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I was going to write about Wally, yet the beautiful memory of Mother’s eyes and her perspective overcame all of my will power which left Wally by the wayside. Mother was diagnosed with dementia most probably Alzheimer’s at a young age.
She was known as the walking woman because she began walking at the age of 50 and never stopped. One could find her walking down by the lake with such determination that no person dared to stop to speak to her unless she spoke first. She had her route that took her a few miles each day and she religiously performed her new occupation with unwavering gait.
As her illness progressed her route was altered to depict the chaos that was slowly destroying her mind. As the holes grew in her brain, the route became more erratic and longer. She would walk for miles upon miles without realizing how long she had been gone, since in her mind, she just started to walk.
The weather wasn’t a deterrent to her course, either. When the sun was beating down in 90 degree weather with 100% humidity, she still resolutely walked and did her arm exercises to ensure that she would never get old. Age was a fear of hers and she was determined to never allow age to overcome herself, her body, her mind.
I had to create a boundary the was one mile in radius from her home in order to know when she had gone too far, so she would always be able to make it back home whether I was picking her up in my car or corralling her back to her beginnings. The people at the post office were kind enough to keep an eye out for her since she enjoyed mailing yogurt by filling post office boxes with her newly purchased yogurt. She said she was leaving it for the post office mail carriers so they had something to eat on their day-long routes. She had begun to care about other people in a way that had been non-existent before this strange, confusing, debilitating and oft time’s sorrowful illness.
The people at the bakery were also kind enough to keep an eye out for her, along with both grocery stores that fell within the mile radius limitation. Everybody had my phone number and I would get the call to come because Mother was walking further than my self-imposed restrictions on her daily stroll which became a march. Arms swinging back and forth, up and down, she would walk until she had to stop and knock on a stranger’s door to use the bathroom. She was welcomed into the homes because, unbeknownst to her, it was evident that she required the assistance of any and all strangers.
When I received a phone call, I would stop everything that I was doing in the house and jump into my car to find her. Up and down, street after street, eventually I would see her resolutely walking without the ability to stop or turn to her origin. Sweat pouring out of her pores, hair wet from the heat; she would be pumping her way down the street without a care in the world.
With coaxing I usually was able to get her into the car so we could return home, just to do this ritual again in a few hours. She had the thought that she had just eaten, just begun her walk, just took a bath. Yet there was one thing that she said over and over that had me thrown for a loop for years.
Mother said that her eyes were getting better and that she no longer needed the glasses that were worn for years. Mother said that everything was so crisp and clear without her glasses so she put them away, although Mother putting things away could mean anything from a dresser drawer to mailing them out in the mail box.
It took me years (looking back I would say at least two years) of her willful insistence that she no longer needed glasses before I finally understood what she was saying to me. Chaos was growing within her mind and the physical manifestation of this instability was evident and growing. Yet, things were crisp and the colors so wonderful that she would walk the neighborhood just to see how beautiful everything had become. Eventually I realized that she was seeing everything, from the trees to the houses to even each person that she met on her trek, for the very first time each time she turned to see.
This debilitating illness brought beauty to her. I want to see life as she did. When I live one day at a time, and more so, one moment at a time, I can see the beauty that is there for the asking. This woman with a broken brain that was breaking down day by day had shown me how to see life as beautiful rather than struggling through one event after another. When my eyes are focused on the moment, as hers were without barriers, life becomes the perfect work of art that is there for the taking.
This perspective allowed me to see the beauty within her despite the illness that was destroying the woman I had known all of my life. Her illness was no longer personal to me. She was able to enjoy life for the first time without memory of past deeds or fear of what was to come. She had become one with the world and could not stop herself from absorbing that which would never become memory.
The walking woman, my Mother, became my teacher.