Friday, December 7, 2012

Mom’s Limited World of Words: Priceless!

By Georgeanne Irvine
Mom and me: Easter 2012
For most of my writing life, my beloved mom, Dorothy, has been one of my greatest supporters and fans.  When I wrote my first children’s book, Sydney the Koala, I read the manuscript to Mom over the phone and she loved it!  Whenever any new writing project came my way, Mom always shared in my excitement.  She also helped dissipate any self doubts I may have had about my writing ability.  Mom was my mentor and editor—until about 15 years ago when her memory started to fail her and her vocabulary dwindled. Now Mom is 94 ½ years old and is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.  She lives near one of my siblings and me in an assisted living home, where she is wheelchair bound and needs help in every aspect of her existence.  One of us (and usually both) visits her daily and works with the staff to make her life as enriching as possible. 

 When Mom speaks—which isn’t often--her vocabulary is extremely limited and much of what she says in unintelligible.  Her journey through this debilitating disease has been long and challenging for our entire family.  Instead of grieving for who she was, though, I decided to appreciate and cherish who she is now.  Anything she says that I remotely understand is a true gift to me. Simple words, phrases, and sentences that I took for granted for so many years are now precious and meaningful.

Mom has her good days and her bad days.  When I mentioned that by phone to my brother, with Mom sitting nearby, she piped up, “Well, I think everyone is like that.”  That same day she also told me, “I’ll stay up ‘til it’s dark.”  What a gem of a day!

She often mixes up words:  hot means cold, all animals are dogs but roses are chickens.  If you ask Mom her age, it could be anywhere from 183 to 23 years old.  Once when I explained she was 94 years old, she said “How can anyone stay that long?”  I was elated to hear that response.

This week during one of my visits, she had several moments of clarity, which made the evening incredibly special.  I was feeding her and had paused, with food in spoon, to greet one of her caretakers.  When I turned my attention back to Mom, she looked at the spoonful of food and said, “Will you hand it to me now?”  After dinner we watched a video about the San Diego Zoo’s giant panda cub.  I pointed at the panda and asked, “What is that?”  Her response:  “It’s a story,” and indeed it was a story—a video story.  As I kissed her goodbye at 7:45 p.m. and told her it was time to go “night night,” she looked at the clock and proclaimed, “Oh, it isn’t even 8 o’clock!”

We usually end our visits with a duet of “Happy Birthday to You.” As long as I sing it with her, Mom remembers the words and the tune!  We always sing it three times, although on her 94th birthday, it was an even dozen. 

My most memorable day by far, though, happened in early fall.  Mom looked at me and without prompting said, “You’re Georgeanne.” I was taken aback as well as touched deep within my heart.  She hadn’t called me by name in years!  Seconds later, her recollection of my name was gone but that fleeting moment of lucidity was priceless.  “You’re Georgeanne”—such simple words from anyone else but words from Mom that l will treasure forever.  

San Diego native Georgeanne Irvine has devoted more than three decades of her career to raising awareness about animals and wildlife conservation. By day, she is associate director of development communications for the San Diego Zoo, where she has worked for 34 years. George is also the author of more than 20 children’s books, plus numerous magazine, newspaper, and Web articles. George’s most recent work is the coffee table book, The Katrina Dolphins: One-Way Ticket to Paradise, which is a true story about 8 dolphins from an oceanarium that were washed out to sea during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and dramatically rescued a few weeks later.





adventures said...

What a beautiful post George and how special that you indeed cherish every day you have with her. I miss my mother every day, and I'm so glad to hear how much you treasure the time you have with her, no matter what the limitations.

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