It still happens weekly. She catches my eye. I see the short, beautiful white hair, the petite build, and I gasp. I recognize her. I know her. But then, after a longer look, I am plunged back into reality.
I see this woman taking walks, in the store, and just the other day, in a bar. Walking was and still is her thing, so that mistake is almost understandable. But a bar? She was never one to frequent bars. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s not her.
Despite the fact that my mom has been in a facility for years due to her battle with Alzheimer’s disease, something in me holds on to the woman I once knew. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s habit, because it sure isn’t hope. There is no going back from her disease.
When I see her “imposters,” I tend to gasp and have uncontrollable feelings of happiness and recognition. They are the sort of feelings you experience when you see a friend in an unexpected place. The quick feeling of joy and the slight adrenaline rush is quickly replaced with disappointment, sadness, and also a feeling of internal embarrassment.
Embarrassed because I have continually let myself be tricked. Tricked in an instant, even though I am very aware of the reality. I live that reality every single day. The reality that she must be in a locked down unit for her safety. Although she loves to walk, she certainly won’t be seen walking the trail in Zionsville, where many times I thought I saw her. She walks only at the facility.
To be in public and have that happen is tough. It’s a burst of emotions that tie my mind and heart into knots of confusion. Each time it happens, I try to recover just as quickly as it happens. I immediately begin an interior dialogue as I wonder why it happened. I ask myself how I could think that was her when I know, in my mind and heart, that it isn’t, that it can’t be? The instant joy, followed by disappointment buoyed on a layer of confusion and sadness, is almost too much to take in and process in seconds. But I do it, every week, when I glance and see a person who I suppose for an instant to be Mom.
I have never told anyone that this happens. It is one more entry on a laundry list of strange things that happen as I try to deal with my mom’s disease. It is just another situation that sounds crazy if I try to explain it. Stranger still, I sometimes think that, even if those moments are too strange to be explained, maybe they are not entirely unwelcome. For even if each moment is fleeting, and is inevitably followed by disappointment, for that instant I am so happy and excited to see the mom I once knew. A walk in the park, a day of shopping, having a drink at a bar are everyday experiences that we take for granted. When I think I see Mom experiencing life in the ways that I know she would be, if she only could, rather than fearing my momentary confusion, perhaps I will learn to accept it as a gift of imagination. Time will tell.
But for now I will settle for holding her hand, taking her on a walk around the ward, and helping her drink her lemonade at lunch. These moments soon will be gone, too. Though these times are different from the times we could have had together, they are the moments I now have with my mom. These moments are real, and I must cherish each one.