As another Mother’s Day and my mother’s 79th birthday rolls around I am inspired to write a little dedication to my mother: Mary Patricia Ann Ritcey Jourdain. This beautiful woman now lives in long term care because of dementia. I write in appreciation and gratitude for all she means to me because of what she has made possible in the shifting shape of my life.
When I was a baby, my mother took me in. I didn’t know this until recent years and not until after dementia had already significantly impacted her, but she loved me like her own – because to her I was her own, even if she wasn’t the one who actually gave birth to me.
She loves me so fiercely she was afraid to tell me this little bit about my life story. And I certainly felt like I belonged, even in those teenage years when I wished I was adopted so I could escape the craziness of our family dynamics to some idealized dream family – which I didn’t actually think existed but now that I know they do, I know it’s also not an idealized dream family but real people with their own crazy family dynamics and stories. It’s good my mother wrapped me in her warm embrace and shepherded me into life.
My mother had the gift of gab. She could talk to anyone about anything, no matter who they were. And in the summers when we brought guests aboard the Bluefin, my dad’s pride and joy, my mother had a storehouse of knowledge about just about every home you could see from the water and every island we cruised by. She didn’t like being on the water so much, but she loved being the social director.
When I was younger, I didn’t really appreciate her gift of gab. I may, I hesitate to say, have even been a bit embarrassed by it. But as I grew older and found myself in situations where the ability to make small talk would have come in handy, I grew to appreciate what I now understand as a gift and wished I had the same capacity.
My mother only learned to cook when she married my father. I definitely heard the stories about not even being able to boil water. She became a pretty decent cook, except for when she wasn’t paying attention – Harlequin Romances were usually the culprit and sometimes it was Another World. There was more than one burned dinner in our household when I was growing up. Somehow that motivated me to learn how to cook and my mother gave me free reign to cook and bake as much as I wanted. To this day, I love cooking and baking. I find it relaxing to cook for a large crew of people.
She was, thankfully, an adamant voice when I considered whether I should actually go to University because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I went and I never looked back.
Over the years, as I got married and had children, my mother showed up more than once when I called. When I was nine months pregnant with my second child and my husband and I both came down with flu and couldn’t take care of our toddler, she came, tended us, made chicken soup and watched our son.
When I was traveling and needed a hand with the kids, she showed up. When I moved – both with and without my husband, she was there. Never any questions or judgment when I got married or when I divorced. Just always there.
She had a way of unobtrusively lending a hand. She never got in the way, she just started helping out. This is a gift I really appreciated as I saw other people clumsily get in the way even when trying not to while my mother just began to do what needed doing, gracefully and easily.
She was amazingly resourceful, resilient and always cheerful. She loved the few years she worked as a waitress or host in several different places during the summer months. She could regale friends and strangers with her stories as if they happened yesterday.
She doesn’t tell her stories anymore. Even before she went into long term care on July 2, 2008 she was losing her capacity to string thoughts and sentences together.
The hardest thing we ever did as a family was sign the admittance papers that turned Harbourview Haven into her home, what will be her last place of residence. At first, we could take her out for little trips. We even brought her to my home for Christmas Dinner that first year. But it wasn’t long before taking her out was just too difficult for her.
She went from walking to sitting in a wheelchair, using the wheelchair to motor around the dementia ward to moving less and less.
My mother, who never let me sleep in, now refuses to get out of bed a lot of mornings – making up for lost time maybe. She never complains – and almost never did – although she’s been known to suggest that maybe some people should be thrown out the window! Sometimes I think dementia removed a filter, allowing her inside voice to become an outside voice, maybe giving her freedom to say things she would have been horrified to say pre-dementia.
I have written before about my mother’s situation and only being able to understand it through the perspective of soul journey. I feel that even more so now. What I know is that even though she doesn’t talk much and her thoughts seem all jumbled and incoherent, she brightens up when she sees people she has known and loves. It takes a bit longer these days but it still happens. She still knows what she wants and is adamant about it. She’s on a bit of a hunger strike at the moment – not likely a conscious one – but she is refusing to eat. I have no doubt she wants to be acknowledged for her choices. She does accept the milkshakes they give her full of the nutrients she needs to sustain her physical body.
For her birthday and Mother’s Day, I can’t really offer her the kinds of gifts that would have excited and delighted her in the past. Opening presents, which use to be a much anticipated delight, has no meaning for her now. When I see things that I know my mother would have liked, I also recognize that as a memory and an honouring of my mother more than as a gift to buy.
My mother’s world has shrunk dramatically and she has too. She has lost much of her vibrancy and joy in life and her ability to comfort others. But she’s still a human being. She’s in her journey, in her way, in her soul’s calling and I would only be fooling myself if I didn’t recognize that she is in a transition from he vitality of a full life to what’s behind the veil. The rest of her will catch up when the timing is right.
She is still a person. She is still loved. She is still my mother even though our relationship has shifted yet again into a next phase – as has been happening over the whole course of my lifetime. Even when the rest of her passes beyond the veil, she’ll still be my mother and she’ll still be loved – remembered for this most amazing journey she stepped into 79 years ago. Who knew where it would lead but thank goodness she was here for me because who knows where I would be if it weren’t for her.