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But then I touch her hands
This person is unmistakably my mother

By Golnar Fozi
May 10, 2003
The Iranian

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 advice.

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 her knees.

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 my mother.

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By Golnar Fozi





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