Friday, September 22, 2017

Mom and A Lesson For Us All

Mom walked out of the bedroom and asked "what is this?" She was holding a tiny blue Limoges plate with gold figures on it. It had been in her possession forever. Always held a place in her curio cabinet with her other special things. Lately it had been on the bookcase next to her bed. "Don't you know?" I asked her. She shook her head. "I think you got it in Paris", I said. "When you and dad went back in the 70's". She looked a little puzzled, so I said "well that's the story now, then". We laughed and she said "you should write this stuff down" at which I replied, "I have been". She answered "no, your things - so you won't forget".
Mom and Dad c1963

This is our regular mother/daughter dialog these days. Mom is suffering with vascular dementia and I am trying mightly to pull all the family stories I can out of her before they are gone. It's funny, the things we all take for granted. Our memory, for one. Of special things, times, places, people. Good advice from a woman who's loosing all of hers.

As the dementia progresses and we work to downsize her, once again, to a memory care facility I am beginning to see, often for the first time, the things she has held most precious all these years. The things she's taken as companions on her journey. It's hard. Heart wrenching. Surreal and oddly magnificent all at the same time.

Mom's journey, her final path anyway, began shortly after my dad passed in 2007. She began to sell off their possessions. And, boy where there possessions! My dad loved 'stuff' and never parted with any of it. First she cleared out the pole barn chock full of our childhood things - we three kids took a few items we wanted, but let me tell you, the shock and surprise I experienced, laying my eyes on that stuff for the first time in 40+ years. I had no idea most of it was still around!

Mom and Dad c1996
Then she sold the Michigan Home. And all the 'stuff' the home contained. The house they'd build just 4 short years before my dad's passing. The house they were going to retire in so my dad's dream of getting back to his first love, fine art painting, could be fulfilled. (Don't put off your dreams!)

Next step for her was to sell the townhouse they were living in 'temporarily', having sold the big family home several years earlier to fund the Michigan Home. Again, she sold all the 'stuff' contained within. (Oh man, was there 'stuff'! Stuff I had never laid my eyes on - magical stuff - my dad was a die-hard 'collector', and admirer of fascinating things) This is when I found the Family Tree tucked behind the furnace. And boxes of old photos from my dad's childhood that I had never seen before. I asked mom about some of it, putting off diving in until she was settled in her new place.

Her possessions grew smaller still. The items she was choosing to keep always the most special.

Mind you, she was doing all this on her own. On Her Own! Strong blood in this one. She definitely has the Twining Blood coursing through her veins. A healthy does of Potwin too, both fine Pioneer families.

She chose to move to a large Senior Retirement Community. Got herself a spacious 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment (With a kitchen bigger that mine!) in the independent living section. A 6th floor apartment with really amazing views - on a clear day you could see the Chicago skyline - always a breathtaking sight. She brought her favored possessions and settled in.

She enjoyed her new life in her new community for almost 5 years. Going on day trips, lunching with new friends, socializing, even going on an Alaskan cruise.

Then the wheels came off.

It was obvious that something was amiss. Won't go into the details, but if you've gone through something similar, you know what I'm speaking of. That something - dementia - creeping in - making a nest - settling into her mind and eating away at her memories. Our memories. As I scrambled to get her to a safer environment, a downsizing began. The assisted living  apartments were much smaller. We needed to pare down her things. We packed together on the weekends, talking of the past and her future. I began asking as many questions as I could think of, quizzing her on family history and the the stories she could remember. Crying when I returned home that I didn't begin asking sooner.

I would return the next weekend to boxes unpacked, items missing or broken. And mom having no memory of it. Wondering why she hadn't moved yet .....

We successfully got her settled in on Thanksgiving weekend of 2016. Donating half of her possessions to local charities, taking home boxes and boxes (and boxes) of items to sort thru, the paper was staggering! Six file cabinets that contained an entire married adult life - and I still have four boxes to go ...
Four Generations

In her new apartment mom settled in, putting her beloved possessions away in their spots. This time it was like she was discovering some of them for the first time. She'd come out of the bedroom with an item in hand, excited look on her face, telling me the memory it invoked. Sometimes however she was puzzled by something. She knew it was supposed to mean something to her, that it did mean something to her at one point, baffled now as to what that was. Saying aloud "Oh, that used to mean something" and putting it carefully away.

And I did not write everything down. I thought I would remember.

Now, the time has come to downsize again. This time to a room the size of a mid-grade hotel room. No closets, just an armoire for clothing. Again we will pare her furnishings down by half. This time most of the family treasures will come home with me or go live with my brother. In memory care the doors don't lock. The residents wander. Things get broken or stolen. It can't be helped.

This time I am going through her most prized possessions. The ones she has chosen to take with her to the end. Very intimate. Very emotional. A fresh batch of her things I am seeing for the first time in my life, yet they've been in her life half again as long. Unless I show her an item and ask her what it means to her, she isn't even aware of it's existence. There are things I thought I would finally find that are not there. This time I can't ask, or rather I can't get an answer. She has forgotten.

It's up to me, as the family historian, to pull from my own memory the significance. Other items I mourn as I will never know who owned it, why she kept it all this time, what was the meaning? Don't ask, don't tell is not good policy in families, especially if you are destined to become the 'keeper of things'. A lesson we never learn until it's too late.

One item, a beautiful white gold wedding ring set, 1920's vintage, I had never laid my eyes upon before. I was hoping it was the wedding ring of my paternal grandmother, a woman I had never known. I have always wondered what happened to it. I combed through the photographs I have of both of my grandmothers, my maternal grandmother always wearing a simple band, no diamond, no wedding set. The one photo I found of my paternal grandmother that shows her hand is (of course) blurry, but the ring is obviously large, it could be the set I found. I asked my mom. Gotta have hope right!

Grandmother and 'the ring'

She thought it might be her mother's. But she wasn't sure. In fact she didn't even recognize it at first.

Now a story lost to the ages, a knowing that will never be known. Locked in the mind of a woman that can't remember anymore.

Should have written it down. A lesson for us all. We will not remember. Our children will not ask. Things held so dear that we take them with us on our entire life's journey, only to wind up a mystery to those that come after.

Should have written it down.

©2017 Anne Faulkner -, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry, Anne. The more I hear of these things, the more I'm spurred to help. My mother has some dementia and I know it can be frustrating and sad exhausting. If you need a day off, call me. Fill up your tank before you do the same for your mom. Very well written, BTW. Thanks for sharing.