Brave Sweet Sally Soldiers On

My mom has actually regained consciousness, sort of, which is a big surprise to my brothers and me, because we thought that Alzheimer’s had shut down her brain and we were accustomed to the inexorable, non-reversible nature of the disease.

She has had a very fast-acting version which took away not only the ability to form memory, which most patients lose first, but also all memories whatsoever, early or late, which most patients retain.

She and I met Barack and Michelle Obama in Conway, NH, in the summer of 2007, and we both agreed they were the real deal. She still had all her marbles. Two years later she didn’t know who William Shakespeare was and didn’t know I was her son.

But now she’s opening her eyes completely and sometimes tries to form words. I do believe she’s coming back, at least a little way, and that’s a small miracle, which we’ll take. Miracles are miracles.

Sitting by her bedside is no agony at all, but really more joyful. I know that sounds daffy, but Sally is so peaceful and strong.

She reaches for the oxygen tube on her nose and tries to pull it off, but I told her “No, honey. Leave that there. They put it on to help you breath.” Then she took the part of the tube on her chest and held it between her fingers the way she always used to hold her necklaces when she was interested in something someone was saying.

And she’s so brave. It just seems to radiate out from her in waves. Here she is, in complete mental confusion, robbed of her education, her dignity, and every vestige of selfhood, facing death itself, and she’s still brave and sweet and thinking of others.

I get such an overwhelming sense of what a great mom I have. On her death bed she’s still inspiring me.

It’s always hard to leave, but tonight I had a plan: I sang to her, show tunes, hymns, Bach cantatas. So I think she was quite happy to see me go.

When I left I instinctively put my had on her forehead the way she used to do when we were sick or pretending to be sick to see if we had a fever. Then I kissed her on the cheek and she smiled.