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I summon my memories of earlier days and try to recall an unpained face, a graceful walk, and the sound of my mother’s voice. My mother is now gone, but Alzheimer’s still lurks, trying to diminish even the memory of her. But some things, like my mother’s last words, Alzheimer’s can’t get.
The last years of my mother’s life were spent in a nursing home. When she first moved there, she no longer recognized anyone, except for a few rare moments when Alzheimer’s blinked. Her speech was almost gone, but vestiges of her gentle personality remained, and she was a favorite of the staff and other residents. She walked, paced really, up and down the corridors, stopping to pat someone on the shoulder or to gently kiss their hand or the top of their head.
Sometimes, she danced to the music that was played overhead throughout the day. Occasionally, she would find a friend to walk with, and they would pace together, hand in hand, like schoolgirls. And my mother still liked to eat, especially candy and ice cream; these she enjoyed with gusto. She also liked sparkly jewelry, pens, and paperclips and would help herself whenever something caught her eye. “Don’t worry, we put it all back at the end of the day,” said the staff.
All the while, my mother’s condition continued to deteriorate until she became totally mute. The one pleasure she still seemed to enjoy was being out of doors. My brother and I went to visit our mom on a gorgeous fall day. “Let’s go to Mendon Ponds Park,” my brother suggested.
The foliage in upstate New York was at its peak of red and orange painted glory. Dry leaves crackled underfoot and a hint of coolness spiked the air; the sun was shining, warming our shoulders like an old, comfortable sweater. Squirrels scampered busily about foraging for acorns, and little chickadees chirped merrily. It felt good to be alive. We walked along, the three of us, holding hands and crunching leaves. “Isn’t it beautiful?” said my brother.
“Yes, it is beautiful,” replied my mother. Tom and I stared at each other in surprise, now mute ourselves, not wanting to break this spell; we walked on silently, happy just to be in this moment on this beautiful day, and awed to hear our mother speak.
I will forever have the memory of my mother’s voice and her last spoken words on that golden day.
Even Alzheimer’s can’t take this away.
Image Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash
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