Nov 30, 2013

Christmas Magic Is Returning Through Mom’s Spirit

The idea of even opening the too numerous to count boxes of Mom’s hand crafted ornaments and stockings had me in tears.

By Elaine C. Pereira
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

My mom was an amazing woman.

I was incredibly fortunate to be her daughter, a fact I clearly did not appreciate during my feisty teenage period.

But except for a few ugly years of my mouthy disrespect when she couldn’t do anything right, Mom and I were best friends!


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My mother was truly one of a kind: a petite, poised, beautiful lady with a hint of rebel spirit thrown in. In the shadows of World War II, she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in chemistry and later a Masters in education.

Mom made Christmas magical for the family. Long held holiday traditions from the past were preserved and new ones added resulting in a dazzling Christmas season extravaganza including cookie baking, tree decorating, personalized Christmas cards and much more.

Later Mom expanded her talents and mastered the precise arts of cross-stitch, Hardanger, Black Work and other breathtaking hand skills. Every Christmas, she produced a new ornament design more incredible than the ones of the previous holiday.

After her granddaughters were born, my mother made meticulously detailed (a little ornate for my taste, but nevertheless exquisite) Christmas stockings. 

Virtually our entire tree was adorned with beautifully detailed hand crafted trimmings Mom had made.

At fifteen feet high with a gazillion little lights and Mom’s dazzling adornments, the tree seemed to come alive!

I Will Never Forget

Alzheimer’s Wrath

My mother had a devastating year in 2004 with the passing of both my dad my brother. It was then that she started coming to my house every year at Christmastime.

Mom enjoyed a few great years before symptoms of Dementia rapidly exploded into debilitating Alzheimer’s Disease and victimized her persona.

Alzheimer’s transformed her once kind, tolerant nature into one of agitation, confusion and hostility. There were times I didn’t even recognize her. Mom’s strained facial expressions communicated terror and bewilderment as her warm smile evaporated under Dementia’s demonic spell.

In July 2011, I got the anticipated but dreaded phone call alerting me that Mom was fading quickly from Alzheimer’s Disease!

No matter how “expected” it was, seeing Mom after her last breath, caressing her ashen cheeks and squeezing Mom’s still hands, are indelible memories I will never forget.

The first several weeks after Mom died were a completely surreal fog. I only remember thinking how bizarre it felt to be orphaned as both brothers and my parents were gone!

Gradually summer faded into fall and the crisp mornings triggered thoughts of the impending holiday season.

The idea of even opening the too numerous to count boxes of Mom’s hand crafted ornaments and stockings had me in tears. 

I knew I couldn’t withstand the emotions of decorating for Christmas and the traditions it held.

My motto became “anywhere but here” (home). I literally did a “180” and traveled to sunny Florida from snowy Michigan with my husband for both emotional and physical distance.

We were literally “those weird people” on Christmas Eve at the local bar watching professional football on the big screen.

It felt both bizarre and emotionally a relief. I wondered how many other people escaped their painful realities during lonely or depressing periods. I said a silent prayer for everyone like me.

The next Christmas in 2012 was better but we still opted to travel abroad. Before we left though, I noticed how the neighborhood glowed at night bedazzled in twinkling lights. I felt a tinge of nostalgia; it was strangely comforting.

This year is different! 

I have finally broken free of the grief that held me captive.

I’m sure the arrival of my 3 grandkids has helped. Their bubbly excitement has rapidly mended my wounded heart. Eyes wide, they delighted in unboxing, unwrapping, touching and twirling each precious ornament that Mom’s slender hands had once assembled.

I could feel my mother’s spirit as we decorated the tree, looking down on us from heaven smiling in delight and love for all. My grandchildren carefully stood on their tiptoes to pass up to me their treasures to hang, all Mom made.

My mother is free of Alzheimer’s clutches and her real essence has returned!

She has been reunited “with her boys” in heaven, her infant son killed in a devastating car accident, my older brother and my dad. I feel less of an orphan now that my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids are back home after several years overseas.

In a fascinating twist of irony, my brother, dad and mom’s personalized Christmas stockings are now adorned with the three grandkids’ names.

Mom had left the exact color of floss, letter chart and specific instructions that I should remove their respective names in thread and replace them with the names of the little ones!

It’s so her to have thought and planned that far ahead!

+Elaine Pereira   is a retired school occupational therapist who worked with special needs children. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Wayne State University and later completed her master’s degree. Pereira and her husband live in Michigan. Elaine is the author of -- I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia
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