Tonight I am weeping and grieving the fact that I am losing my mom. Bit-by-bit, her memory is slipping and guys, it is breaking my heart. This is a love letter to my mom. 

Losing my mom: this is a photo of my mom with my oldest brother, and a throwback photo of me holding my daughter in the same pose
My mom holding my oldest brother, and a throwback photo of me holding my daughter.

The next time I go visit my mom, I think I will ask her to climb into my lap so I can cradle and hold her – rock her and tell her that everything will be okay. She is so small now, so childlike and I have become the mother to a frightened girl who is trying so hard to be good, to remember what she should be doing. But she can’t remember. She still remembers who we are, mostly.  I noticed, though, that last week when she left the sixth message for me and she said, “Hi, this is Gaye,” and not, “Hi, this is your mama,” like she has done for years. After I had a daughter of my own, hearing my own mama refer to herself with that word touched me in a way I did not expect, as if I finally understand now what her love for me has meant all these years. All triggered by that word, “mama.” I don’t think she remembered who she was leaving a message for, that I am her little girl and she is my mama. So she slipped into the formal tone as though she were calling the bank.

Before losing my mom to old age, I thought of her prime as in her 60s
My mom in what I think of as her prime

Losing my mom gradually

This is what it is to lose your mama bit-by-bit over time in a such an imperceptible way at first that you almost forget what she used to be like when she was young and beautiful and was taking care of everybody. I was reminded not long ago when I saw my mama in a professionally produced video by the business she co-founded with my dad. The film crew interviewed members of the family and her part was always one of my favorites. She said, “Every time we would get discouraged and think ‘why are we doing this,’ someone would write us a letter and say, ‘Please don’t ever stop making these products.’ Then we would remember why we are in business.”

In my mind, my mama was never better than in that video at that age, in her late 50s. I was in high school then and the business she and my dad started was finally doing well. Her kids were growing up and she was enjoying the fruits of her labors. She was vibrant and attractive at that age, articulate and warm. My mother has always been such a nice person, and now even as her memory slips away, she has not become unpleasant. She is as loving as ever, just more childlike and in need of mothering herself.

Related: Music and Memory

As I am losing my mom to dementia, I think of how she has always been like the sea reassuring me. Here I am walking with her by the ocean 15 years ago.
My mom and I walking by the sea 15 years ago

I’ve got a cold today and I went to lie down, but as I began to mediate on an image of floating in the sea when I was two months pregnant, thoughts of my mother came to mind and overpowered me. To me, the sea has always been mother, and the mountains father. The sea is where I go to rest, to be accepted and loved just the way I am.  The rhythmic waves rock my soul still and say, hush, hush, hush. The mountains are my place of big ideas, inspiration and broad vision. The mountains are the place where my dad brought our family to inspire awe in us. He took me on hard hikes to show me what I was capable of. As a toddler he helped me catch fish “all by myself” to learn what I could do. But by the sea, I see that everything I am meant to become, I already am. the mountains inspire me to do, but the sea just reminds me to be. At the sea, I remember that I am connected to my mother, and to her mother, all the way back to the sea.

That idea of just being and not trying so hard to do everything is a powerful one. In my own life, my own mom  has always acted as though I am perfect just the way I am. Sure, I get that moms are like that and not to get too grandiose about it. But on the other hand, I also believe she is onto something. We are all complete just the way we are. We feel compelled to grow and reach new heights, yet at the same time our souls are perfect just the way we are.

Losing my mom, becoming the mom

I wish I knew how to juggle this new phase with my mom when taking over her bills and doctor appointments, having a young child of my own, and a growing business are eating my lunch. I know she won’t be here forever, and there may come a time when she is here but not here. The logistics of the work that needs to be done takes me from just being with her sometimes, and I feel guilty about that.

Still, right now, I reflect on the fact that exactly a year ago at this time I had one of the most poignant conversations with my mom of my whole life. She had already started to decline in many ways and was not the same as when that video was filmed.  But when I really needed her advice, she emerged from the fog to speak to me with clarity and wisdom. It hadn’t been long since I had found a letter from my dad in a box of silly notes (here is a video I made after finding the letter), also telling me what I needed to hear. But somehow, I also needed my mother’s blessing, too.

Book cover for Every Essential Element
This is the book my mom and I wrote together about her epic love story with my dad, and their family business saga.

We were driving to the funeral of my aunt, my dad’s last living sibling and I told her I wanted to talk to her about something. I felt her perk up. I felt her totally focus on me and what I was saying in a way she had not been able to do in years. I told her I was thinking of leaving my very good day job to tell people’s stories full time, like when we wrote her life story. I laid out the logic and then asked what she thought. With full presence of mind she said, “I think if your dad were here he would say to go for it.” Then I asked, “But what do you think?” She paused, looking for the right words and she said the words I needed to hear, “I think if you didn’t try, you would always regret it.”

Related: Remembering my dad

Before losing my mom to dementia, we wrote her story. Here she is standing by a stream in the back country when we got away for a weekend to write her story.
My mom one weekend when we went away to write her story. I cherish this memory.

Thank you, Mom

Thank you Mom, for always believing in me, for being my cheerleader. For being the person in life who against all better judgment, believes I am just right the way I am. I hope I can repay a tiny bit of what you gave to me by taking care of you now. I know I act frantic a lot of the time because I’m just trying to keep it together in the same way you were trying to keep it together when we were little. But I want you to know that it feels like a profound privilege to help take care of you now, to tell you that it is going to be okay, to tell you that I am sorry you can’t remember, and that I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel to not be able to take care of everyone and everything. I want to tell you that I see how hard you are trying. I have told you, of course, but you forget. I guess I should tell you every day for the rest of your life how much I love you and how grateful I am. I am not exaggerating when I say that I believe everything I am is because you believed in me. I wish I could take care of you in the way I know you wanted to take care of me as a child, reassuring me and giving me everything I need to feel safe as you rock me to sleep. Hush, hush. Hush.

Related: What this photo says about grief and a mother’s support

If you like the idea of telling a loved-one’s story (like my mom and I did) or your own, download my all-time favorite question prompts here:

Rhonda Lauritzen, Founder and Writer

Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments. She and her husband Milan restored an old Victorian in Ogden and work together in Evalogue.Life, weaving family and business together.

 

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8 thoughts on “On gradually losing my mom: She is the sea and she says hush, hush, hush

  • November 19, 2017 at 9:09 pm
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    Rhonda, this is some of your best yet. Don’t be afraid, I know you better for it, and that is the goal!

    Reply
    • November 20, 2017 at 7:05 pm
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      John thank you so much. Your comment and encouragement means a great deal to me, especially as I felt out of the comfort zone to publish an unfiltered and unedited piece. That said, it was also liberating to let go and let the fingers fly. Your note helps me believe in the magic.

      Reply
  • November 20, 2017 at 8:02 am
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    Rhonda, thank you for the outpouring of your soul, beautifully written from the heart. Sometimes the perfect words just come and we must leave them as is, unedited and pure. You were inspired when you wrote this and there are moments when this happens and it is best to leave it alone. This piece touched my heart as I too, take care of my mom in her aging years. Beautiful! Thank you!

    Reply
    • November 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm
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      Thank you, Claudia. You know those feelings well of caring for your mom and wishing you could make everything okay for her. As a fellow writer, I also appreciate your encouragement. It felt liberating to just let fingers fly on this one, courtesy of our Richard Paul Evans writing group!

      Reply
  • December 5, 2017 at 1:11 pm
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    This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal experience. I lost my mom two years ago to cancer, and I remember the point when I stopped praying that the chemo would work and she would get better and started praying “Just let her go so she can be herself again.” It’s hard, but I consistently feel that she is happy now. ❤️

    Reply
    • December 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm
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      Jennifer, so you have been there. I am sorry you lost your mom so young. Thank you for sharing your experience and for taking a minute to connect about this.

      Reply
  • December 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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    Oh this brought me to tears. So beautifully written and yet heartbreaking at the same time. X

    Reply
    • December 5, 2017 at 3:10 pm
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      Sophie, thank you for your kind comment. Yes, it was very emotional for me to write, but I do remind myself that even as hard as it is now, I’m one of the luckiest girls on Earth to have been born to my mom.

      Reply

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