Oh how I miss my mother, she was so dear to me
Mother's not dead, you see, she's lost her memory.
Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia, affecting 10 percent of persons over 65, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
In North Carolina, one hundred and seventy thousand persons suffer from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Nationwide, over 11 million people are engaged in the care of those with the disease.
Family members of people with Alzheimer's are often called upon to assist in their care, either at home or in nursing facilities. For those individuals, seeing loved ones - husbands or wives, mothers or fathers - become increasingly unable to recognize them can lead to a roller-coaster ride of pain and sadness.
The past or the present she really does not see
But all of my memories will last eternally.
Teresa Heffinger, 65, a resident of Sherrills Ford, is one of those individuals.
Her 85-year-old mother, Pauline Buckner, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003, following the death of her husband and the loss of a much-loved grandson.
For the first few years after her diagnosis, she was cared for by her two daughters, Teresa and Susan, in their own homes, but as her condition declined, they made the difficult decision to place her in a skilled nursing facility in South Port.
Buckner, born in Danville, Va. and married at 16, was a 50-year member of the First Presbyterian Church of Eden. She loved to sing, and performed with her sister, Christine, in the church choir and in contests at the local movie theater.
When she had children of her own, she insisted that they sing in the church choir as well.
"She had a strong faith," said Heffinger. "I never knew her to cuss or drink or smoke, and she was always very sociable, an outgoing, loving, caring person."
Active in her company bowling team, she played bingo and she loved Elvis.
I wonder what she's thinking and what she has to say
And what kind of questions she will ask of me today.
Retiring after a 40-year career with DuPont, she loved to travel, visiting extended family and friends throughout the United States.
And then began the decline, gradual at first but increasing in frequency and intensity. Alzheimer's gradually took away her ability to function, to take care of her own needs, to recognize her loved ones.
"I've talked to my mother every day of my life," said Heffinger. "Watching her slip away like this has been almost more than I can stand."
Visits to the nursing home led to questions her mother would ask. "How many children do I have? Was I a good mother? What was your daddy's name?"
Mother knows not my name, but has a twinkle in her eye.
It lets me know she loves me as time goes slowly by.
After a visit to her mother at the nursing home near Caswell Beach, in the fall of 2008, Heffinger, overcome by the emotional upheaval of witnessing her mother's deteriorating situation, turned to her deep spiritual faith for guidance.
"Lord, I'm giving you my mother," she prayed. "Take the burden from my shoulders. Take care of her and send your angels to look after her."
Almost immediately, Heffinger felt a sense of peace. "I felt like the Lord had answered my prayer."
I tell her she's my mother. She smiles and looks at me.
I'm glad to know I am, she says, so sweet and tenderly.
In that moment, she had the seed of an idea, to write a song about her mother.
"The chorus came to me, and I went home and wrote the rest of the lyrics. My husband Mike and I wrote the music to accompany the lyrics."
Thus began the journey which resulted in them performing "Fading Memories" at folk, blue grass and gospel festivals for two years. Receiving positive feedback, she decided to have it recorded professionally, using the talents of singer Taranda Greene.
My mother doesn't talk much, she knows not what to say.
The questions that she asks me, she asks them every day.
Buckner's room in the nursing home has a picture of Elvis on the door. This is how she knows that it is her room.
Every year on her mother's birthday, Heffinger and her sister Susan hire an Elvis impersonator to perform for her.
"They dance, sing, clap. ... They have a ball," said Heffinger. "My momma is very happy. She's in no pain. She loves everybody and has compliments for everyone she meets."
As we conclude our conversation, Heffinger has a final request.
"I trust that you will write a heart-warming story about my mom and have my dedication and faith in the Lord and to my mom a priority. So many people in nursing facilities have no one to visit with them, and so many elderly people have just been cast aside. I thank the Lord for my family and all my blessings."
The visits to the nursing home are difficult but rewarding for mother and daughter alike.
"Mom doesn't remember when I come, but I do. She doesn't remember going out for ice cream, but I do. She doesn't remember my singing to her, but I do. She doesn't remember all the good times, but I do."
As her mind goes drifting by, I pray that I will be
The last one she remembers in her fading memories.