is my memory has always worked that way. Sometimes well developed, well kept memories. Sometimes just flashes. So if that’s true, then I think there may be another explanation. That the flashes aren’t eroded memories, but something more like crumbs.
After a particularly delicious meal, you notice the crumbs on your plate. And they don’t look like the meal, but they remind you of something delicious, something you wish you could have again and again. Like memory flashes. They are the crumbs of something special, permanently saved as colors or shapes or smells or two seconds of a picture. The flashes aren’t meant to be remembered in their entirety. They are meant to be reminders of times lived so fully and with such enjoyment, that a crumb of wonderful gets left behind.
My sister-in-law snapped this photo of mom nuzzling with her granddaughter on New Year’s Day.
Mostly I see this journey with my mom as one of loss and discovery–a process of winnowing down and of slowly leaving.
Until the times when it isn’t.
It amazes me that there is still an opportunity to be surprised. There are still things that give you hope, that fill up your heart, that give you the energy to stay in it.
My mom started feeding herself again.
By last summer someone was feeding her every meal. She didn’t have the coordination to take the spoon and feed herself from the plate. I remember the neurologist describing that as a sign of late stages. She said, “Things like using a fork to feed yourself is a very complicated thing. It requires several parts of your brain to work together to make it happen. We just take that for granted.” So when my mom stopped feeding herself, it seemed like another mile marker or the road of loss.
Our momsitter, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, said in late fall, “I’m going to start working with your mom to see if I can get her to feed herself.”
So she did. The kitchen switched her meals to small round bowls that mom could easily grip and hold. Our momsitter worked with her during each meal. She would prompt mom, give her cues, and nudge her hand toward her mouth. And slowly she began to feed herself again.
It is a journey of loss and discovery. It’s also a journey of surprises. I think about the loss. I think about discovering how to cope with what’s missing. I forget about the surprises. The surprises are really, really important, because the surprises are a vaccination of hope and joy that help you deal with the loss and the discovery.
We didn’t make Christmas cards this year so instead here is a very short video from our family wishing everyone reading this a very Merry Christmas.