May 17, 2015

If Everyone Goes to Heaven I'll Stay Here

My wonderful mother Jean, age 96, passed away in April after a long and fulfilling life. Her death was unexpected, quick and painless—just as she would have wanted.

If Everyone Goes to Heaven I'll Stay Here | Alzheimer's Reading Room

On the subject of heaven she was conflicted.
 “If everyone who says they are going to heaven does, it will be too crowded. I’ll stay here.” 
But then, I would suggest that if there were a heaven, Dad was up there building her a boat. “When you arrive, Dad will take you on a cruise.” “Now you’re talking!” she would exclaim with a big smile.

*Marilyn Raichle writes at The Art of Alzheimer’s – How Mother Forgot Nearly Everything and Began to Paint  — a blog about her mother Jean whose glorious art illuminates a simple truth —  those with Alzheimer’s and dementia are still here — living lives of dignity, creativity and joy. Marilyn is currently developing an art exhibit: Changing the Way We Think about Alzheimer’s — One Painting at a Time.
By Marilyn Raichle
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Over the course of 14 years, Mom lived with Alzheimer’s and I was incredibly lucky to have been with her for the final miles. Once I got past the stage of wanting my mommy back, and feeling sad that she was changing, I found the keys to her new life.

Enjoy real time—where there are no regrets and no worries— just the moment. And Mom filled those moments with grace, humor and charm. It was really quite relaxing to join her there.

Being there—the ability to just sit with her and share her marvel at the world. We talked about anything she found interesting and as she tended to ask the same questions again and again, it became a game to think up different answers. She thought a lot about the future—what Seattle would look like in 50 years. “If I’m not here, you can come up to heaven and tell me what it’s like.”

Play—She loved Scrabble and we were fierce competitors. “I’m going to beat you at Scrabble,” I would announce as I set out the board. She would stick out her chin and say with a grin, “Well, I wouldn’t want to make you cry.” As her dementia progressed, she became unable to form words, so we sang the alphabet song and counted—making sure she always had seven tiles in her tray.

We sang. I would start the song but Mom would invariably finish it as the lyrics returned to her. We recited nursery rhymes—again with the first words prompting total recall. We played catch with her stuffed animals. We played with pop-up books. We marched. We played pool.

She painted, amazing everyone with her talent and whimsy and inspiring a short film, an Emmy Award winning news story, and in January of 2016, a major art exhibition that really will Change the Way We Think about Alzheimer’s—One Painting at a Time.

Alzheimer’s didn’t rob my mother of who she was—it distilled it.

And though Mom is gone—hopefully on that grand cruise with Dad—I am still a part of her family in Supported Living. My visits to my 6 adopted mothers and their wonderful caregivers fill me with peace and joy.

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