Excerpt from FOR THE DAUGHTERS, a memoir

by Christine Jarvis, Learner, Writing Workshops

I made two rules when Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed: my mother and our home would not smell, and my mother would know beyond doubt that she was safe and loved every minute of her life to the end of that life. Our journey was a short one – only three years from diagnosis to death. This is one of the stops on our journey.
* * *
I have two kitchen specialties: phone out or defrost and serve. Tonight it’s cook-from-frozen breaded sole and Parisienne carrots, and packaged Creamy Bacon Carbonara pasta. Mom calls it gourmet cooking when I serve it in the white Corning Ware dishes.

“I want to thank you. That was a lovely dinner!” she says in her Lady of the Manor voice. She goes behind her chair and stoops to pick up her shoes tucked under the sewing-machine. They have never been just shoes, of course, but always “my-good-black-shoes.”

“I don’t like to eat and run, but it’s getting dark outside. I’d better go home now. My mother worries if I’m not home before dark.”

I used to say, angrily, “You are home and you’re eighty-two and your mother is long dead!” and march her down the hall to the bedroom she has slept in almost every night for over 30 years. Then, as my knowledge of this foul disease grew, I progressed to “I phoned your mother and she says it’s okay for you to stay here tonight.”

Not a lie, but just…entering into the other’s reality.

That works for a time, but I begin to suspect that the desperate, aching need to “go home” has nothing to do with any physical place. She has no idea where she is when she is sitting in her own chair in the living-room. “Take me home” really means “take me back to a time when I know who I am and life makes sense.”

If I could do that, we’d both go.

Most importantly, I see the impact of the forgetting. Each time I say “your mother is dead,” her face crumples and the tears come, as if she is hearing the news for the first time. I am inflicting a blow to the head and a knife to the heart, over and over and over again. How very cruel we can be until we understand.

Tonight I say, “You get your shoes, Mom, and I’ll put the kettle on. After we have a nice cup of tea we’ll get you home.”

By the time we finish our tea she’s ready to take off her shoes and relax. She pads down the hall to her bedroom and gets into her nightgown. I help her into bed, tuck in the blankets, and she sighs contentedly.

Home safe! Be sure to tell my mother I was in before dark,” she says.

She buries her nose under the covers and is sleeping before I leave the room.

I go back to the living-room and tuck the good-black-shoes under the sewing-machine for next time.

Christine’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online writing workshop on intermediate short fiction: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level II’ (CWWR 411).

One Comment to “Excerpt from FOR THE DAUGHTERS, a memoir”

  1. wow amazing

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