Small achievements, great joys

At this time of year, the shadow of dread touches me at least as often as signs of seasonal happiness. Yes, I am grateful that my mother has made it through another year. But I never know if she’ll actually understand what’s going on or be touched by things that once made her holidays joyful.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Lately she’s had me worried because, on most days, her speech is nearly incomprehensible. Sometimes I ask myself how she can go on when it’s obvious the jumble in her brain keeps her from saying a clear word. But this week something amazing happened. It wasn’t exactly a Christmas miracle — just one of those strange events that melts your heart and fills your eyes with tears.

The leader at her activity program organized an evening bus trip to take Mom and her fellow dementia sufferers out to see a giant display of Christmas lights. I tried to do something similar with her last year but it didn’t turn out well. She could barely get into the car and seemed more uncomfortable than impressed, even as we passed sparkling trees and store fronts. Fortunately, her program director had a minibus with large windows and good visibility which probably made the difference. Plus, the lights they saw were part of an enormous outdoor show at Shady Brook Farm.  Every arrangement was on a huge scale that made lights visible to even the weakest eyes. The farm also featured young students playing holiday music, a double trigger (kids+music) for my mom.

The day after their trip, Mom stood with me as I heard more details from the activity director. We were both surprised when Mom started to talk and told us how much she loved the tour. She shocked us by speaking in complete sentences and knowing that the trip was “yesterday.” “Yes-ter-day” — repeated the activity director, right along with me. “Yes-ter-day,” said Mom, again.  It was the first time in ages she’d held onto a memory for 24 hours. Like a sentimental mother hearing her child speak new words, I could barely keep from crying. I was so proud of her, so delighted by the deep impact of the trip.

I know I can’t hope this will happen often — or ever again. But for that one moment, her sentence spoke volumes to me, words I will never forget.

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