Mom, second from right, with her husband Chuck, visiting my cousins on one of their trips around the U.S.
My mother turns 79 today, but she neither knows nor cares about that.
Advanced dementia has robbed her of everything that makes life meaningful, rendered her not only incapable of holding a conversation, but taken away virtually all words aside from “Jeep”, which she assiduously uses to strongarm her husband into driving her about the countryside multiple times per day.
Oddly enough, she still points in the direction she wants him to turn, retaining some sense of direction and map knowledge in a brain which has increasingly revolted against her, against all of us.
She no longer knows her children, her sisters, her friends, or even her husband, beyond the understanding that he’s her caregiver and life is much scarier for her when he’s not there.
I’d planned to make the four hour trek for a brief visit today, even though I acknowledged that it would be for my sake and not hers. I wanted one last photo of her with her birthday cake (which she probably wouldn’t eat), because I have a clear understanding that this will be her last.
Yet my recent illness and fears of being the one to put the final nail in her coffin by unwittingly passing along COVID-19 kept me home today instead.
I won’t pretend that my mother and I had the perfect mother-daughter relationship, yet the inevitable ending has a way of softening the edges of the middle.
A photo of Mom I found in the files from her computer. Most were blurry, ha.
My mother longed to be a writer, and although she never achieved any sort of fame or made much in the way of money at it, she did write and publish three Christian fiction novels plus a children’s book, and had a handful of articles and daily devotions published in magazines and books.
When her mind was addled to the point that she could no longer use her computer, I pulled all her writing off her laptop and saved it to my own. I’m now very grateful I had the presence of mind to do so.
As a way of saying “Happy Birthday”, and “I miss you, Mom” to the woman who birthed me and my two brothers, I share a couple of her pieces with you, below.
Help! I’m Not Aging Gracefully
by Lorena Estep
(A version of this was published in Mature Living)
Nearing retirement age, I began battling the aging process in every way possible. I didn’t mind getting older—I just didn’t want to look older. It was bad enough struggling in my 20’s and 30’s to keep the weight down, but from middle age and up, it became a Herculean effort! Each new fad diet worked for awhile, especially the lo-carb, hi-protein. That is until I began to dislike meat and crave carbs . . . especially the sugary ones with lots of icing.
Reaching the age where I was considered a senior citizen in some places and not others, I found I would rather pay the full price than admit to being in that age bracket, unless there was a significant difference in cost.
I had my first very rude (and I mean very rude) awakening while shopping in a department store with my husband one day. He said, “I’m going to the snack bar for a cup of coffee.”
“Okay, sweetie. I’ll be there in a few minutes to join you.” I shopped a little longer, then went over to stand in line for a cup of tea.
“That’s twenty-five cents,” the young girl at the cash register said.
Surprised, I asked, “Why is it so cheap? Are you having a special?”
“That’s the senior citizen rate.”
The feelings that ripped through me were hard to describe: a combination of mortification, indignation, and anger that was like a slap in the face. Of course, being a very determined person, I couldn’t let it alone.
“So how do you decide if someone’s a senior citizen?” I had to ask.
“I just look at them, and if they look old, I give it to them.”
I stared at her in icy disbelief, as she stood there in all her youthful glory, smiling so guilelessly. I grabbed my tea and stomped over to my husband. “How much was your coffee?” I asked in a snappish tone.
“Twenty-five cents,” he answered innocently, taking a sip.
I set my tea down with a thud and plopped onto the chair beside him. “Well, that’s because you look old,” I informed him.
“No it isn’t. It’s just a special sale.”
“Nope. The girl said that’s the senior discount, and if someone looks old, she gives it to them!”
He shrugged and placidly kept drinking.
That was my mortifying initiation into “seniorhood.” Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any younger looking, no matter how many different kinds of facial exercises or creams I try. Nor have I gotten hardened to the offense of being given the discount without asking for it.
Occasionally there is the upside where someone thinks you’re younger than you are. Recently, I had my four-year-old granddaughter and ten-year-old grandson in a store at a mall. The man who waited on us referred to me as their mother. My smile was wide, and I didn’t bother to correct him.
When we left the store, I said to my grandson, “He thought I was your mother.” I was still smiling.
Giving me an indignant look my grandson said, “I know. I was rather insulted!”
Then he laughed, and Grandma still had enough pizzazz to chase him up through the mall.
Mom with my son when she visited him in California
I found this amongst her writings, and am very touched she nominated me for an award that I’ve never heard of. I obviously didn’t win, but thanks for trying, Mom.
YOU CAN’T QUIT, MOTHER!
“You can’t quit, Mother. You know you love to write. That’s when you’re the happiest.”
“Sometimes it’s so discouraging and overwhelming,” I complain. “There are a hundred manuscripts I want to send out at once, and I don’t know what to work on first. If the ratio of rejections to acceptances were reversed, it would be more encouraging and worth the time, energy and frustration.”
We go through similar scenes from time to time, and my daughter is as tenacious as a dog with a bone. Since she determinedly rescues chained dogs, fostering them in her home, I suspect she has learned a few tricks from the assorted canines she lives with.
“Dwell mostly on the acceptances,” she continues. “Only allow yourself two hours to mourn when a rejection comes.
“That last article you had published was great, and I loved the full-page drawing they put with it. I was thinking that for Mother’s Day, I could take that picture out of the magazine and mat and frame it as my gift to you. If you hang it by your desk, every time you get discouraged you can look at it and know all the hard work is worthwhile.”
I always end up hugging her and getting back to work.
She also does much of my critiquing, diligently checking for mistakes and clarity. On a bi-monthly basis, I put together a ten-page newsletter for the church I attend.
When it’s time to add in pictures and the finishing touches, she comes to my home and uses her graphic designer skills to give it a professional tweak.
She’s a caring person who never gives up on what she sets out to do. Her home is full of children, dogs, cats and love. I’m proud of my daughter, and thankful for her love and the fact that she believes in me, and my writing venture.
On behalf of a person who won’t allow me to quit, I hereby nominate my daughter, Tammy, for the “Barnabas-Marcie” Brag award.
Until you experience dementia in someone you love, you will never know the unique pain this disease dumps on the family of those affected. In reality, I lost my mother years ago; now that she’s finally at the beginning of the end, I feel only relief tinged with sadness. The long, slow road to the final curtain has been replete with hurt, anger, and mourning, all while her body still lives.
I learned to celebrate a smile, and treasure the jolt of hearing her speak—because in my head she’s already gone. Her voice brings me back, for an instant, to the mother I once knew.
Happy 79th, Mom. I wish you were here to celebrate with me.
Mom captured on our camera walking my dog Sloan and my cat Tuna in 2014