One mom still missed on Mother’s Day

Seventy-eight years, two months and a day; the time my mother was allotted to live on earth. In essence, though, we lost my mom 14 years sooner than that, when a mysterious malady started robbing her of her memory.
My mother loved attention. Smart and funny, she was in her glory when engaged in lively verbal sparring with co-workers or friends – or me. Once I reached adulthood, our relationship changed, became more than mother/daughter – we became best friends.
She liked having me visit the bank where she worked. It was evident she was the darling of everybody there. She reigned over her small realm, taking delight in the office management and people interaction she fostered during the 20 years she worked there. Yes, she loved that attention.
So at age 64, when it all changed, when she could no longer balance the checkbook at home, when she became increasingly forgetful about things in general, she grew concerned.
“You should take a class, Mom,” I advised. “You’re too used to your routine; you need to wake up your brain a bit.” Because I, like everyone close to her, was afraid, unwilling to read the signs.
The day she forgot her name when she went to pick up the dry cleaning, she began keeping a folded slip of paper in her pocket that held her name and address. Sure, she carried her driver’s license in her purse, but somehow that folded scrap of paper was more reassuring than figuring out a driver’s license also contained her identity.
Her daily walks, one of her favorite activities, stopped when she became lost a few blocks from home. A kind, concerned motorist, seeing her look of panic and confusion, helped guide her back home. My dad purchased a treadmill, and she logged thousands of miles on the thing, accompanied by peppy John Phillip Sousa marches playing on the stereo beside her.
My mother loved attention. But now attention came from unwanted sources. The neurologist who delivered a battery of questions. The answers didn’t come as we’d expected or hoped. Who is the president of the United States? John Kennedy. Well, no; JFK had been dead for over two decades. Being handed paper and pencil and asked to draw a clock. When the clock she drew was a lopsided circle containing five or six numbers unevenly scattered along one edge.
“I don’t like that man,” declared my mother when the doctor told us in his small office that, in his opinion, my mother had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t like him much, either.
In the intervening years, my mother made rapid mental declines followed by plateaus. We mourned when she believed my brother was her brother. And that I was a nice person, but not anyone she recognized.
The doctor interviewed my mom when we finally, reluctantly, admitted her to a skilled-care facility three years before her death. “Do you know where you are, Clare?” the doctor asked. “Why, yes! I’m right here!” my mother replied brightly.
Visiting my mother daily at her new home, my dad became the darling of everybody there. He made friends with the staff and entertained patients by playing the organ he donated to the facility. Because my mother could no longer play the organ or piano, which she’d continued to play by ear for several years into the progression of her disease.
A sunny day in October 1997. A small crowd gathered at her gravesite as we buried my mother. Friends and family joining together, going to dinner later that afternoon, the autumnal sky clouding over. Standing in the restaurant parking lot after dinner, thanking everyone for coming, a light snow beginning to fall. A snow that grew heavy, fell all night. Closing roads and canceling flights back to the warmth of California.
They were calling it the “Storm of the Century” in Colorado. We stayed inside that day, the day after her service, inside my mother’s house, talked about my mom. How she, up in heaven, surely had something to do with this crazy weather. She wasn’t about to let us forget her.
Because my mother always loved attention.