Words of Encouragement #86: Golden Oldies, Golden Memories

Picture of Chelsi, Her Mom and Her Child at the Carnival Hosted by Her Mom's Assisted Living Facility

Golden Oldies, Golden Memories

by Chelsi Bisbey

When we walked into my mom’s assisted living facility during their spring family carnival, I caught a glimpse of her on the patio before she saw us. She was listening to the live band and mouthing every word to the old Del Shannon song, “Runaway.” She was smiling and her eyes were bright with excitement. I could see that she was relishing the familiarity of the music.

In the weeks leading up to the carnival, Mom’s FTD dealt us several devastating blows: First, our names gradually started making fewer appearances in her conversation, and soon after, she stopped referring to us by name at all. When we visited our family over the holidays, she didn’t recognize her hometown, and despite her lifelong love of being a mother, she became confused about whether she had other children, or if I had more than one child. I felt helpless watching her try to fill the void created by her memory loss as she grasped for names and people that did not exist. So, when I saw her on the patio that day, tapping her hands to the beat, and mouthing the lyrics of a song she knew every word to, it felt like a victory. See, FTD! You haven’t taken it all!

Throughout my childhood, my mom played and sang for me the music of her youth. The Shirelles, the Drifters, and the Carpenters were the soundtrack of our lives. She played the Four Seasons on the way to swim practice, the Everly Brothers on the drive to Granny’s, the Chiffons when we had heartaches, and Lesley Gore for trips to the grocery store. I felt so rebellious the day I convinced my mom to risk ruining her carefully teased, sprayed, and feathered bangs by rolling down the windows in our blue Chrysler minivan, and cranking up “You Don’t Own Me” on our way to buy cereal and bread for the week ahead. Fake microphones in hand, we laughed and sang along together, an ordinary trip to the grocery store transformed into a star-studded performance.

Lately, those golden oldies have helped me to recognize and remember my mom for who she is, at a time when her disease can often make us feel more like strangers. Listening to “our music” helps me to relive the memories, and recall the special nuances of her energy, joy, and vibrancy at a time when her disease has taken much of that away. On the patio that day, singing along to Del Shannon, it felt like old times together singing in the car – my mom back at the age that I am now, her daughter riding shotgun, trying to learn the words. And still, this memory is bittersweet, because even though reminiscing about good times with my mom brings me joy, it is quickly followed by feelings of resentment toward FTD and all that it has taken from us. Ugh! FTD even makes beautiful memories feel sad. 

FTD condemns my mom and me to two separate worlds: My mom doesn’t know herself because she can’t remember the past, and I, her caregiver, can only remember her by recalling the past. To find hope, I meet her in the present moment. When I see my mom on the patio singing and smiling, after I relive the joy of the memory it connects me to, and after I feel the sting of grief because she can’t share the memory with me, I have to return to the present moment to share and enjoy experiences with my mom.

And that’s exactly what I do. I head out to the patio, I join in the singing, I soak up the sunshine of the carnival, and I enjoy our time together, authentically. I appreciate the moment for what it is – not what it was in the past, and not what it could have been, if not for FTD. The present is where my mom and I forge our connection now.

 

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