After struggling for six years, my mom lost her fight against Alzheimer’s on April 16, 2015. She was fighting a hopeless battle because when you’re up against Alzheimer’s, a disease with no cure, there’s not much you can do to defend yourself. It’s just a matter of time before the disease takes over and robs the body of it’s ability to carry out the functions required for living.
Maybe Mom did fight back. Perhaps her weapon against the disease was doing her best to recognize her family and friends and to still get excited about the things she loved, like PEI, the beach, ice cream, and Leon Gallant.
I will always remember Mom greeting me at the door whenever I came home. She must have seen my car coming or heard it in the driveway. She was always so happy to see me, and always ready with a hug and smile for me. She did well. Her special greetings continued until last fall. This past Christmas was the first time I noticed that instead of meeting me at the door, she was sleeping on the couch when I arrived home.
It’s unfortunate that it often takes disease or death to make us realize just how truly special someone really is.
Mom may never have been the “coolest” or “hippest” mom. She may have been a bit traditional and over-protective, and I know I disappointed her when she found out I planned on having a few drinks at grad parties, but she was the best mom. She had a lot of love to give, and she showered it upon her entire family. It’s unfortunate that I was just starting to outgrow the I’m-embarrassed-by-my-parents-and-don’t-want-to-be-seen-in-public-with-them phase when she got sick. I know my relationship with Dad has evolved over the last couple of years, and I feel robbed of the opportunity to have a more grown-up relationship with Mom.
Mom was a secretary at the office where my Dad worked (that’s actually how they met each other), and after my older sister was born, Mom left her job to stay home with us. She was the best stay at home mom. She kept the house spotless and knew how to clean everything! She was an excellent seamstress and made my sister and I Anne of Green Gables dresses and Halloween costumes. One Christmas she even surprised us with a shoe box full of Barbie clothes she had made herself. She would dig out her sewing machine and work on them while we were at school so we had no idea what she was up to. After Mom’s passing, while looking through photo albums with my aunt, I realized that some of those handmade Barbie dresses were actually made out of fabric left over from bridesmaids’ dresses at Mom’s wedding. I had had no idea.
And Mom could bake! Her chocolate cookies were legendary! There was always a fresh batch whenever extended family came to stay. My cousins have been sharing lots of memories of Mom since her passing, and a few of them have confessed to sneaking chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the night. Mom would wonder how they disappeared so fast. I’m not sure if she ever knew about the midnight cookie thieves. Mom would always send a batch of cookies back to university with me after I’d been home for the weekend to share with my roommates. Mom was also well known for her Divinity fudge at Christmas, chocolate cookies with marshmallows on top, mud slide pie, Skor squares, and no-bake cherry cheesecake.
I attribute my love of the beach and the sea to Mom. At her funeral, the minister said that he didn’t know anyone in Mom’s family who didn’t have sea water running through their veins, and that we’d all be perfectly happy living down at the shore or on a boat, and I would have to agree with that! Every day in the summer she would pack my sister and brother and I up and drive us thirty minutes to the beach in rural PEI next door to where she had grown up. We would always meet up with lots of people; Mom’s childhood friends, cousins, and a rotating stream of families who “come from away,” but vacationed in Sea View every summer. There’d be trips to the rocks to look for crabs, walks along the shore looking for sea glass, more swims than I can count, and bonfires with roasted marshmallows.
I’m sure it broke Mom’s heart when we moved away from PEI, but my parents always made sure we made it back to PEI for the summer. The first couple of years before we had our own cottage we stayed in a tiny two bedroom cottage down the road from my aunt, and it seemed like the cottage was always full of my cousins. Mom would look after my cousins while my aunt worked, and since Dad was on the mainland working during the week, we didn’t always have a car, but I don’t think that stopped us from getting to the beach too often. It seems like Mom always found a way to get us there, with other beach friends coming to pick us up and cramming way too many kids for the number of seats into the vehicle.
Mom always made Christmas special and it wasn’t until she got sick and lost her ability to do what she had always done that I realized just how important to Christmas she was. I feel bad for getting mad and upset that first Christmas that was “off.” I wasn’t mature enough at the time to realize it wasn’t her fault. Christmas morning we would wake up and our giant stockings would be full to the brim with goodies, all wrapped in the same paper that was different from any other wrapping paper under the tree because Santa used different paper at the North Pole. There would be a display of candy in her good candy dishes and nuts on the coffee table. And there would always be an unwrapped gift from Santa for each of us out on display, I guess it was so we would have something to look at until her and Dad got up. When we lived on PEI, we used to rotate hosting Christmas dinner between my mom and her sister and brother’s houses. My favorite was always the year when we hosted at our house. Christmas wasn’t quite the same after we moved, but it was still always special.
The best Christmas present I ever got was my Hanson Middle of Nowhere VHS. I was so in love with Hanson that year, and Mom liked them too (although my sister despised them). I had asked for their VHS tape for Christmas, and Mom had told me that she couldn’t find it anywhere so I wouldn’t be getting it for Christmas. I was so disappointed. Then Christmas morning came and one of the first things I saw was Middle of Nowhere, left by Santa for me. I was so surprised and so happy! Two years ago, to be funny, either my sister or my brother wrapped up that same VHS tape and put it under the tree for me, not realizing the back story that went with it. After I opened it, I told them the story behind it, and how it was the best Christmas present I ever got. Mom’s Alzheimer’s was pretty bad at this point, and her communication wasn’t great, but she sat there smiling as I told the story of how she had tricked me that Christmas, and I remember our family laughing and Dad telling Mom she was a “trickster.” Both of those Christmases are special memories that I will always cherish.
I also remember visiting my parents one weekend shortly after I had graduated from university. I was going through a rough time adjusting to being a “real adult” and was having a moment in my bedroom. It was early on in Mom’s disease, and at the time I thought her communication was so bad because she had such a hard time finding her words, but looking back, it really wasn’t so bad back then. She came into my room while I was upset and she told me that her and Dad would always be there for me. I’ve thought of her saying that to me a lot lately, in this last month while she was in the hospital and since she’s passed.
It got hard to talk to her on the phone as her focus and verbal skills deteriorated, but she could still usually get “I love you” out. That was how she always ended her conversation with me when I used to call home every day.
I know it hurt Mom deeply to be sick and not be able to do all the things or say all the things she would have liked. I know she did her best. I did my best too, although it sometimes feels like it wasn’t good enough.
Through all of this, I’ve realized just how important family is. It was looking through pictures, and hearing stories, and sharing memories of Mom with family and friends that helped the most in those early days after her passing.
What I’ve learned through all of this is to cherish the moment. Spend time with the people that are important to you. Make memories. Take pictures… and label and date them so you know who’s in them and when/where it was taken. Give hugs. Tell the people you care about that you love them.
Even though Mom is gone, parts of her live on. I will feel close to her every time I bake chocolate chip cookies or make Divinity fudge, hear geese squawking or a Leon Gallant song, or when I walk along the beach looking for sea glass.
Mom was a very special lady, and I don’t think I ever realized just how special she was until the end. She was such a kind, caring, loving lady, and I hope that I share those attributes. Mom meant so much to so many people and she will be greatly missed. I love you, Mom.