I recently had a birthday and couldn't wait to celebrate with the woman who gave birth to me - my mom, Rose Beebe, 88. I hoped that Mom, who has Alzheimer's disease, would be able to tell me my birth story as she always had on my big day.
Each year Mom would recall how her water broke and my brother, Tim, pretended to be sick so he wouldn't have to go to school because he knew I was on my way. She'd tell me how much my siblings, who were 10, 15 and 20 years older than me, spoiled me and how special I was to the family.
I never got tired of that story.
As I entered the living room at Mom's memory care facility, I found her in her wheelchair holding a swaddled baby doll. She'd been quite obsessed the past few months with babies and pregnancy.
"Hey Mama," I said giving her a kiss on the cheek, "it's my birthday."
"It is?" she gasped, looking worried. "Did I get you anything?"
I assured her that she gave me some money in a card. Then she proudly informed her friends that it was my birthday, and they serenaded me with the sweetest rendition of "Happy Birthday" I had ever heard.
Then Mom looked at me and asked, "How old are you?"
"God, I can't believe it."
"Do you remember the day I was born?" I asked, hoping the memories I loved were still intact. Mom seemed to contemplate this but couldn't access anything, so I rephrased my question.
"What did you think when I was born?"
"I was thrilled. What did I name you?"
I told Mom my name and she nodded. "You were a good baby, happy to see everything. I just worshipped you," she said as she patted my face.
"I had a baby about a month ago," Mom declared, holding her doll up for me to see. "I liked it before and I like it now. I've had quite a few babies and I love them. I love this little bug."
As Mom proceeded to hug and kiss her doll it felt surreal to witness her intently playing with a doll like my daughter, Jazlyn, did when she was little. But with five kids and 16 grandchildren, Mom's identity has always been the maternal archetype. Her nurturing instinct is so strong, and it comforted me to see her still use it so lovingly.
Doll therapy is often used with dementia patients to stimulate memory, reduce agitation, communicate affection and offer purpose. Experts believe the dolls bring back the happy memories of mothering an infant. Because Mom's agitation has increased, her caregivers give her the doll to soothe her. I have learned to go along with the make-believe role-playing.
"What is having a baby like?" I asked her.
"It's magic. God-like. I love to take a baby after it's born and put it on my chest so I can get all that warmth on me. And they enjoy it. I need to have another one," she said.
"What do you feed your baby?" I asked.
"I nurse it and give her some bottle, but she likes to be nursed. Sometimes I get up at night and look at her, and she'll open her eyes slowly and look at me, so I know she loves me." I tear up at Mom's genuine belief that she is receiving love at this deep level.
Mom got stoic for a moment and said, "I'm pretty old for a baby. I might die."
"Well you're such a good mother," I said.
"Am I? It's a good thing to have a family. It makes me feel like life is moving and going places." Mom paused and stared at me for a moment. "Are you going to have a baby?"
"No," I chuckle, "I don't have a man."
"You better look one up and have a baby - a boy and a girl," Mom matter-of-factly instructed.
"I'll just enjoy your baby, Mom."
"I hope she's well and keeps on growing up like you," Mom said, admiring her baby and stroking her hair.
As I began to push Mom down the hall to her room, I marveled at how sweet and endearing she was being. But that thought was quickly interrupted as she instantly shifted from nurturing mode to protective mode and yelled at me, "Don't go so fast with this baby! Do you hear me?"
I smiled, realizing my experience with her today was the most precious birthday gift I'd ever received.
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.