It’s winter on the mountain and yesterday’s snow still creates dashes of white along the river bank. After a day of sunshine they are the only remnants remaining of the windy, snowy day. The lights are lit, Christmas music of various genres fills the room, and preparations for the pinnacle – Christmas Day – continue but at a slower pace. There is always a sense of withdrawal about the end of the holiday season. The year-long march toward one or two days of family and friends is followed by the slow return to regular days.
But today I was faced with a source of solemnity beyond the recognition of the relative brevity of time spent in celebration. The joys we feel and memories we make can be stolen by the fragility of age and its stealthy removal of remembrance. My mother has been diagnosed with dementia,
I found this out in my first talk with her in over a year and the news has left me numb and weak. The circumstances of our distance need not recounted; it is enough to say neither she nor I chose the situation in which we find ourselves. The spring in her voice has been replaced with a stilted struggle. Yet through all the confusion she faces daily she remembers me. That knowledge is comfort and torture to me.
My mind goes to her almost every day but the thought of her pain in remembering and missing me is almost unbearable. Here is my sweet mother with whom I spent my early years listening to music, dancing, cleaning house, shelling October beans, eating popcorn and dill pickles; eating out at Burger King and her love of “Whoppers” and Dr. Pepper; the way her swig of soda was punctuated by a satisfied and prolonged, “Ahhh”. I have stores of memories that can be triggered by sights, smells, and scenes.
One of my most tender memories goes back to my early childhood. She always held her hand behind her back for my tiny hand to reach when we were in a store. Reaching for that open hand was a safety net if I became scared of losing sight of her. Now I wish I could give her the same sense of safety as she loses ‘sight’ of her memories. Her ever-present animation in conversations has been replaced by a subdued flatness. I am losing her one precious thought at a time in a battle over which I have no control.
This knowledge makes the latest painting I have planned even more poignant. I had postponed the start, a still life of things which remind me of her, due to the holidays and the ‘recovery’ from my last detailed still life. As the numbness wanes it’s time to get started and to blend the paint with my tears.