So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go*
My mom asked me a few months ago, having watched a documentary about the late John Denver on PBS, if I would maybe “go in” with my siblings and buy her a John Denver CD for Christmas. She didn’t want to tax me too heavily, lovely woman that she is. <3
So, Dave made a CD of John Denver songs from his iTunes and I took it to her when I went to visit 2 weeks ago. She was so surprised. She barely remembered the documentary, if at all, and certainly didn’t recall asking for a CD, but she was happy to have it.
My visit this time has a musical soundtrack. And it is the sound of John Denver music drifting from her corner room, from a little CD player she can no longer remember how to work on her own, even though my sister painted “play” in large white letters.
My sweetest mamala is suffering dementia, being treated for Alzheimer’s Disease. And the changes are so gradual if you’re in the room with her, that they’re much less perceptible. But I am not there, so when I visit, changes are glaring, and I lose my breath for a moment when I see another part of her gone. My dad always asks me what I see as different because he is “in the room,” day and night, night and day.
When I visited 2 months ago in August, during our family reunion, she kept asking me what words were on a stitched pillow her best friend had sent to her. “Friendship,” I’d tell her. She’d look intently at it and then say, “Oh right, there is the ‘i.’ Oh, and that’s ‘f’.” Then she’d say, “Friendship.”
15 minutes later, she’d pick the pillow up and ask me again. Everyday I was there, several times.
I asked my dad, “When did she begin to lose reading?” He was so surprised, he had been wondering why she wasn’t reading her Bible each morning like she always has. Reading is not totally lost to her yet. But it mostly is. She still keeps her Bible and her beloved dictionary close by at all times, but they are rarely opened. Sometimes she has to really focus her gaze for a long time to make out what the newspaper article is about. And if the article is continued in another column, or heaven forbid, on another page, she thinks they somehow just quit writing and finds it foolish for them to have done that.
This time, my most recent visit, she couldn’t sing Mairzy Doats, a beloved song from her childhood, with me anymore. Wherever it is she is going, down whatever hall dementia is taking her, that song doesn’t make sense and those aren’t real words so she cannot remember them at all. And she has no desire to recall them. My mom sang that to me my whole life. Then she sang it to my children. She and I sang it to some of my grandchildren. She always thought it was so funny and delightful, singing those tricky words that were really other words. But now it’s just “nonsense” to her, which it really always was, I guess. But still.
So she wanted to listen to John Denver’s soothing beautiful music. She particularly loves Rocky Mountain High and Sunshine on My Shoulders. And the song all our family legends are made of was on repeat one day, Back Home Again. She had to call to play it and sing it for her best friend in Tennessee. She mostly hummed, unable to recall words she has always loved. And she’d comment to her friend when a line of the song said something sweet, like, “…the light in your eyes that makes me warm,” She’d say, “That reminds me of you, Ronnie!” It was sweetness.
But all week, Whenever the song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” began, she’d come and hug me and say, “Oh, I don’t want you to go…how many more days do I have?” And I’d usual just say, “I’m here for a whole week,” even as the week was moving along. Because it would put her at ease and she’d say, “Oh, good.”
Then we’d giggle and sing along with John Denver, mom mostly humming and inserting comments.
All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go. I’m standing here outside your door*
“Oh no, Jeanie. Here let me help you un-pack your bags!”
I hate to wake you up to say good-bye.*
“Don’t wake me up for that!”
‘Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again*
“You better get back here again quick!”
That is so true, mamala. I know you won’t see this blog (computer navigation was one of the first things to go), but we’ll laugh about this in heaven…
A couple of days before I had to leave, three of us were sitting on the love seat singing together, my mom, my little sister, and me. It was hard finding songs my mom could recall the words and following lyrics on the computer was’t working either. I went to a karaoke site and pulled up “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” We started singing away, getting that tight 3-part harmony from heaven found among family members alone.
But as we came to the words, “So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for me,” I had to look away and I couldn’t sing. A catch in my throat and the tears began, because I heard her singing the words, but I knew, she won’t be waiting for me. She is going to keep walking this path and each time I see her, there’ll be a little less of her there.
I have heard Alzheimer’s called The Long Goodbye. And so it seems it must be. My sorrow at watching her have to endure not just the memory loss, but the confusion, the frustration, and the growing inabilities to do what she loves is compounded by living over a thousand miles away. Knowing my time with her will be so limited by the miles between us, I will take every possible second of this long goodbye to hold in my heart.
Every chance I get, I will go to her and bless her and praise her for the woman she is and hug her tiny self as long as she wants (and she loves long hugs). I’ll massage her shoulders and brush her hair and stroke her face and let her curl up on my lap like she is my little girl. There is so little I can do, but I’ll hold on as long as she needs me to….
Hold me like you’ll never let me go*
“Give her everything she deserves!
Festoon her life with praises!” Proverbs 31.31 The Message
Learn more from The Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death and is not just about having a diminishing memory. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s loses their ability to walk, to sit and eventually to swallow. Please pray for my sweet mamala, if you will. *Norma Jean*
*Lyrics to Leaving on a Jet Plane, John Denver.