This is a story of the power of touch.
My Mother is smart. She is beautiful and kind. None of that changed after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her intelligence helped her hide it from the world and even from us for years. Her beauty increased as her mind released her from everyday concerns and her face became more relaxed. Her kindness is ever present as she pets us and gives out hugs freely. None of this is of much consolation to me or the rest of my family, as every day we are aching from her loss. At alternate moments we see how frightened she is when the inevitable frustration sets in of being unfamiliar with the faces and situations around her.
I no longer live close to her, and so when I make my twice yearly trip back from California to see my folks on Long Island, I spend as much time as possible with my Mom. Even though she has no idea who I am consciously, there is a familiarity that binds us in her subconscious, and she is happy to go with me wherever I go.
I forgot to mention how much energy she has. That’s the other thing that has not changed. My brother and sisters were always amazed at how energetic she was. Even in the height of our youth, we felt like sloths by comparison and now that she has less to occupy her time, I find myself trying to find activities we can do together on my trips home.
Toward the end of a long busy day of errands that would have left most people exhausted, my Mom turned to me bright eyed and said: “What are we going to do now?”. I thought: “I’m fresh out of ideas, maybe I should give her a massage, but we’re miles from home, besides, I’m pretty beat, I could use one myself”. Serendipitously, there was a foot rub place with a big neon open sign bordering the parking lot we were standing in. I thought: “This will have to do,” grabbed Mom by the hand and got down to the business of getting side by side massages.
We settled into a dark narrow room with a few other snoozing people and selected side by side loungers while the attendants began rocking our feet side by side and gently stretching our legs.
I was a little concerned that Mom might not enjoy it, because she hates having her toes handled during pedicures. About 10 minutes into our session, Mom surprised the girl working on her, and the rest of the room for that matter, when she sat straight up and loudly exclaimed “This feels great!”. The rest of the people in the room were startled, but I found it oddly reassuring knowing we were on the right track.
They say Alzheimers is hardest on the loved ones. I disagree. I think it’s been terrifying for my Mother. For years we’ve witnessed the moments of terror and disorientation. That being said, the disease is still devastating for us personally and as a family. Every moment with her carries a hope that she will reconnect with us in some way, and there is always a low grade desperation for her to recognize us as her children. It happened that day in the massage room. About a half our into into our session, Mom grabbed my hand, said “I love you” and held it tight for the remainder of our massage. I couldn’t stop crying, but the tears were mixed with joy of the moment with her, and in a poetic finale to the experience, our session completed with my parent’s wedding song “Moon River”, a melody filled with hope streaming through the spa speaker system.