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An afghan as a symbol of regret…
My husband noticed something was wrong.
At first I hesitated. Then I told him, “No, it’s stupid.”
“I can tell something is wrong, what is it?”
“You’re going to think this is stupid. Actually, it is stupid. Ridiculous… [long pause]
“… Last night, I dreamed of an afghan.”
Lest he think I meant an Afghan rather than the knitted blanket I envisioned, I hurriedly clarified:
“I have been thinking of the afghan I didn’t take from my mother’s house — and wishing I had. Last night, I dreamed that I got the afghan back; this morning, I awoke and found I hadn’t… It’s stupid. It’s just a thing. “
At that, I promptly burst into tears.
Back in November, when we’d cleaned out my mother’s house to prepare it for rental (to produce income for her stay at a memory care facility), I’d taken very little. Some photos and other memorabilia, some articles my mom had written, a few practical items — dishes and the like — and one of the two wool afghans my grandmother had knitted but were unraveling.
Not really wanting two unraveling, useless afghans merely for memory’s sake, I took my favorite — and left the other.
Days after my visit, spent boxing up my mom’s memorabilia and other possessions to distribute among my siblings, a housekeeper came in and sent the rest of my mother’s belongings — including the second wool afghan — to a charity to be sold. She cleaned the house and prepared it for rental; in January, a family moved in. My mother — memory impaired and unaware despite being told of the house being rented multiple times — still invites me to stay every time I visit her. She lives in a single room in a beautiful memory care facility — her home away from home, she believes, as she ministers to others while her own mental health improves.
It isn’t and won’t. For the past two months, every time I call my mother, she tells me about the “conspiracy” taking place in her facility. The first time she discussed this with me, she sounded so serious and distressed that I called the facility and contacted my siblings to make sure everything was OK. (I am her only child not living in her immediate vicinity.) The facility attributed Mom’s fallacy to the full moon present at the time; she was sitting in her walker near the main door of the facility trying to make her escape. My siblings said that all was normal and well.
The other times my mother has mentioned the “conspiracy,” she has discussed it jovially, with delight. I have ceased to be concerned, though it is disconcerting, and attribute this current perseveration to her illness.
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. While she has lived a full and productive life, at 82 she suffers from a hip that causes such pain it should be replaced. My siblings and I have decided, after learning that 90 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who undergo surgery never recover completely from the anesthesia, that my mom will have to live with the pain. Recently, the facility requested Depends, wipes, and gloves for Mom’s care. She has become incontinent and has thrown away most of her underwear.
Certainly, she is on my mind — along with the now-gone afghan.
It wasn’t until I had my favorite afghan in my possession that I learned my gym friend Connie would be able to repair it; she took it home on a Thursday and returned it on a Monday — perfect. I haven’t washed it; it still smells as it did when I was a child and my mother would bundle me beneath it when I was sick. It was a household item, not my personal belonging, but it provided the perfect weight and warmth needed when I had a fever to break. The two afghans together almost insured good health was just a few hours away; they certainly indicated my mother’s love for me — and her mother’s love for her, as my nana was the one who knitted them.
Before my mother’s mental condition deteriorated to the point that she needed 24-hour care, she remained in her home. I cannot count the number of times she asked me and my siblings to come to the house and “claim” what we wanted of her belongings. We came and put Post-It notes on a few items — the grandfather clock, the rocking chair, the ugly frog doorstop, the Santa Claus who resided on the toilet tank at Christmas, the spice cabinet — but most of the items remained unclaimed.
Maybe we undervalued her belongings. Maybe we thought it disrespectful to flock over “things.” Maybe we didn’t want to admit the severity of her illness. Maybe we didn’t recognize how important it was to her that we did this. The last “maybe” is what I regret most. I didn’t take Mom’s requests seriously — for whatever reason. I didn’t do the simple thing she asked; I didn’t recognize the importance for her in sharing her beloved possessions, in having closure before she left her home for the last time. I certainly hadn’t foreseen the value I’d find in some old afghans.
I have been regretting the loss of the second afghan since Connie repaired the first and returned it to me. It is spread over my bed and seems so beautiful to me; I breathe in its unique scent and remember my mom as she was in her prime… which lasted until just a few years ago, actually. Mom as my nurse, my hero, my spiritual leader, my best friend, my confidante, my adviser, my cheerleader.
When I call her, she no longer asks about my life. If I mention any of my children, she passes over the comments without interest — not because she is rude but because she no longer remembers. She still remembers me and seems delighted with my calls, but it is getting harder to make them. She fumbles about, trying to find the right words. She rambles on, thinking she is making sense when she isn’t. She thanks me for updating her on my family’s life when all I’ve done is listen. She doesn’t remember that I’ve called, and so every call is a huge delight that I am finally calling. In fact, I’m not sure calling benefits her at all. It doesn’t seem to benefit me; in fact, it hurts, as much as I try not to make a simple phone call about me.
I don’t know how much time my mother has left here. When I consider her pain — and her mental state now coupled with the indignity of incontinence — I hope it isn’t long for her sake. For my own, I wish she could live forever — healthy and whole.
The latest news — of Mom’s incontinence — makes me think I won’t be able to take her away from the facility for lunches or shopping or any other delights. (I am probably overreacting.) It seems my mom’s world gets smaller and smaller — and my world seems bleaker for her losses. For my loss of her.
I find myself clinging to my memories and those few cherished belongings, including the afghans — both the one I have and the one I don’t. They both tell a story; one reminds me of my mother in better times; the other reminds me of my regret — which challenges me to live better.
Both are a blessing.
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Your story touched me so much I’m crying like a baby… It all sounds so close, so familiar… I know with the distance it gets hard, but try to visit and enjoy her as much as you can (I’m sure you already do). And if she is not so good at listening about you, get her to talk about herself, when she was young, what it was like before… She will enjoy your company and your calls – even if these break your heart… And hopefully there won’t be too many afghans lost to regret….. Thanks for such a beautiful post…. (Still crying…)
Thanks so much! I wanted to reply but thought I would call my mom first. Today she is consumed with R.C Sproul and his teachings from the Bible. No mention of a conspiracy theory though she did tell me she was going to walk to my house if she could find no other way. (And she said she was surrounded by ancient people, which I found humorous… and wanted to know if I was talking about people or animals when I mentioned my children.) Bizarre but lovely and still a blessing to hear her voice.
Amen! I am finding that time with my mom and other loved ones is passing too quickly. Sometimes I forget to live in the now. I believe it was Jim Elliot who once said, “Wherever you are, be all there…” I don’t want to live in regret. Or in the past. Or in the future. I want to fully experience the moment — though I certainly prefer some moments more than others! Blessings!
Amen and amen! We had tried at-home care for awhile, along with Meals on Wheels, but found that my mom was suspicious of people in her home and too often forgot that the food was for her. Her facility is lovely and near enough to family to have plenty of visits, pick her up for church, etc. I wish I were nearer but do my best via the telephone!
I’m sure I could write a long response as both my grandmother and aunt died from Alzheimer’s. Both intelligent accomplished women. Both college educated from UCLA. Yet – by the time grandma had it, she was paranoid and believed we were all members of the Royal Family (this was during the Charles and Diana phase – she thought my baby son was Prince William). I visited her but it was tough. With my aunt, I was more removed – I know my mom and other aunt made sure to visit her as often as possible. My uncle who was quite concerned about her died before she did but my cousin made sure she could stay in her home and was able to afford full time care there. Quite expensive. But I hope it was worth it as she had her familiar surroundings and things.
I think in general dementia (there are many types besides Alzheimers) is one of those things that “if you live long enough you have at least some of it”. I’ve been reading of the coming explosion of dementia as we baby boomers age and yes, I get nervous about it. The two cases in my own family are on my mother’s side; on my father’s, there is almost none of it. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I take after my dad’s side in terms of my cognitive capabilities and I do all those things they tell you to do – sudoku, crossword puzzles and the like. I tell my husband it’s my “anti-Alzheimers” workout.
I’m also a knitter and just reading about the afghan and regret and the meaning of the stuff is heartbreaking. I made a sweet little dress for my granddaughter and, unfortunately, it was a bit too small for her (my mistake entirely of course). I doubt that my daughter-in-law really understood the amount of time and effort a small dress took and it’s probably just sitting at the bottom of a drawer, just to end up at a garage sale. What can I say? When we make stuff for others we just have to be willing to let them go . . . we can’t control what happens to them ultimately. I’m not thrilled with the situation but I could be (and hope I’m) wrong. Either way – I made it with love much as your Nana made those afghans with love, too. Here’s what I can say – whoever has it now has probably snuggled up with it and is just glad to have it on a cold night. I hope the same for my granddaughter’s dress.
Thanks so much for your lengthy comment. I am so sorry to hear of your grandmother and aunt, and I can completely relate to the anti-Alzheimer’s exercises you are undertaking! I try taking different driving routes and varying my routines so that I can keep all my brain cells working. My husband, who works at nursing homes, agrees with your thought that most people who live long enough suffer from sort of dementia… from what I can tell from teaching teenagers, it’s likely a reverting back to those crazy teen years when logic is so fleeting. 🙂
Thanks for giving me the perspective of the knit-ee… about being willing to let whatever happen to your lovingly crafted your creations… and the thought of someone getting true value — use — out of the afghan I didn’t save. Thank you! God bless!
Sara, I simply adored this.
Will you change the world with your writing?? I don’t know (I sure hope you do).
Here’s what I do know: your mother changed YOUR world with her love.
And that is a beautiful thing!
This was a hauntingly beautiful post, have you considered sending your siblings to look at the charity for the other afghan just in case?
I think it is awesome that you are still so involved with your Mum, sometimes people feel it is too hard to see them like that, but I know if it was me I would be there as much as I could.
Love is the strongest emotion and most beautiful gift in this life, I am glad you have a wonderful Mum to share love with.
Thank you! I have not sent my siblings to look, in part because I don’t think they value it as I do and because they are crazy busy… They have taken a larger role in Mom’s care because they are nearby; I hate to ask them to do another thing for me. But summer is coming, and I will be visiting shortly… so maybe some secondhand stores are in my future!
I am thankful for my Mom and will do my best to be there — at least by phone — as often as possible. No regrets — or at least no more regrets!
Im sorry for what you and your mom are going through, I dont know much about Alzheimer’s but I can imagine how devastating it is, and it doesnt seem fair that some people have to handle the loss of a loved one , before they have even left. Sending hugs and prayers your way.
Definitely have checked it out via my siblings, who are attentive, and the staff. She has calmed and isn’t mentioning it currently, seeming happy and content. Thanks, though! I appreciate your concern. 🙂
Oh bless!! Shucks, men aren’t supposed to be emotional right? but hey, it’s whatever… beautiful beautiful reflective piece.. it was lengthy but I hung in there, I just had to!! On this issue that is pretty emotional and personal to you, I think you did a good job of pouring your heart out in an incredibly poised manner! You still managed to put across the gravity of the situation, as well as your sentiments of retrospective regret without seeming melancholic, being dramatic or showing any loss of control… basically, the whole account seems like one giant euphemism.. I loved it!!! hope my way of complimenting you and explaining the way your piece struck me is relatable.. great great job!!
Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to reply so specifically as to why you liked the post. It is difficult writing about such personal items — humor is much easier to expose — and I am glad you found it beautiful and reflective without being overly emotional. It is a longer piece, to be sure, and thank you for finding your way to the end and then taking the time to offer me such feedback. 🙂
Your entry is very moving. Whether one understands Alzheimer’s first hand (My grandmother, dad’s mom, dad and his only sister all had Alzheimer’s) or not, they will be moved by your words. The changes are very difficult and without realizing it we change alone with their abilities to relate. Coming alongside in whatever way is allowed and accepted is the best we can do. I agree with a reader above to let your mother talk about herself and her life. She may share some important details she held back for one reason or another that will be a treasure for you and your siblings. As a creative person I appreciate your valuing the afghan and am glad your friend was able to repair it. Praying as you continue on your journey.
I reblogged your beautiful article. My wonderful grandma had alzheimers.. For nearly ten years she lost every item in her memory day by day..
I wish someone find a cure for this. I am prying for not become a puppet and go long before I die,
So much meaning in your blog. My mother too had Alzheimer’s for 10 years and just as you regretted not taking the afghan, I regretted as she lost each memory that linked us together. Today, I serve holiday meals from the same dishes she used, I cherish the bible that is filled with her handwritten notes in the margins and I remember.
Beautiful response. Glad to know someone else went through the long process of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t just dementia associated with old age because it is so slow. … and yet too fast. I will cherish her afghan and other memorabilia and try to remember what she has forgotten. Bless you!
Reblogged this on Before I forget… and commented:
I have reblogged this because I believe you have talked about some important issues, such as listening to your Mom when she asks the family to choose what they would like to take. How important it is for us who are living with Alzheimer’s and Dementia to be taken seriously in our wishes, because they come with love. This is such a beautifully written post, thank you for sharing it. Gill
Really touching story considering that I have a mum same age and afraid of losing her daily. The memories you have is worth every breath of it. Enjoy her company while you still have her around. God bless you.
What a beautiful, beautiful post. My sister was just diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer’s, she is 61, an artist. I don’t know who is more devastated, she or myself. I ordered a book for her this morning from Amazon she had mentioned, she insisted that I not purchase it….:) Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor). I do feel what we ingest over our lifetime has much to do with everything. Anyway, your post was deep and meaningful and I enjoyed it very much. Sandy
Thank you, Sandy. I will have to check out that book. I have read a novel titled “Still Alice” that is about a woman who has early-onset Alzheimer’s. The book is written by someone in the medical field and includes a lot of truth in story form. While my mom doesn’t have the early-onset (and, hence, the faster progressing) disease, it does help me grasp the changes that are occurring in her mind. Anyway, you might find it helpful, though a bit scary. How sad for your sister and for you! I wish you the best!
I will see if the library has that today, it would be helpful to me. Yes, it was a shocking blow, she went to the doctor for hip pain and a whole slew of different tests came out of it. She mentioned to her doctor that she felt she had a hard time remembering current things, and the tests began and now she has a medication to slow it down and a huge change in her diet. She messaged me via email yesterday about that book, a PBS special she watched, or wants to watch coming up…not sure about that one and a host of other links. So I ordered the book for her through Amazon. I didn’t know the early onset is the faster progressing type. I really need to check out some books and get educated for her, I know she is going to need me as time goes on, and I need to learn how to be able to understand and let little things we normally…are not familiar with just go in one ear and out the other. In other words not to take things personally when words she may say come up. Well thank you Sara, I appreciated your follow up, and your posting was just a beautiful read. Sandy
Best wishes to you and your sister, Sandy! You should read “Still Alice,” although that is the book that makes me think the early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses faster than the other. It definitely helps you see the progression, etc. I had heard that there was some sort of app that helped people better understand those with Alzheimer’s, but I’m not sure what that is called. Again, I wish you the best. God bless you for supporting your sister through this difficult time, and I pray He gives you both the strength to go through it with dignity and grace.
I am going thru a lot of what you are. My dad is still living and has the care of mom the most. I just left there after spending time with her while he ran errands. Her questions are the same, asked and reasked. Each time I answer the same answer it’s the first time for her. She still knows me and my kids but she is slipping fast. Her head is so much smaller than it used to be and her eyes so blank? She is completely focused on her drs and her care and imagines great scenarios that never happened. Is this happening to anyone else? Awhile back she was certain she was mugged. As the day went on the description for more elaborate. Later after going to the mall I found shed left her purse in a bathroom stall. Just wondering if anyone else is having this kind if behavior. It’s very heartbreaking to watch your mom who you love disappear as the person you once knew. Thank you for sharing your story. You should share it locally and maybe the afghan will show up. Hv u checked back with the charity. Torn afghans are unlikely to sell, it may still be where you left it. Anyway beautiful heart wrenching story that I well relate to. Thank u ❤
Cathy, I’m so sorry for you and your family. My mom’s head (and body) are much smaller because she would forget that the food in the house was for her to eat, but she is improving (a little) being in 24-hour care. She more often looks childlike and, as you say about your mom, as if she is seeing everything for the first time –but with with great delight. She doesn’t recognize people — sometimes even her own children — and so shares that blank look. Sometimes when I call, I imagine she must look blank, because her personality seems much flatter than it would; she seems politely interested but isn’t, or maybe cannot be, because she isn’t sure of the names, the places, etc. It is heart-wrenching, to be sure. While my mom didn’t create an incredible story about a mugging, she did craft a number of stories about “what she remembered” (sometimes about places she had never seen before, etc.). You might want to check out my other posts on my mom for some encouragement (or simply because misery does love company, perhaps?): “Mom for a week…” and “Mom’s move to memory care…” and “At a loss for words…” I was reading through a variety of posts about my mom on Father’s Day (for my father is already physically gone); the posts made me cry and made me so thankful I had written the incidents down. Are you writing about your mom?
And I am visiting my hometown this weekend and will do my best to track down that afghan. If I have some luck, I’m sure I will have a story to share here as well. Blessings, Cathy! Thanks for writing. Love on your mom as long as you can! 🙂
Cathy… quick update. I talked with my sister about the afghan’s whereabouts… it was taken to a church yard sale to be sold. I am returning to my home town and will check with a charity or two, just to see if I might come across the afghan by some miracle, but I will likely have to accept that it is gone and just hope it is bringing joy to the new owner. Blessings!
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