‘We see them waving goodbye. Every feeling I have is exposed. On one side, my aging parents, on the other, my youngest child crossing the ocean. I am a mess.’

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What a week I’ve had. My youngest daughter, Emily, is headed off to a 4 year college in the Netherlands. They do not provide housing but we thought that would be OK. We would rent her an apartment and possibly have some other students join her as roommates. Sounded simple enough… I should have known better. That’s a whole other story but the condensed version is she has no place to live, so she’ll be staying in a hostel until she finds something. I can’t stop crying in the bathroom in our little hotel in Chinatown in The Hague. This is not what dropping your child off at college is supposed to be like.

Before leaving the USofA we had our Sunday morning breakfast with LOTS of the family there to say goodbye to Emily. It was loud. It was mayhem, but it’s who we are when we gather. Somehow Mom and Dad’s food was missed by the kitchen so everyone got there’s and they waited. Waiting for mom can be a challenge and that day was no different. She wanted the kids to behave (they were laughing). She wanted to push in Amelia’s chair (til she was squished up against the table). “That’s far enough mom,” as Amelia looks at me to be saved.

Finally their food. My sister Mary Ann cuts mom’s French toast for her. She starts to push the pieces around on her plate with her finger. Mary Ann puts mom’s fork in her hand. Mom puts it down and continues to push her French toast around with her finger. I go over to try. She is not interested in eating with her fingers or a fork. We decide to move on to her pills she needs to take. Like her French toast, she is not interested.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

You know that little trick your parents may have done to a little one that didn’t want to eat – you would pretend the spoon was an airplane and make it fly around in front of them in the hopes they would be distracted enough to open their mouth. It rarely worked. I thought I would give it a try… what do you think?! Lips squeezed shut and a little turn of the head to assure I understood she wasn’t falling for it. Plan B – begging! “Look Mom, it’s a small one. It’s a big one. It’s a pretty one.” Slowly I got the important ones in and swallowed.

Everyone is finished. We start to say our goodbyes before walking mom home. It’s different as everyone says their goodbyes to Emily. It’s different when you are saying goodbye to someone who will be gone for almost a year. This Sunday’s goodbyes take longer than normal.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

Emily walks mom home with me. She wants to say goodbye to Mom and Dad (her Grammy and PopPop) at their house. Everyone gets home and we start our goodbyes again. It is hard to watch. She worries about being so far from them and the “what-ifs.” I try not to think about it, knowing my life is filled with “what-ifs” that have no answers. We walk out their door and look back to see them waving goodbye as we pull away in our car.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

I feel as though every feeling, every nerve I have is exposed. On one side my aging parents, on the other my youngest child crossing the ocean to pursue her dream without a place to live. I am a mess. I am overwhelmed. I am sad.

We head to the airport and it’s a gray, rainy evening as our plane is about to take off. As I’m watching from my window I write the following about the younger one in my life instead of the older ones – it helps when I write…

MY LAST CHILD

Peering out the plane’s window I watch the gray sky descend upon us bringing with it a coating of rain. I wonder how the universe knows I’m here. How it has the amazing ability to paint my feelings on a canvas that surrounds me in this moment.

We taxi down the runway and the white lights run in two lines on either side to guide us. Through the rain covered windows the lights have run together as though they are wet paint someone ran their finger through. I look ahead and the lines seem to drop off into the darkness.  We pick up speed and before we fall off the edge into the unknown, we are rising up towards the sky. The muted gray color still surrounding us, causing my eyes to become heavy. I close them and feel your head on my shoulder.  I wonder what I’ve done.

Why did I show you the world? Why didn’t I keep you close to home? Why did I think spreading your wings would be something I could bear?

As we float above the clouds on this journey, your journey, I don’t know who I am. I am lost. How do I let you go? How do I get back on a plane without you? How do I accept the reality that this is your beginning, and my end? I close my eyes so I can feel sorry for myself before being jolted out of my wallowing by an epiphany.

This is life. My life. Her life. Life. Filled with memories. Filled with people we love. Filled with discovery and excitement. Then I realize this is a moment – Her moment. A moment I don’t want to miss. A moment to watch her reach for her dreams and make them come true. And once again, I’ll be there with her as she takes her first steps, only this time, they will be steps following her own path. And I realize both our dreams are coming true.”

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She is chronicling her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page and in a series of posts for Love What Matters:

Wife with dementia ‘listens’ to husband’s story for 15 minutes before cracking a joke, which ‘gives him a sliver of hope she is still there’

‘His love for her is palpable’: Doting husband’s explicit instructions for wife with dementia’s morning routine

‘I’ll get to her outfit later’: Daughter’s humorous attempt getting her mom with dementia to the doctor

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