By Matt Cutugno
Indio, CA, USA
My mother passed away two years ago this month, so at this time of year, she’s on my mind. I dream about her now and again and, perhaps oddly, she’s alive in the dream, but she doesn’t know that she’s in fact deceased. I don’t let on and I make each moment with her count. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend time with loved ones who have passed? But that only happens in weirdly sentimental Hollywood movies.
My Mom was a typical woman of her generation, sweet and loving, happy to live in her husband’s shadow. She had some Edith Bunker in her, habitually deferring to my Dad’s sternness, but nonetheless she was her own person. She had a great sense of humor and was the laughing life of every party she attended. While my father was an acquired taste, she was the gal everyone loved.
She was a picture of motherly compassion. When a killer on a TV show was executed or otherwise met his final justice, Mom would sniff, “Poor man.”
“But Mom, he blew up a bus and it drove off a cliff!” I’d reason.
“I know,” she’d smile, “but still. . .”
In the end, she lost a ten-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Many of us know first-hand that dreadful disease, while most of us know it by its awful reputation. In its initial stages, its effects are almost quaint: Mom would forget to put baking soda in her cake batter and we’d laugh when she pulled a flat cake out of the oven. Or, we’d wonder what happened to a particular article of clothing, only to discover she’d placed it inside the refrigerator.
But slowly, sadly and surely, the disease let the air out of my Mother’s personality, until she was as deflated as that cake. Alzheimer’s becomes scary—it’s not a cherished loved one anymore, but an unsmiling stranger who sits in the family rocker, idly rocking, a lost look on her once happy countenance.
She spent the final year and a half of existence in a care facility. She was reduced to her wheelchair, unable to do anything but blink blankly ahead, and be spoon fed and then cleaned and helped into bed. It was not a life, it was only barely living.
By the time Mom reached the end of her journey, she spoke one word and one word only. She would say “yes” when we visited, no matter what we said to her.
“Do you want to take a ride outside?” I’d ask her on a fine Spring day, offering to wheel her outside and into the sunshine.
“Yes,” she’d softly reply.
“Would you like a cookie?” my sister (who would bring fresh fruit and sweets) would ask.
“We love you Mom, see you next time,” we would say when we bade her goodbye with a kiss.
After she passed away, I thought about her last word. Alzheimer’s can make even the mildest personality turn mean, so she might well have replied “Dammit” or “No” in response to anything said. Or, she might have lamented, “Help!” Instead, she intoned, “Yes.”
I’ve come to think of this final word as a gift. It’s a Mom’s last bit of advice to her family. If she can do it, face her life and say yes, we can all do that with ours.
I know that’s a sentimental notion, but unlike a Hollywood movie, I believe it.
Matt Cutugno's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing