Seeing with New Eyes

IMG_2892It’s been remarkably easy for me to spend time with Mom lately. Last week my sister and I took her to Dalton, Georgia, her home of forty years, and she got to visit colleagues and friends from her career as a college professor. She was her old self, chatting with people, hugging everyone she saw, basking in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

I loved seeing her in her element. Moving to Atlanta was Mom’s choice, but it came with a downside. She left a community rich in shared experiences, a community of people who knew her in her prime and who still adore her.

I don’t say this lightly. Mom had a gift for reaching out to people and helping them over life’s hurdles with grace, dignity and humor. She taught math, tutored struggling math students, led a book study group on spiritual topics, and participated meaningfully in her church. If you needed help, any kind of help, she was there for you. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity got a street named for her, okay? She was that kind of person.

She still is that kind of person. She just has dementia, so it’s harder for her to express her generous spirit. She can’t drive to the group foster home to help teenage girls conquer math. She can’t deliver Meals on Wheels or volunteer at the Food Bank. She can’t even host a bridge club.

And she’s living far from the people who remember her most vital days. In Atlanta, she’s one of many old people who have moved here to be closer to their children. In Dalton, she’s a matriarch.

It was good to be reminded of her old self. The trip back home put a sparkle in her eye and a new vision in mine. I see more clearly that she’s still in there, despite her cognitive setbacks. Dementia can seem like a second childhood, but my mother is still an adult, loved and honored by the community she served. Nice to see you, Mom.

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