then I touch her hands
This person is unmistakably my mother
By Golnar Fozi
May 10, 2003
She is not a burden at all. Maybe she is a weight on my mind,
a sad blot on my consciousness, and maybe she has been that for
several years now. Alright, she was an emotional burden for the
time she lived with me as she was crossing over to the advanced
stages of Alzheimer's and wandering away in the middle of
the night, but even then, she was the most accommodating, most sweet-natured
dementia patient you could ever ask for.
But now she is living at Arbor House, an assisted care place fifteen
minutes from me, light as a feather on my weekly schedule, barely
exerting any pressure at all on me as I come and go, day after day,
between home, the office, the courthouse, the grocery store, and
my son's school. No, she is not a burden at all.
What is it about a healthy brain, some two pounds and seven tenths
of good gray matter that makes us who we are? How can invisible
plaques forming at the cortical level destroy us? My mother used
to be a whole human being. She cooked, baked, took care of many
people; she cried and laughed out loud; she told jokes and gave
She was always overweight, full of energy, game for a good time
and a good laugh. My mother's hands used to be a little chubby.
Her fingers were long and elegant, but never thin. Her rings were
always sized large, so large that even as a grown woman I could
fit those rings around my thumbs. Her hands were covered by very
delicate, almost electrically charged skin that never creased.
My mother is so thin right now that her hands are nearly flat.
The skin, though, still has that electrical charge, which nowadays
is the only feature recognizably hers. I look at this stranger with
hallow cheeks, vacant eyes, snow white hair, thin of limbs and twisted
of neck, and I hardly know her.
But then I touch her hands, and a bolt of recognition charges through
me, from my hands up to my elbows, up to my shoulders, splitting
off at my neck to course up and down my body, one set to my toes
that curl right away with sadness, and another up to my brain stem,
into the emotional cortex of my brain. Now I see that I am in the
presence of my mother.
Where in our brains do our memories lay down? What is it about
our memories that enable us to function as capable, sentient beings?
My mother has forgotten how to eat-- an instinctive act, one would
believe. She has forgotten how to open her mouth, take in a bite
a food, chew and swallow, but instinctively she remembers how a
lady is supposed to sit. To this day, addled and demented as she
is, when she sits in her chair, she crosses her left leg over her
right leg, and daintily straightens the hem of her dress to cover
She takes my breath away. She makes me want to yelp with joy, pump
my fist into the air, and shout: "Yes! The plaques can't take
everything away, Sister!" I control my urges to shout and allow
them to well up in my eyes and stretch my facial muscles into a
smile, as I look at this lady of character, this person unmistakably
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