“This is my daughter,” my mom says to everyone we meet, as we walk the halls of the Hebrew Home. “Why am I so short and she’s so tall? She should be the mother,” she says, pointing to me, and then she laughs and I smile.
She’s still doing so well identifying me, at least most of the time. Sometimes, she actually does think I’m her mother, and other times, her sister. Usually, I go with the flow, because there is often no good reason to correct her. I will only do it if I sense the correction will somehow enhance the moment, because with my mom, all that matters is the moment.
But sometimes I wonder, “Does she really remember who I am?” And so I will start with the basics, and I will ask her, “Mom, what’s my name?”
I know I shouldn’t do this. It doesn’t seem to upset her, but it feels like I’m giving her a test, and it can’t be right to do that to an 87-year-old woman with dementia. Still, sometimes, I just need to know.
“Mom, what’s my name?”
“Elizabeth,” she says, usually, and looks at me to make sure the answer is correct. “Sure, I remember.” Strange, because although this is certainly the name she gave me 45 years ago, she’s always called me, “Beth.”
It makes me wonder if lying somewhere deep in her brain, where the amyloid plaques have not yet settled, is the memory of the day she named me, or of the dreams she had for the baby who grew inside her.
There are times when she doesn’t remember my name, though.
“What’s your daughter’s name?” asked an aide named Christina one day about a month ago. My mom couldn’t come up with it.
“You know my name, Mom,” I said, and then I kissed her on the head.
“Beth,” my mom said. I nodded and smiled. (Beth! Not even Elizabeth!)
“Now you have to remember that,” said Christina, smiling. “You always forget after she leaves, when she’s not here to kiss you on the head.”
So Alzheimer’s hasn’t won yet. Not when a kiss on the head can still help her remember.