My Mother’s Only Son
I am my mother’s only son. I’m also “the baby” – the youngest of three children. My older sisters have almost certainly referred to me as “The Anointed One” somewhere along the line. Right smack in the middle of the quarter year that started yesterday, I will turn 40 years old. That’s 40 years of being my mother’s favorite son.
A couple of months ago, Mom, now 69, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While this did not come as a total shock to anyone in our family, as there have been subtly increasing memory issues for quite some time now, it was the first time that a doctor had specifically used “the A-word.” This was particularly devastating for my dad, who “looked like he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him” according to my sister, who was in the room at the time.
For me, the decline of Mom’s memory has been less obvious than for the rest of my family. You see, I live 600 miles away from “home”, and am lucky to see my parents twice a year. Over the past few years, when I have been able to spend any time with her, part of it has always been spent trying to stealthily analyze where she stands. It’s been at least a year since I prepped my kids about what to do when Grandma asks you the same question more than once. “Just answer the question again.”
Reality hit me the hardest when I went home over Labor Day Weekend. We were at my parents’ church on Sunday morning. Dad was introducing me to someone. As the small talk ensued, I could see Mom as I looked between Dad and his friend, about 15 feet behind them. She was standing at the name tag table and she looked confused. As she caught my eye, being the sarcastic, always-ready-with-a-joke kind of guy that I am, I said (rather loudly), “It’s spelled M-a-r-c-u-s!” No response. When I made my way over to the name tag table to help her, what I saw nearly crushed me. Mom truly was confused about the spelling of my name. The name that she had given me 40 years ago. The name that she had called out so many times over the years (often along with my middle name, for emphasis), when I had misbehaved.
The name tag looked a lot like the image on this page. I will never know which was her first instinct – a “c” or a “k” – but she had tried it both ways. It was then that I realized what a long and trying road lies ahead.
We spent part of that weekend watching old home movies from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Dad had recently had them transferred from Super 8 to DVD. Mom was rattling off names of neighbors from 40 years ago like they still lived right down the street. That was encouraging. But the little daily details would soon fail her, and she often can’t tell you what day it is.
She cried when I hugged and kissed her at the airport. It’s not the first time she’s done that, but something was different. She held me a little tighter and a little longer. I think she knows that a part of her is slipping away – that a part of her world is slipping away. I truly hate that for her, and for me.
I love you, Mom. I pray, of course, for many, many more years of life with you. I hope you will see my kids graduate from high school. And college. I hope you get to hear yourself referred to as “Great Grandma.” I just want to thank you now, while I’m almost certain that you truly hear me. I don’t care how you spell my name. My name isn’t who I am. Who I am, and always will be, is your son.