This is my mother, who left this life on August 14, 2008. And on the right is my father, who is still very much with us. The photo of Mama was her last Mother's Day, and she was still able to smile, if not to speak or walk. Her last six months were spent in the nursing unit of a locked ward, where dementia patients are cared for without the threat of their wandering off. Mama had been wandering off, sometimes in the middle of the night, from the apartment she shared with my dad in the same retirement complex that contained the nursing unit. After a fall in which she was not physically injured, she spent some time in the hospital and was returned to a rehab room, never to move back in with my dad and sleep in the same bed with him as they had for 63 years.
I never understood whether her dementia came about because of Alzheimer's or strokes, but it had become clear in the preceding years that her mental faculties were slipping away. She had grown more and more withdrawn and had adopted a penchant for Publisher's Clearing House magazine coupons to the extent that every drawer, nook and cranny in her house was filled with trinket boxes of paste jewelry "rewards" for ordering magazines she did not read. By the time I got her to a geriatrics doctor, she was unable to tell him what it was about watching the evening news that was so compelling, or what country we were at war with ("Germany?") . Her downhill slide was devastating to my dad, who was devoted to her care but unable to carry on, even with my help, once she lost control of her bodily functions. For him her death came earlier than for the rest of us, and I was concerned that his grief might take his life also. Fortunately, that has not been the case. He is a thriving nonagenerian as of February, and we will celebrate with family from all over on February 18.
I am amazed at how long it has taken me to write about this, but I had to do it in order to resume blogging. It's long past the time for the constant tears that visited me after she died. It was nearly a year before we could bury her, because we wanted her remains at the new National Veterans Cemetery at Montevallo, Alabama, where both my parents could be buried with military recognition. Her urn was kept in the church basement until the cemetery opened in June 2009 with great fanfare and a special service for the first persons buried there. Mama would have loved it, having an honor guard carry her ashes, the Mayor of Montevallo placing her urn in the ground, the 21-gun salute, and taps playing. She was of the Greatest Generation, as is my dad, and a real patriot. When they married on July 15, 1945, he was a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps. He was called to the Pacific theater right after a weekend honeymoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The very day I was likely conceived was the first atomic bomb explosion ever, so I rightly claim the label Baby Boomer.
Dad and I visited the Veteran's Cemetery on Christmas Eve, and you can see the resilience in his face, this man who nursed my mother through the worst illness known to the elderly. I admit to being Daddy's Girl, but I had no idea how much I loved my mother until she was gone.