My Mother’s Decline and Words That Live On

There are different kinds of dementia, but the one we mostly hear about is Alzheimer’s Disease. One out of every eight Americans over 65 has this terrible illness. My mother was part of this unlucky group.

She had the usual symptoms – loss of memory, personality changes, general confusion – but she had the good sense to outwit the disease. Before it took away all her faculties, she died of something else.

Before those last few years, she was a formidable woman. As one of my sons says, “Mimi (which is what her grandchildren called her) had standards.” Growing up with such a mother wasn’t always easy. For example, if I entered the house and the ladies of the sewing club were in the living room, I had to say hello to each of them by name. Another rule was that I couldn’t leave the dinner table until everyone had finished eating. I would eat fast (I still do) in hopes that my parents and sister would do the same so I could go out and play.

One of the things I liked least was raking the leaves. Everyone else raved about the fall foliage. I never really appreciated the colors until many years later in Jaffrey. We had a lot of trees on our land in Claremont (our address was fittingly named “Edgewood”), and as far as I was concerned, I was losing precious baseball time. I’m not saying I was abused, exactly, but you get the general idea.

My mother had a lot of great expressions, known in our family as “Irene-isms.” I doubt that she made them all up, but most of them I haven’t heard from anyone else. Of course I now find myself using them. It seems we all become our parents.

“Comparisons are odious,” she would say, without explaining why that was so. Speaking of “why,” another was, “’Why’ is a crooked letter,” which was especially irritating to her curious son who asked too many questions. “I don’t deliver messages.” I used to wonder, “why not?” Here’s one from the pre-cell phone era. “I don’t call long distance.”

She had strong views about child-raising. “The love comes with the care.” I think I get that one, but “they’re only lent to you for a little while?” Who “lent” me? “I don’t want the credit and I don’t want the blame.” Maybe she had doubts about how my sister and I would turn out.

Today, when children drink their milk or brush their teeth or clear the table, parents are likely to say, “Good job.” That was definitely not one of my mother’s expressions.

Those last two or three years were difficult. When the doctor told her that she had pancreatic cancer, she turned to my sister and me and came up with another great line, “As long as it’s nothing serious.”

My mother never wanted to leave her apartment in Boston, where she had lived since leaving Claremont in 1970, and with the help of caring home health aides, she never did. During her last year, I was traveling frequently between Boston and Puerto Rico. I would return to Logan Airport and go directly to her apartment. I would arrive and call out, “It’s your terrible, awful son.” Then I would enter her bedroom – by now she was a shadow of her former physical self – and she would say, “I don’t have a terrible, awful son. I have a wonderful son.”

Of all my mother’s sayings, that one is my favorite.

2017-05-19T20:27:48+00:00 By |