I never met Roger’s mother, Barbara. By the time I came into his life, Barbara had been in a memory care home for six years and no longer remembered her first born son, nor his younger brother who visited her regularly. Roger’s brother was the “nice man” who came, sometimes with his “friends” (her grandchildren) and chatted amicably. Sometimes “the nice man” brought her flowers and talked about things she vaguely remembered, but mostly, he was just “the nice man”. Barbara was perplexed by these visits; her fading memories had narrowed to days long before her sons were born, then into an abyss.
Some say loosing our parents to Alzheimer’s is a slow good bye, and when the day of passing comes, it is assumed we are prepared. Having lost my father to Parkinson’s and my step-father to Alzheimer’s six months apart, I can tell you that even though I knew their passings were inevitable and I thought I had come to peace with it all, death is still…death; the final goodbye.
Yes, there is a sense of relief. A knowing that the passing has our loved one in a better place, but I still miss my father and step-father immensely; I still grieved. And, I didn’t get a fast pass because they had been ill for a long time.
Barbara had been tracking along, growing more quiet and less active as time went by. Every so often, Roger’s brother would give an update on her health, though nothing really seemed to change. Then, we got the call that she was gone. The two of us flew to Massachusetts to attend Barbara’s celebration of life. On a whim, we added a few extra days to the trip. We set a loose itinerary, that’s how we like to travel, and left the rest to unfold. We drove first to Rockport where we stayed at an inn on Front Beach, and walked along Bearskin Neck basking in a late August cool snap. We ate whole lobsters, fell asleep to the waves rolling on to shore, and awoke to watch the sun rise through growing cloud cover over Sandy Bay. Next was Gloucester, to see The Man at the Wheel where we stood in the rain learning about the brave fishermen lost at sea. Barbara’s grandfather had been a sea fairing man from Sweden, and the monument was a special reminder of the contribution the fishermen made to the community and their families. We lunched at the Gloucester House Restaurant, one of Barbara’s favorites. As we ate, Roger looked up at me and said, “I know what we are doing! It just dawned on me: we are visiting all of my mother’s favorite places.” Roger was drawn to visit Rockport, Gloucester, and Wingaersheek beach. Then on to Lexington and Concord but hadn’t really thought of the significance of the places he’d chosen for us to visit. We walked, hand in hand, soaking in the beauty and history of all Barbara’s favorite places. Beaches, historical homes, and gorgeous gardens. The final stops were Lexington, where she lived, happily married, raising her sons, serving the community as a volunteer, librarian, and active church member, and Concord. What a rich life she had lived! The whole trip turned out to be a celebration of Barbara’s life; all the things she would have wanted Roger to remember and cherish including the beautiful service his brother, and family put together in her honor. I was blessed to get to know her a tiny bit through the places she loved, the contributions she made and the people who loved her most.