Two days from now my good friend Audra and I will be sitting in the audience, with friends, at the third annual Listen to Your Mother – Chicago show. It will be bittersweet for both of us, as we have both auditioned for the show in the past and were not chosen to be a part of the cast. This year Audra submitted and auditioned with a moving piece about being an aunt, a daughter and a mother. Anyone who has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, will especially appreciate why it is so meaningful.
Though I wish that Audra and I both were going to be sharing our stories on stage this Sunday, I get how difficult it must be for the producers to make cuts and people’s dreams come true, at the same time. We may or may not try again in the future. But I do know how much I look forward to hearing the stories of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother – Chicago cast. I also want you to read Audra’s piece, as I believe that it deserves to be heard/out there. Since Audra is not a writer or blogger, I am grateful that she is allowing me to share this with you, here, as a guest post.
Are You My Mother?
by Audra Dye
Many of us, when you hear that question, think of the iconic children’s book where a baby bird falls out of its nest and goes on a search to find its mother. When I was nineteen years old, my older sister and her two-year old daughter moved back in with my parents for a period of time. While home from college for the summer I spent a lot of time with my niece and “Are You My Mother?” was her favorite book. We all read it to her over and over again.
Never could I have known that twenty years later while visiting my childhood home this question would be asked of me. The kicker? It was my mother who asked me this question.
We started noticing changes in my mom’s memory in 2001. She would immediately forget what we were talking about, but she was still fully functioning and it was only a minor (ok, at times, major) annoyance. It was the fall of 2003 we learned the devastating news: she had Alzheimer’s disease.
I got married in 2004 and in early 2007 my husband and I suffered from two miscarriages within three months. We were devastated after these happened and decided to take the rest of the year off from trying to get pregnant and would start “fresh”, so to speak, at the turn of the New Year.
Also in 2007 the health of my uncle on my dad’s side began to decline. He lived 1 ½ hours away from my parents and this required my father to leave my mom home alone for periods of time. With my mom’s disease progressing and my uncle’s needs increasing my husband and I saw the writing on the wall. My dad needed help.
I quit my full-time job and took a part-time job that I could do from home, allowing me to travel to Southeast Michigan as needed. During the first half of 2008, I spent half my time living at my parent’s house taking care of my mother while my father dealt with my uncle.
We put our family planning on hold. My father, who was 79 and had his own health problems, was barely keeping it together and I couldn’t imagine telling him that I couldn’t come help him because I was ovulating. I was also emotionally and physically drained helping my mother and I needed and wanted to keep my focus on enjoying this time with her. It forced me to learn to live in the moment as my mom was never going to be as healthy as she was that particular day.
In the spring of 2008 I remember sitting in the kitchen with her, my dad was away, and we were making small talk as she could no longer have regular back and forth conversations. There was a natural lull in the conversation and she turned to me and asked very earnestly, “Are you my mother”? I immediately pulled in my breath, my chest tightened and I felt tears well up in my eyes. This was the moment I dreaded: my mother no longer knew who I was. I quickly composed myself and said lightheartedly, “No, you are my mother!” to which she laughed. She asked this question a number of times over the next few months, as well as a related question: “Do I know your parents?”. It broke my heart a little each time she asked me those questions. Intellectually, I understood how Alzheimer’s would slowly take my mother from me. But emotionally, is anyone ever ready to lose a parent?
We moved my mother to a memory care unit in July 2008. She settled in fairly well and I visited every few months.
My husband and I got pregnant in early 2009 and had an expected due date of late October. We held my Michigan baby shower when I was six months pregnant as my mom was declining more rapidly now. We were blessed that she was in good spirits the day of my shower and it is a wonderful memory of mine.
I turned 40 on August 8th of that year. While many of my friends celebrated this hallmark birthday by doing some fun and maybe something a little crazy, all I wanted to do was see my mom. It didn’t matter to me that I had to repeatedly tell her I was pregnant as I loved seeing the joy in her face each time she heard this news. Then the highlight of the trip happened: she called me by name. Although she had lost the connection that I was her daughter, due to my care taking of her, she never totally forgot that I was someone she knew and loved and that day, my 40th birthday, for a split second, she remembered who I was. It was the best gift she could have given me. My husband and I returned to Chicago with peaceful hearts after having such a good visit with her and my dad.
One week later she fell. She was rushed to the hospital and the doctors determined significant brain damage occurred. There was no coming back from this – she was in a coma and my father made the heart-wrenching decision to begin Hospice care. The doctors expected she would pass away within a few days but she held on for over one week. It gave me a chance to come back and visit with her in the hospital and support my father. My mother passed away on August 24.
I was blessed to have wonderful parents and we had an especially close relationship. I am blessed to have a fabulous husband who supported me being away so much in 2008. I also felt blessed that she passed away when she did because being 32 weeks pregnant I was able to travel back for the funeral.
My son was born on September 22, five weeks early and four weeks after my mom died.
Fast forward to now…It’s been 4 ½ years since my mom passed away. I’ve read “Are You My Mother?” to my son many times and it is always bittersweet for me. January 8th would have been her 85th birthday. I thought about her a lot over the holidays and leading up to her birthday I realized something… When my mom asked me if I was her mother I said no. But that wasn’t true. Of course I wasn’t her mother in the literal sense. But I loved her, I was her caretaker, and I was sacrificing for her. Isn’t that what a mother is? I am proud to finally answer her question this way: Yes, mom, I was your mother as you were mine. I will love you always.