This post was originally posted on 8/16/09. I am reposting it in tribute to my mother today for Mother’s Day. My mother’s illness has progressed since this writing, and she is much more incapacitated than she was at that time. But the sentiments and spirit of the post are the same. God bless everyone afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, and those who care for a loved one with the illness. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to bond more deeply with my mother during this challenging part of our lives.
Update: My mother, Chris Boatright, passed away in her sleep on 5/16/11. It was a peaceful end to a long journey.
The Cat Who Captured a Soul
We often use the words, “awful”, “sad”, tragic”, “horrible disease”, etc. when we talk about Alzheimer’s Disease. I don’t.
My life has been significantly altered by Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2004, it became clear that my mother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s, and I moved her to Ohio from her beloved Houston, TX. She was not happy with the move, but ever the resilient phoenix, she adjusted. Having her as a more active part of my life and being responsible for her care were adjustments for me as well.
My mother lived in an independent living facility for four years until she needed a higher level of care and was moved to a nursing home in 2008. Her constant companion, Kitty Kat Who (named after the Lillian Jackson Braun murder mystery series) lived with her for those four years until the move to the nursing home. Kitty Kat Who came to live with me and my three cats. Until today, Mama and “Who” had not seen each other since their moves to different homes.
Today, they were reunited for a brief moment.
After researching ideas for a commissioned artwork for an Alzheimer’s organization, I spontaneously decided to bring my mother to my art studio for the first time ever, and I brought her beloved kitty in to visit. I wasn’t sure what would happen.
The look on my mother’s face and her utterance of “MY KITTY!” when she saw her cat assured me that she clearly recognized him. And despite the fact that he was completely disoriented by being in a new place, he warmed to her instantly. He endured holding and petting from her that he will not allow me even when he is comfortable. I was nothing short of amazed.
I guess, it makes sense, though. I have always been amazed by my mother. She has always been my idol.
Despite the fact that she had a difficult childhood, experienced unfulfilled dreams of being great at SOMETHING, and fell into motherhood without really having a calling for it, she always found a way to come out on top. She was intelligent, creative and gifted in social exchanges–all the things I wanted to be.
Motherhood was not easy on her or her three children. But she succeeded despite herself. Two of her offspring have raised amazing children of their own, and all have excelled in their respective careers.
Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease, and I feel strongly that further research is needed to combat it at every level. That said, I do not believe that we should write off those who are coping with it, and surviving it, as lost souls in the twilight of their lives.
My mother is a vibrant and active individual. She goes through the routines of her day as she struggles to cope with the daily challenges before her. Although often nonsensical, she converses with others and engages in social interaction at every possible opportunity. She is vulnerable, and she is afflicted. But she has dignity, and she has purpose. And most days, she has peace.
My mother has lost much. She no longer has the intellect she once had, and her memory is a wash. Although still very social, she lacks the grace and instinct she once had in conversational banter. Once very adventurous in creative activity, she now gets anxious and frustrated whenever I seek to engage her in some artistic activity.
But my mother is not defined by what she has lost. We are all defined by what we have gained, and what we have maintained, but most of all, what we have passed on to others.
My mother has passed on a lot to my siblings and me. A love for animals. A love for intellect. A love for creativity. A love for life.
Loss is inconsequential in the face of such gain.
I do not know if I will bring my mother back to the studio again to see her kitty. Such trips away from her home can be hard on her. Bringing them back together for this one moment, though, reminded me of how animals can bring us back to the most important parts of our being. They touch our souls in a way that cannot be forgotten.
There is ugliness in Alzheimer’s Disease, but there is also beauty. I thank my mother and her cat for helping me see the beauty today.
My mother is no longer able to visit Kitty Kat Who and has not seen him since this story was written. It will forever be one of the most special moments of my life. In homage, I am having a portrait of Kitty Kat Who created by an artist friend to go in her room. Thank you to those currently caring for my mother and to all of those who have cared for her in the past. You are all angels to my mother and I.