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Unlocking the beauty in a fading memory

When I visit my mother, Rose, at her memory-care facility, I never know what frame of mind she will be in.

Before I open the door, I take a deep breath and ease into the world of Alzheimer's.

Sometimes Mom, 87, is upbeat and silly, laughing with friends; other times she is angry, muttering nonsense about something I can't decipher.

There are very tough days when she is weepy and tells me she's tired and doesn't want to live anymore.

On many occasions, I find her roaming the halls calling for my teenage daughter, Jazlyn, or desperately looking for two little girls that exist only in her imagination.

More and more, I find her in bed staring at the ceiling in deep contemplation. Jazlyn and I pile into the bed beside her, showering her with hugs and kisses.

As I snuggle up next to her I'll ask her what she's been thinking about, and I am continually amazed at how descriptive her answers are:

"My children are my thoughts, and I wonder what they're doing or if they're coming. My kids are the most important things in my world, and it's on my mind all the time. Precious, precious, precious. I sing songs and tell stories because they are in my mind all the time if I'm laying here by myself."

My heart melts when I hear this. Being a mother has always been Mom's identity. I believe she is still alive because of her deep love for her kids and grandkids and her determination to remain part of our lives.

Mom, Jazlyn and I enjoy our girl time together, playing with makeup, looking at family photos, eating chocolate and giggling at Mom's sense of humor. For a while it feels like when we'd visit her home in South Carolina, before dementia took over her life.

But as her conversations with us progress, I realize that, on a certain level, Mom is cognizant of her condition.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm not going to make it. There's nothing to my body and mind. I sing 'California Here I Come' all the time to help my brain. I love my children, my people, my family," she says.

My heart sinks when I hear this. I know Mom is fighting hard to enjoy the time she has left with us.

No matter what mental or emotional capacity I might find Mom in, there is one thing that will always shift her out of any mood: a fluffy white talking teddy bear.

When I pull it out and set it on her lap, she lights up like a curious child. As the bear starts talking, she is completely engrossed.

"Hi there," says the bear, which has the recorded voice of a little boy.

"Hi, darling!" replies Mom, who then turns to me and whispers with wide eyes, "Is it real?"

"You're the best," interrupts the bear.

"Am I?"

"Gimme a hug," commands the bear. Mom draws the bear into her neck, squeezing it tight and closing her eyes.

"Aw, I love you," the bear says sweetly.

"Do you? You're so nice to Grandma."

The two continue with some of the most endearing dialogue I've ever heard.

When our visits with Mom end we follow the same routine. Jazlyn and I kiss her and reassure her we'll be back soon. I turn the bear on and put him next to her, and she smiles.

As I close the door and walk down the hall, I can hear Mom innocently talking to the bear. He gives her as much comfort as he gives me by knowing their interaction will calm her mind.

Making my way to the exit, I can't help but think how things have come full circle - that I am the parent now and she is the child.

Before I plunge back into my life, I take a deep breath and ease into a world that rarely gets to see the beauty I have just witnessed.

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.

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