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Motherly love, Alzheimer's disease, family struggles, forgiveness

Lying on the bed she stared intently at the picture and said, “This is Joanna. Joanna is my daughter. She is coming home to see me soon, and I have somethings to say to her.” She was holding the picture above her face as she spoke. Most of her time each day was spent rehearsing the same lines. At times, she would have the TV on even though she barely looked at it. With Jonnna’s picture in hand and her eyes fixated on it, she’d talk out loud to herself like a monk, reiterating his vows with resolute devotion. On this day, her younger daughter Mary was seated a few feet away watching her mother go through the same ritual she had seen her perform uncountable times before. Tears streamed down her face as she watched her Alzheimer’s-ravaged mother fight for one final act so close to her heart. She looked frail and weak, but the same could not be said of her will. Alzheimer’s took a tighter grip on her mind with each passing day, and as if that was not enough trouble, she also suffered a life-threatening heart condition. Despite her condition, she fought off death with intransigent determination. After holding the picture up for several minutes, she put it down to give her hands a break. She turned, looked at Mary whom she vaguely recognized. Her memory was very erratic at this time. It appeared and vanished just like breeze. Mary smiled through a sea of tears. She wiped her face in an effort to drain the tears that were blurring her vision. Her mother managed a feeble smile back at her. “Hello mom,” Mary said. Her mother Rhonda said nothing in reply. She simply smiled. She stared blankly at Mary. She looked lost; lost in a world far from the one around her.

All of a sudden she tried to get out of bed. She was weak and wobbly. Mary ran across the room and gave her a hand. Rhonda could no longer drag herself out of bed. There was a walker beside the bed. Mary got her to hold it. She leaned over it and walked towards the bathroom, barely able to push her frail body along. Abruptly, she stopped and walked backwards towards the bed, perhaps having forgotten where she had meant to go. There was a morose look on her face. She searched desperately through what was left of her mind for Mary’s name, but it would not come back to her. Abruptly, she turned and stared at the TV for a moment. As quickly as her interest in the TV peaked, it went flat. Mary stood right behind her, closely watching her every step. “Do you want to sit down mom?” She asked her mother. “Okay,” she replied. She helped her to the bed. She sat, picked up the framed picture of Joanna again and began to rehearse the same lines. “This is Joanna. Joanna is my daughter. She is coming home to see me soon, and I have somethings to say to her.” It was paramount to her that she retain this one last bit of memory –the Memory of her other daughter, Joanna. With every ounce of strength left in her, she fought doggedly to hang on to that memory by rehearsing the same lines about Joanna several times a day. It had become her singular mission for whatever was left of her life.

She had not seen Joanna in over eighteen years. Joanna was her first daughter. The last time they saw each other, Rhonda had told her that she was a worthless, terrible child. Rhonda’s husband had passed away, and she was battling severe depression as a result of her terrible loss. She and her late husband Mark were extremely close to each other and very much in love. His death crushed her to bits. In her grief, she found solace in alcohol. Night after night, and day after day, she’d soak herself in bottles of beer.  Efforts by family members to help her kick her addition proved futile. During her deep romance with alcohol, she lost sight of her two daughters, Joanna and Mary. Slowly, they watched their mother degenerate into someone they no longer recognized. Joanna who was attached to her father as well struggled terribly with his demise. Her mother’s seemingly unbreakable bond with alcohol made sure she had no parent in her life during her early teenage years.  She too sought solace, warmth, love and care. In her case, she found those in the hands of an older man who left her pregnant. When Rhonda found out, it crushed her even more. “You are a worthless and terrible child,” she yelled at Joanna. “Can’t you see I am mourning your father? Is this the best you can do given the circumstance? I am ashamed of you. You had better leave. Go and have that bastard with the man responsible for your pregnancy, worthless, little brat.”

Crushed, Joanna left home and never to return again. Fifteen years later, Joanna and Mary reconnected, and by then Rhonda had managed to beat her addiction. All her efforts at reconciliation with Joanna fell on deaf ears. She cried to her over the phone, wrote letters and even tried to surprise her at work having travelled a whole day across the country to see her. She had security send her away. Joanna was obstinately adamant; determined to never have any ties with her mother again. Since Rhonda’s illness two years earlier, Mary had pleaded with Joanna to come home and see their mother before she passed, but Joanna would have none of it. “Joanna is never coming home mom,” Mary would say to Rhonda as her memory quickly deteriorated.  “She will Mary. Someday she will,” Rhonda assured her resolutely. Now, most of her memory was gone. The only thing she had left was her will; the will to muster a tiny bit of memory to rehearse her lines over Joanna’s picture. The picture never left her side. At night, she’d sleep while clutching it with both arms over her chest. In the morning, as soon as she had risen, she would pick it up and begin to speak to it as though Joanna could hear her through the picture. Her faith was unwavering. She clung doggedly to her belief that Joanna would have a change of heart and come home to see her before she died. Mary’s well intended efforts to get her to give up that hope never deterred her. Her daily recital was her only way of keeping Joanna and what she looked like alive in her fast fading memory.

As she recited her belief that Joanna would return home, Mary sat back and watched her painfully, wishing she could reverse her mother’s condition as well as bring Joanna home. Her hands shook, so she placed the picture back on the bed. “Would you like to have dinner now mom?” Mary asked. She looked expressionlessly at her and said, “Joanna?” Mary thought of saying yes, I am Joanna. Perhaps that will give her some peace in her final days, she thought. Then, the door opened slowly. Mary looked to see who it was. Rhonda received a lot of visitors as family members stopped by to check on her. When the door opened fully, Joanna was standing before them. Mary stared at her mother and then at Joanna. Rhonda peered at the figure standing at the door. She quickly raised the picture before her and peered at it, squinting slightly to make certain her poor memory was not playing games on her. “Joanna?” “Mom?” They stared at each other in disbelief. It had been more than seventeen years. Rhonda threw her arms wide open and Joanna melted in-between them, holding tightly unto her mother.  She leaned her head on her chest and pleaded, “I am sorry Joanna. I am sorry Joanna. I am sorry Joanna. I love you Joanna. I am sorry Joanna.” “Stop mom. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”

Mary walked over and placed her arms around them both and they all cried in relief.  When they finally let go of one another, Joanna pointed at the young girl who had been standing at the door with tears streaming down her face. “That is Margret mom. She is your granddaughter. Rhonda’s eyes grew bigger. All of a sudden, she looked rejuvenated. Revived. “Good to see you grandma,” Margret said. “Come here and give me a hug,” Rhonda said. She and Margret hugged for another minute or two. Rhonda could not let go of them. She would hug Joanna after every few minutes, then Mary, and then Margret. Joanna and Margret spent a week in town spending as much time as possible with Rhonda and Mary. The morning they were to leave town, Rhonda passed away peacefully in her sleep. “She was waiting to see you Joanna. She held on to life for as long as she could until she saw you again,” Mary said crying. “I know. I am so thankful to God that I was able to see her again,” Joanna replied as the sisters held each other in tear.

This story was written by:

 Victor Chinoo

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