As my mother slowly slips away into the unknown abyss of Alzheimer’s disease, I am helpless to stop it. As she walks deeper into the dark and dense forest of her mind, I have to let her go. The entry is barred. I cannot follow her in or bring her back. My role is to bear witness and to nurse my broken heart. To tend to those of us left behind. To be strong. I am familiar with this uncomfortable territory. I have been here before. I long for things to return to how they once were. I yearn for the past.
When I look into her eyes, I do not know where she has gone. There is a glimmer of the woman that I once knew. She smiles in recognition of my face. She kisses my lips with love. But there is a dullness in her gaze and a slowness to her gait. We walk in familiar circles along linoleum lined hallways. She talks about everything and nothing: words crashing together, landing in a tangled pile on the floor.
The fiercely independent woman who once forged her own path in life is now reliant on the help of others to complete the most basic of tasks. A life that was once large and colourful is now contained and beige. I am grateful for the people that help us. They are our community. We lean on one another; but I am sad for a loss that is not yet fully a loss. Her memory is breaking into little crumbs. She is leaving pieces behind her: trying to remember her way home.
I am mourning my mother while she still stands before me. It is a strange and confusing time; and I carry a sadness deep in my heart. It is a weight heavy in my pocket. I try to stay in the moment and appreciate the small things, without looking forward or gazing back, “How are you now?…and now?…and now? What do you need? How can I ease your pain?”
It is hard to allow space for heart break. The discomfort is easy to push against and resist; but it needs to breathe and express itself or it will take up permanent residence inside of the body. This is my work at the moment. Allowing the pain to just be. Feeling it and letting it burn. Knowing that it will eventually pass. Everything is transitory. Remaining grateful for the opportunity to love so deeply in my life that my heart can be broken open, and come back together, time and time again.
As Glennon Doyle summarizes it beautifully in her book Untamed: “…I learned that there is a type of pain in life that I want to feel. It’s the inevitable, excruciating, necessary pain of losing beautiful things: trust, dreams, health, animals, relationships, people. This kind of pain is the price of love, the cost of living a brave, open-hearted life – and I’ll pay for it.”