Editor’s Note: Judy Prescott’s mother, Cecy, died right before publication of this essay, on Monday, May 14, 2012. We send Judy and her entire family our deepest sympathy for their loss.
After compiling my book, Searching For Cecy: Reflections on Alzheimer’s, I thought, “Okay, you’ve dealt with it, it’s all there, time to move on.” I wanted to believe I had achieved the elusive closure I so desperately desired.
I had chronicled my mother Cecy’s journey into early-onset Alzheimer’s disease through a series of poems written over an eight-year period, matched with artwork contributed by four talented family artists.
What I didn’t know at the time was that, closure or no closure, this was the beginning of a life-changing journey for me as well as for Mom. I see now that this unsolicited adventure with Cecy has helped me to grow in important ways while continually testing my mettle.
When I discovered that the mother I had known all these years was about to skid off an icy cliff into a slow-motion free fall, I didn’t think I had the stuff. Ironically, I needed my Mom to turn to for advice.
She disappears before me,
Silently slipping into a realm
In which I don’t figure,
Quietly busying herself with
New vistas, devoid of reason.
If she cannot know me
Do I exist?
My history is erased systematically,
As each neuron misfires
And no longer seeks its intended connection.
As the night rain displaces
The dust of daily life,
So am I displaced,
Destined to build my own boat
And sail to higher ground.
Cecy lived in Maine and I live in Los Angeles where I work as an actress. It has been a constant challenge for me to balance my life as a long-distance caregiver. My commitment to Mom’s care, despite my best effort, had never felt like enough.
Up until the time of my daughter’s birth, I traveled once every month or two to be with Cecy. I needed to see for myself that she was safe from the everyday dangers that she could fall prey to.
The fears Cecy experienced in the early stages of the disease were increasingly paralyzing for her. Every time I left to fly back to my work and family, I felt as if I were leaving a small child unattended.
Early one morning, as I left for the airport, Cecy knelt down, clinging to my knees in her white nightgown crying, “Please don’t leave me…I never intended to be alone!” It was this image that prompted me to take action and move her into assisted living, the single most difficult thing I have done in my life. Forcing Mom to leave what little she did remember and adjust to a complete unknown seemed a cruel injustice.
After years of helping Cecy transition into increased levels of care, I realized that it was time I stopped trying to control her life. Not a small task. When we are presented with a challenge like Alzheimer’s, it can bring out the worst in us. We so desperately fight to control a situation that is entirely out of our hands.
I had to face the stark reality that others were capable of caring for Cecy as well or better than I could. The underlying truth that I was running away from was that Mom didn’t necessarily need me anymore. I had to put my own fragile ego aside and learn to let go in order to properly honor her journey.
Sometimes it’s better to loosen
the spring line
and let her
If the storm is that great,
why keep her tethered,
battering herself to pieces
at the dock?
Let her go.
Watch her float peacefully away
under a grey and turbulent sky.
A last grand sail into
whatever lies beyond.
A graceful exit from all things
measured and charted.
I release you.
I learned to quietly step into Cecy’s world and, in turn, leave all of our shared history behind me. I chose to live in the moment with Mom and no longer attempt to pull her back into my reality where she was uncomfortable and confused.
Doing so allowed me to discover new aspects of Cecy’s beauty and strength each time I saw her. Mom could no longer communicate with me in the way that I had grown accustomed to, yet we continued to connect on a meaningful level.
I learned to see with new eyes and listen more deeply.
There is a level of vibration,
Voice to ear,
That surpasses all obstruction.
An echo of synapse and bone
That leaps the highest hurdle
A sonorous “yes”
To a life
That is quietly failing.
The sounding hum
Of a love
While I thought it was closure I needed when I set out to write Searching For Cecy, it appears I was off track. The twelve-year journey with Mom brought me closer to her than I ever imagined I could be.
Alzheimer’s taught me to experience life more fully, listening in a new way. I never would have guessed that this disease would offer me the gift of a new beginning, but I’ll take it.
I saw in Cecy’s eyes that she had found peace. Now it is time for me to do the same.
Closure? No, thank you. I found the courage to keep the conversation going.