The leaves of memory seemed to make
A mournful rustling in the dark.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I am losing my mother in pieces. She is like an autumn tree: beautiful, colorful, and dying. The breeze of Alzheimer’s whispers through the branches while her memory drops off with the leaves.
One day, when her tree is finally bare, I will hold a memory of her blooming strength. She weathered the storms and provided me with shelter. I will be strong and remain hopeful because of her. For now, I will hope for spring to come, so together we may see the blossoms and green growth of love.
On a September drive through the Oregon wine country, Mom asked me, “What will we see once the leaves have all fallen?” She answered her own question. “Skeleton trees.” I gather what is falling: her stories, her looks, her insights, and her love. Nature’s beauty is my rake. I rake these moments we share, embracing them as simple gifts.
Another day, she smiles and says, “Oh, the little fast birds are here.” I look out the window to the hanging fuchsia and see the swift messengers of love and joy.
Hummingbirds never seem to stop, never glide. I will them to linger. I will life to linger, to be savored, so that we can slow down and drink the nectar. Hummingbirds symbolize immortality, bravery, joy, and perseverance. I wish their flight of infinity could journey into our house and allow me to have my mom a little longer. These tiny creatures delight her with their fleeting visits and provide me with a sense of peace, knowing that I will never stop savoring the nectar of my mom’s sweetness.
We rest on her bed with eyes wide and focused outward on the sky. The clouds drift. Mom comments that the sun is warm and melting the clouds. She asks what I see. I say, “I see a cloud passing as a caterpillar.”
“No,” she says. “It is God reaching out to us.”
We are quiet as the view changes. She pities the person without imagination. On the sky’s stage, an ensemble of characters parades. Herds of wild animals stampede across the horizon; musical instruments silently blow to the west; stout kings float east, followed by soaring, chubby cherubs.
“The clouds are heavy,” she remarks. “It will rain, and they will be lighter.” I feel her love and the slow motion of the moment. The clouds are dark and threatening. Mom dozes while I keep my eye on the clouds, waiting for one to pass and offer me a silver lining. I will be patient.
“How many sunsets have we watched together?” Mom asks me. Before I can respond, she muses, “The sky is a Monet painting, only more beautiful.”
She holds my hand while we wait and watch colors transform the sky into impressionistic images. It is sunset, a day’s end, bringing breathtaking moments of change, entwined with nature. The sun is setting on my mother. The hues and tones of her life dim quietly as the dusk of the disease settles on her memories. I cling to the colors of our time now. I embrace the brush strokes of the afterglow and realize that twilight approaches.
Then, darkness will come. Magically, the clouds part for the moon. The fuzziness of the veiled moon has cleared, and a bright glow streams down upon us as our nightlight. We watch the moon rise while the stars decorate the sky. We talk as if we are young girls on a sleepover.
Mom wonders if Ireland has a moon. She never saw it when we were last there. I assure her Ireland has a moon, and it is the same one we are viewing this night. We tease about shooting for the moon and that, if we miss, we will hit a star.
Together, we count, wish and wonder.
One day, I will look at the world for both of us: capturing the beauty; wishing on the giggling stars; watching the sun playing “sneak and peek.” My heart is broken as I lose my mother in pieces and watch the woman who was my mom disappear leaf by leaf. I smile, stirring up memories of the joys we share over seeing the birds, sunsets and night skies together, embracing Mother Nature. I smile for the many joys we have had together.
Grief changes us forever. There is never “normal” again. But my sorrowful and changed spirit will remember that I carry within me the beauty of my mother. She will be with me always, and the ordinary and extraordinary moments we shared with nature will heal me. My mom will always nurture me. The moon will trade places with the sun. In my darkness, I know morning will come.
I recall Carl Sandburg’s line, “The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.” My mother’s moon and I will be having many conversations.
This story was first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias: 101 Stories of Caregiving. All rights reserved.