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It finally happened.  That moment I’ve been dreading but knew would eventually come happened.  My mother didn’t recognize me.

She sat across the table from me and asked me if my parents were still living.  This is so much my mother.  Gracious.  Connecting, Reaching out. Here is a stranger across from her and she wants them to feel welcomed.  Wants to bring them into the conversation.  Wants to bring me into the conversation.

And it reminds me of her cure for depression or feeling blue.  When she was feeling down, she’d do something nice for someone else.  On Mother’s Day, for example, she and some of her friends would get flowers and drop them off at other women’s houses who either didn’t have children, or didn’t have children who “showed up’ in that way.

To my surprise, my reaction wasn’t about me, wasn’t hurt that my mother didn’t recognize me.  My reaction was for her.  I wanted to protect her from her mental slip.   Wanted to protect her from the pain of realizing that she’d forgotten her own daughter.  I didn’t want her to be embarrassed or frightened that she’d forgotten who I was.

And I had no idea about what to say or do to protect her from this pain.  Fortunately my father piped in.  He wrapped his arm around her and said something like, “Oh Billie!  We’re here parents and neither of us is dead yet!”  And he did it so warmly, and so tenderly that the moment passed almost as if it never happened, at least not for her.

And yet for me, it did happen.  And I have to sort out all those feelings of grief — for her, for me, for us.



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“It’s not about you.”  It’s a reminder to not take other people’s words, behaviors, and moods personally.   I’ve said this to clients in my counseling office thousands of times.  I’ve written about it in my “InsightOut” column that appears in Outlook .  I say this to friends who are struggling with relationship difficulties.  And I say it to myself when someone I’m with happens to be in a foul mood.

Even in my most egocentric space, I know that I can’t control anyone else.  I know that others experience our behavior through the lens of their past as well as what they are experiencing in the moment. But all this knowledge goes out the window when I talk to my mom and she’s not in a good space.  Some part of me gets hooked and I have to fix it, to make it better, to make her better.  Even though I know that lots of her anxiety, depression, and apathy are due to Alzheimer’s, some part of me feels like it’s about me and drives me to act from the sense that if only I could do or say the right thing, she’d be OK.  It’s that same part of me that gets stuck in the belief that if I could only make her feel better, I would feel her love wrap around me like it did before she started sliding away.

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