My mother hummed. She hummed all the time, she was a beautiful singer and a capable pianist, and she loved music. But music also loved her. And she hummed without even knowing she was doing it. The disease of Alzheimer’s stole my mother’s hum. This joyful little habit was replaced by a new habit, an odd little laugh that didn’t sound quite genuine but was consistently tagged on to the end of every sentence she spoke. I’m sure at times it drove Bob crazy, and it certainly seemed odd.
As I sat with my mom last week, I came to understand something about this strangely incongruous little laugh. It was early Monday morning, we were preparing to move her out of the hospice center back home to spend her last days in the place she loved the most. I had arrived the late the previous evening and she had been unconscious when I arrived. I sat by her bed, holding her hand, staring into this face I knew as well as my own. I must have dozed off. I was startled back to alertness when I felt her eyes boring into me. Her hand tugged on mine; she began to speak. It took tremendous effort, the hypoxia (absence of oxygen in the body as a result of a medical condition) made it difficult for her to articulate her thoughts. She got a few things out – how she loved me, her fear of dying, her doubts about whether or not she and Bob had built a “good” family….but in all this, she added a little laugh at the end of her words.
And although I will never know what this little laugh meant for certain, I do know this was so my mom. She was in the throes of Alzheimer’s, she was mad at her declining health, everything she loved was slipping way….but nothing could steal her laughter, her commitment to happy. It was a sacred, radically rebellious refusal to have the disease rob her of the very heart of who my mother was – a woman who laughed – no, that is not accurate – a woman who giggled. A woman who found contentment and joy in her simple life.
LIFE LESSON #8: We each must answer for our own life choices; make sure we choose ones that we can find contentment and joy as we live and as we die.
In her final days, the truth is my mother questioned herself and her decisions. I would dishonor her memory and create an inaccurate picture to not share this reality. Sobering as this process was to watch, it serves as a great reminder to all of us that our commitments and choices matter. Today is a great day to realize that self-awareness, self-evaluation, and accepting personal responsibility for our choices is good work. My mother had questions but she also had joy. That seems about right to me. In her way, my mother taught me to challenge my own assumptions about how I am living my life – I will honor her by continuing to noodle on this big question. Maybe you would find value in doing the same.