I was embarrassed at first when my friends came over. Mom would ask them the same questions again and again. They never said a word, but I saw their glances to each other when they thought I wasn’t looking.
When they were gone, I would demand, “Mom, why do you always embarrass me like that? Why do you ask the same questions over and over?” By now tears would be in my eyes and streaking down my face.
“I just forgot, honey,” she’d say. “I’m sorry.”
But Mom kept forgetting. Every day it got worse. Dad got so concerned about my deteriorating relationship with Mom that he finally decided to have a talk with me.
“Your mother is very sick,” he said quietly. “She has Alzheimer’s disease.”
“Well, get her some medicine,” I snapped. I’d never heard of Alzheimer’s before.
“I can’t,” Dad almost whispered. “She’ll never be well again.”
My eyes opened wide. “Is she going to die?” Now I was really scared, and I felt guilty about the way I’d treated Mom.
“Not necessarily,” he said vaguely. “But we’ll have to take a lot more care of her as the illness progresses.”
Dad sighed. “Let me explain a little about what’s happening to Mom.” He paused and glanced at her, busily washing the dishes she’d already done. “She-” he groped for words to help me understand. “Mom’s brain cells are being destroyed daily, and when the cells die they take away her ability to remember things the way she used to. As time goes by she’ll not only forget little things-she’ll be unable to do everyday things, like brushing her teeth, combing her hair, and even eating.”
“What are we going to do, Dad?” I looked at the man who had always made things better.
Hadn’t he made my pain disappear after a childhood fall by scooping me up in his strong arms and telling me it was OK? Hadn’t he driven my fears away on my first day of school by holding my hand tightly and bringing me to my kindergarten room? My dad could fix anything. For a second these thoughts comforted me.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Dad finally stated, his eyes tormented. “I have to leave this in God’s hands.”
He fought back the tears and continued. “We must remember that God is in control, and He understands why these things happen. It’s Satan’s plan for us to suffer. What pain he causes!”
I could see Dad struggling to remain the way he always wanted me to see him-strong and brave. But soon the tears were streaming down Dad’s face as well as mine. I couldn’t quite grasp Mom never being well again, and I was sure Dad couldn’t comprehend it either.
The years rolled on, and Mom did get worse. Every year she forgot a little more. But she still maintained her personality. She was more loving than ever. She still smiled a lot and laughed when we remarked about her forgetfulness. One day while looking through the family albums, she came across a picture of Dad on their wedding day. “Who’s that?” she questioned sincerely. “That’s Dad!” I exclaimed. I still couldn’t believe Mom could forget things like this. “Oh,” she laughed. “He’s good-looking, isn’t he?” With that she set off to do something else she thought she should be doing.
But the years that brought so much pain also brought us demonstrations of God’s unimaginable love. His total guidance and care helped transform me. Tenderness replaced my spoiled, selfish attitude. And the pain brought the three of us so close that we couldn’t imagine life without one another.
Times were hard, though. Whenever we got settled into Mom’s condition, she would get a little worse, and we would have to adjust again. Almost every day I would go through different medical journals, hoping to find a cure for her. I even tried talking to a counselor when I got real depressed about it.
But I didn’t get the answers I wanted to hear. I became frustrated many times. I daydreamed a lot. I would see Mom as she was when I was 6 years old-the best mom in the world. I used to tell her that all the time when I was little. I hoped she remembered.
Then there were times I actually believed there was hope for Mom. She would seem perfectly fine. She would answer like the old Mom I knew; but it would last only a split second. Then she would laugh that deep, rich laugh and move on as if there were so many things she needed to do and she was running out of time.
It doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I understand now that love is the most important thing between us. I understand that there are many things to separate us in life, but we can never be separated when we have love inside.
We have a lot of love in our family: there’s Mom’s love (I’ll always believe she’ll never forget how to love us), there’s my love, there’s Dad’s love, and above all, there’s God’s love.
I’ve learned to trust God. I believe that someday He will make everything OK again. Someday Mom will remember all things.
Corrine Daley was a student in Orlando, Florida, when she wrote this story, which won a prize in the student short story category of Insight’s writing contest.
This article originally appeared in/on Women of Spirit.