Mom’s Not OK

When people ask me how my mom’s doing, I usually say she’s doing OK. I’m not lying. I’m just not telling the whole truth.

What I mean by OK is she’s not in any immediate crisis. Her health remains impressively good. She doesn’t take any medication (except her dementia medicine). She remains active and engaged. Most days, she’s still sharp in her conversation and still has her sense of humor. While she’s a little less steady in her walk than she was, she still gets around pretty well.

Unless you know her, you won’t pick up the subtle changes in her. The other day she told me a story. While I was listening to the story, I was thinking how coherent this story was. She told it with confidence and all of the details lined up. Here was the problem. The three people in the story didn’t live at the same time nor at the same place. She had pulled people from three different times in her life and conflated them into the same story.

She can’t really tell time. She doesn’t know if I’ve been there an hour or ten minutes. She can’t keep track of her days. She didn’t remember my birthday. She won’t remember hers. She won’t remember our family stories until I start retelling her. She’ll sparkle in a moment of recognition, but tomorrow she won’t remember what we talked about.

My mom is quietly slipping away from me. Every time I see her, it’s like she’s a little further away and I have to shout louder to find her. I know she’s in there. I can see the twinkle in her eyes (OK, sometimes it’s fire), but I see flashes of the woman I’ve always known as my mom.

I lose her a little bit every day, and I grieve a little bit every day. It’s like a tooth ache that won’t go away. It’s never enough to make you stop, but it never goes away. I now read Psalm 23 very differently. Together my mom and I are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. She won’t make it through. Maybe this year, maybe next year, she’ll slip into the shadows, and she won’t come back.

The irony of this moment is she’s grieving for what she can’t remember. I’m grieving for what I can’t forget.

Mom’s not OK. And neither am I.

The reason I’m writing this is, since my mom’s diagnosis, countless numbers of friends and strangers have offered encouragement and support. “We’ve been there,” they will say, and then they’ll tell me their story of their parents or their in-laws. Sometimes, they just give me a sad smile and pat me on the arm. They know. I know. We can’t say in words what we know. You probably know someone who is going through this in their own family. I’m writing to remind you that your friends aren’t OK. They’ll tell you they are, but they’re not. So, pray for them. Grant them a little grace for the day, a little mercy for the journey. Their mom or dad is not OK, and neither are they.

I know. My mom’s not OK and neither am I.