“Watching My Sister Disappear” is the most touching journal I visit. Mary Louise simply jots down her feelings from day to day as Alzheimer’s steals her sister from her. In a recent entry, she told about a conversation with Peggy that jogged my memory: In April, 2003, my mom’s diabetes had affected her leg so badly that it was going to have to be removed. It had turned black up to the knee, and was causing her great pain. She was 90 years old at the time, and had not been truly happy since my dad died in 1987. She had chosen the nursing home in which she lived, and was fairly content there until her vision failed so that she could no longer play cards and dominoes. At that point, she lost any glimmer of joy she ever had. My sister and I felt we should take turns being with Mother until she had her surgery and recovered. I was working, so Maxine stayed during the daytime. The hospital was right across the road from where Cliff works, in Liberty; so I stayed at the hospital while Cliff worked his second-shift eight hours. Here’s the account as I wrote it that day:
Today my sister spent the first shift with my mom, and I took the second. I arrived around 2:30 to find my mother as high as a kite on morphine. But at least she wasn't yelling with the pain in her leg.
"Hi Mother, I'm here," I said as I walked up to her bed.
"He did what?" Mother answered.
I soon realized she was not going to make any sense at all, but at least she was happy. A nurse told me morphine usually makes people mean and aggressive. Not my mom! She pointed out all the trucks driving around her room and on her ceiling, while threading an imaginary needle and sewing like crazy. When she handed me a piece of her invisible handiwork, I said, "Thanks Mother, I always wanted one of those!" She laughed as though she understood the joke. So did the two church ladies who had come to visit, andwho, after an hour's intrusion, I heartily wished would leave. Nice ladies, but I've finally found my mom, at age ninety,in a partying mood; and I want to party with her!
Seeing that they intended to stay for the duration, I decided to ignore them, and see how Mother would react to a song she used to love to hear me sing... "God On The Mountain". She stopped sewing and babbling, turned her head toward me, and listened intently.
"Mother, would you like to sing a song with me?" I asked when I'd finished.
So, I began singing: "Are you weary, are you heavy-hearted, tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus..."
And Mother started singing along. And knew every word of all three verses.
We sang Showers of Blessing. She remembered it all.
"Mother," I then asked, "Isn't there something you'd like to sing?"
She began singing:
"Oh Mrs. Bliss went out to pick
And in the grass she wet her an-
kles in the dew.
And in the yard, she let a far-
mer pass her by
And in the coop, she let a poor
Old chicken die"
This is a song a younger cousin of mine taught our whole family when I was small. When you sing it, it sounds like you are going to say slightly naughty things, rather than what you end up saying. Of all the songs for my mom to suggest, this is the one she led off on. What could I do but join in, with our Church-lady audience almost rolling in the floor.
Three or four times, Mother would start the same song over again, and each time I joined in on the praises of Mrs. Bliss.
Finally, since I was tiring of it anyhow, I said, "Mother, isn't there something else you'd like to sing?"
Thank goodness, she had another selection, and off she went, to the tune of "Old Rugged Cross":
"On a hill far away
Stood an old Chevrolet
It's tires were flat as a board.
It's gas tank was low
And the motor won't go
I'll exchange it some day for a Ford."
This was another song learned years ago from the same frisky little cousin, and it really seemed to be to Mother's liking, because she kept repeating it, too! After at least five or six repetitions, seeking to distract her, I asked if she remembered "One Day At a Time." She listened as I sang it, but it wasn't an old enough song for her to remember. Then she said, quite seriously, "I want to sing the words to a Branson song."
My parents had vacationed in Branson for years, and even lived there at one time after they retired. Mother loved all the music shows, especially the comedians. Maybe she'd choose some good old country song.
Wow, a breakthrough! "Let's hear it," I said.
"On a hill far away
Stood an old Chevrolet
It's tires were flat as a board..."
Now, she never heard that at Branson unless she was the one doing the singing. She was just stuck on this song, and couldn’t move on to another.
The Church ladies, once again, lost it. And so did I.
It took fifty-nine years, but I can finally say I have partied with my mother. And believe me, she was the life of the party!