Monday, April 29, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Mom, with her granddaughter, Kaitlin
I've been thinking about my Mom a lot lately. She suffered from vascular dementia for the last eight years of her life, and, as a result of her particular brain damage, she suffered from aphasia. Mom not only had trouble speaking in a coherent manner (called expressive aphasia), she also had extreme difficulty understanding when someone was speaking to her (called receptive aphasia). It made for some very lonely and frightening times for her, I think.

But, about halfway into her eight year illness, when she still had some ability (albeit corrupted) to communicate, she and Dad were out shopping and she saw this cute little stuffed animal. She insisted that they buy it for me because, "Cindy collects bears." (And I did, at one time, and had a number of them throughout my home that she had recently seen.)

When she handed the gift to me, in a bag, she said, with a huge smile on her face, "We bought you a bear." I reached in, pulled out the small bundle of softness, and looked down on a very cute, very orange, very stuffed cat. A tiger, to be exact.

The "bear"
"Thanks, Mom," I said, touched by her obvious pride in giving me the gift. "It's a very cute bear."

I hugged her, and then noticed that she had filled out the little gift tag that came attached to the "bear."

"To Lion," it said. "From Harold and me."

It made me cry. First, because it was such a stark visual sign of her mental decline. But then I also cried because it was such a sweet show of love that the words themselves didn't matter. The emotion and intent were there, and I could feel them.

She was so proud of this gift
I still have the stuffed "bear-cat." It often sits on my desk as I work, making me smile.

And it also gives me hope as my sister and I travel Dad's Alzheimer's journey with him. Hope that, even though Dad is losing his memories, somewhere inside he still knows that he's loved, and that he loves us, too.

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