Today you turned and looked at me when I sat next to you. You asked me what I had been up to as though it was the most normal of conversations and that we were picking up where we had just left off. You let me hold your hand and you smiled when I put my puppy Wilma on your lap. You said she was soft and you slowly ran your fingers through her coat. You noticed that the sun was shining in through the window and you seemed to listen while I told you about your grandsons.
It has been weeks since you have looked at me or smiled or asked any questions. I was getting ready to pack that part of you away along with your ability to walk and read and shower yourself.
A couple of weeks ago you brightened up when your son, Fred, came for a visit. He brought you a puzzle from his latest trip to Japan. He helped you put the pieces together revealing some gorgeous irises, like the ones you loved in a park we had frequented as kids. He snuck in some cookies knowing how you love sweets and got you to smile again when he unwrapped one and handed it to you. Your face transformed in those moments so much that one of the other residents in your Alzheimer’s facility wheeled over to look at you, seemingly surprised by your delight. She turned to me and said excitedly, “She’s smiling! She’s smiling!” I explained, “She’s smiling at her boy. That’s her boy, Fred!”
Moments later you dumped the puzzle on the floor and absent mindedly started eating a puzzle piece while Fred gathered the dropped pieces off of the floor.
After Fred left, your sunny disposition passed as quickly as the sun moving behind a dark cloud. Each visit since, Wilma and I have had a pow wow in the parking lot before going in to see you, trying to get our courage up for another visit. When I trained Wilma to be a therapy dog, I didn’t realize that I was the one that would need her therapy the most!
Mama, you have been my sunshine for so long that I realize now that the hardest thing to let go of is your smile. You have made each one of us kids feel like the most important person in your life, always asking what we’ve been up to or if there is something you can help us with? Seeing you slumped to the side of your wheel chair, eyes barely open, talking so softly I can’t make out the words, I barely recognize you. I wonder how to reach you and if you even know I am sitting next to you.
When your grandson, Cody, was a little boy, I overheard him say to one of his friends that his “Great Grandma Elaine’s body had died but her smile had gone to heaven.” I imagine that was what he thought we meant when we told him that my Grandma’s Spirit had gone to heaven that week. Sitting next to you the last couple of weeks, I’ve wondered if your smile had preceded you to heaven. I found myself hoping you would be reunited with it soon.
But today was different. Today you turned and looked at me and smiled.