A Mother’s Day reflection on love, loss, strength and mourning

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Lord, help me to carry my mother… Give me strength to do what I need to do…

The diagnosis was Alzheimer’s for his mother, the prognosis eventual death twice over: One in mind, the other in mortal being until finally consumption whole by the invisible beast that had invaded his mother’s brain.


That’s what the research and experts told the son. He swallowed hard, tears washing over memories of better, brighter days. The prognosis frightened them both. But he had to be strong for Mama, could not allow her to see his tears, fears, pain…

Pain over the prospect of having to watch — powerless to alter the inevitable course — as the beast drug her into the suffocating prison of a fizzling mind with ever-increasing blank spots on the screen of a life spent in living color.

Lord give me strength… And time…

Time to make more memories. Time for mother and son to unravel the hurts and misunderstandings that occur even between the best of mothers and sons. Time to share words not yet spoken. Time to live. Laugh. Love.

Time and strength ebbed and flowed as he carried her to doctor’s appointments, lifted her from wheelchairs and hospital beds —as the beast locked her behind a watery haze that filled her brown eyes with a faraway stare.

He brought his mother red roses and flower bouquets — scents of sweetness and life to inhale. He played old Motown music and blues to soothe her soul. The son’s love potion sometimes broke the beast’s spell.

And son and mother then would sometimes dance and sing, like they did when he was a little ghetto boy and she was a young ghetto mother, dreaming of raising a better man than the one who had deserted them.

Sometimes, when the beast was raging, the son serenaded his mother a capella with old church songs. Or he prayed while holding her hand at night until she drifted off to sleep.

Lord, help me take care of Mama…

In her conscious hours, he reassured her. Comforted her in those times when even the most monumental things eluded the pages of her memory, like butterflies flickering in the wind.

He learned not to rebut her insistence on the details on certain matters or memories — allowing her to be “right” when she was wrong.

And when she cried during moments of crystal clarity over the beast’s devouring — over it eating away at her physical abilities and dignity — the son dabbed his mother’s tears, or he kissed and caressed her hand or forehead. Or he simply lifted in his arms the woman who had given him life, blood and breath, and whispered, “I love you.”

“Mama, I got you,” he said, his heart breaking with every beat.

Lord, give me strength…

The son arrived at the nursing home to find his mother wandering on another wing. Her head, by now, hung toward her chest in an almost sheepish shame (the work of the beast), her eyes foggy, fixated on the floor.

“Ma,” the son called out.

Slowly, she began lifting her head but managed only halfway, staring up at an angle. The son lifted her head with a gentle finger beneath his mother’s chin.

“Johhhnnn,” she said, half singing, beginning to cry as their eyes met. “I thought you would forget about me.”

He hadn’t. It was the beast again. The son wrapped his arms around his mother.

“Mama, I could never forget about you,” the son said.

Not then. Not four years since being granted the strength to lay his mother to rest. And not on Mother’s Day. Not ever.

Email: author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to:letters@suntimes.com

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