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It's time to be thankful for 'the long goodbye'

I am a proud member of the "Sandwich Generation" - millions of middle-age Americans caring for children as well as aging parents. Each day is a delicate juggling act of raising a teenage daughter by myself, working a few part-time jobs and caring for my 87-year-old mother, Rose.

There are many days when I ask myself how this happened. I really don't want this much responsibility; it makes life very heavy at times.

I have experienced the burnout, guilt, sadness and happiness that care-giving has to offer.

But I am committed to giving my mother the same love and comfort she has provided me every day of my life.

Since Mom moved into a nearby memory-care facility two years ago, my life has been challenged and enhanced. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for every moment of this experience.

Even though Mom is in the latter stages of Alzheimer's, she still knows her four kids and my daughter, Jazlyn, 16.

She will tell you in a heartbeat how much she loves her children. It's as if she is determined to hold onto the memory of us, no matter what. I feel blessed that she still knows us, but wonder when the day will come when she will look at me like a stranger.

Mom and Jazlyn have a special relationship. Mom took care of Jazlyn when she was younger, and until a few years ago they enjoyed playing poker, shopping excessively and eating way too many sweets together, much to my parental chagrin.

As fate would have it, Jazlyn and I now are parenting Mom.

Mom walks around all day calling for Jazlyn and asking everyone where she is.

At times she is in tears because she is so worried about Jazlyn. I am so proud of my daughter and the way she cares for her grandma and everyone else at the facility.

Jazlyn naturally took to it (much more easily than I did) and has never flinched at what she has witnessed. She never complains about visiting and says she'd rather hang out with seniors than kids her age.

The residents adore Jazlyn and constantly make a fuss over her - she has official rock-star status with them.

No matter how many times she gets asked the same questions, she always answers with enthusiasm. Jazlyn has an affinity for the elderly that is truly remarkable.

So this is our family now: Mom, Jazlyn and I and the residents of Legacy Heights Memory Care. We spend a lot of time singing and dancing with them, having dinner, laughing at the things they say and do.

There is so much humor there, and also sadness. We have grieved the passing of several dear friends - a sobering reality of what lies ahead. We try not to dwell on that, but savor time with Mom.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that there is a beauty in Alzheimer's I never knew.

While the mind and body are deteriorating, the soul still exists, more exquisite than ever.

It's a gift to witness these people live fully in the present and to absorb the wisdom they offer, whether it be forthright or subtle.

It seems like yesterday that Mom was lovingly preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our large, extended family. Today, Mom doesn't know what Thanksgiving is.

Jazlyn and I will take dinner to her, and three generations of women will celebrate all we have to be grateful for.

Life is beautiful and valuable at every stage.

As Mom's memory fades, we will create as many memories as we can to remember her.

We will make the best of "the long goodbye."