When I get a call from Mom's memory care facility these days, my heart skips a beat.
After two recent falls, my mother, Rose Beebe, 88, was recovering nicely. But when I answered the phone and heard, "Lisa, your mom was sitting at the dinner table and her head dropped back, she started breathing oddly and was unresponsive. An ambulance is on its way," I panicked.
I rushed to the hospital, prepared for the worst. As the medics unloaded Mom, I was relieved to see she was conscious.
"Mom, are you all right?" I asked, with tears in my eyes.
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"Is Jazlyn OK? I'm worried about her," she replied, very fretful.
Jazlyn is my 17-year-old daughter. I was so relieved to hear Mom's typical concern for her and realized she was OK. Tests failed to show anything wrong, and the doctors surmised Mom had a seizure and prescribed medication. I was so grateful we had again avoided a serious crisis.
I know, with Mom's deteriorating body, that I could lose her at any time.
She contemplates her mortality as well. Last week she asked me, "Do you think I could be the first person to die?"
"No, lots of people have died," I replied, a bit taken aback by this question that came out of nowhere.
"I think I could easily be the first person to die. I'll probably be the first person to die between us."
I see this as an opportunity to talk about death, a subject I've long avoided, and take a deep breath. "Are you scared of dying, Mom?"
"No," she said, sitting up straighter in her wheelchair with a sober look on her face.
"What do you think happens when you die?"
"You go to heaven," she replied matter-of-factly, then smiled. "I think I've been a pretty good person."
"What do you think heaven is like, Mom?"
"Up to the hills," she said, pointing and looking up, "pretty close to California." I chuckle under my breath. "California Here We Come" is her favorite song, and she sings it several times a day. Perhaps it has a different meaning to her than the rest of us.
"I've kind of been planning on heaven 'cause it's coming up. You should be doing prayers before you go to heaven. I know most of them." Mom, a Catholic, recites Hail Mary and Our Father perfectly. Then she stares off into the distance for a moment, becoming very pensive.
"I'm so alone and away from everybody. My mom can't come down (from heaven) and my dad and husband died."
"Do you think you will see them again in heaven some day?" I asked.
"I think so. I think those people are looking forward to it. Honest to God, I'm not afraid of dying," she said. "I'm getting better about saying my prayers." Mom got quiet again and seemed melancholy.
"I'm alone now. I wish the family was a family and not people all spread out."
Our large family used to be very close, gathering often, with Mom happily cooking and entertaining. I realized how much she misses those memorable times.
"You never know when you're going to die, do you?" she asked. "That's what we're all going do. I don't get too upset about it 'cause I'm close to these people and we laugh and carry on," she said, pointing out toward the other residents in her facility.
"It's been a good life, you know? But this life seems like a pretty sad life to me. It's like there's a life over there," she said, pointing to family photos on the wall, "and a life over here," she explained, gesturing to herself sitting on her bed. "This area over here wants to have me."
I'm amazed in the midst of Mom's advancing Alzheimer's how much clarity she has. I put my arm around her. "Mom, I love you so much."
"We've been through a lot together," she said, "but we've taken it very good." I took some time to reminisce on all the joyous times we've had and the storms we've weathered together. Our lives have been so full and so blessed.
"I want to do so much in this world," Mom said.
I ask her what she'd like to do and she heaved a long sigh. "I don't know what it will be. I've enjoyed whatever I've been doing."
What Mom's been doing is teaching me how to live a conscious life, full of unconditional love and indomitable strength. Her invaluable lessons have affected not only me but so many others.
And that's a lot to do in this world.
Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.