I usually try to write something positive about my mom's journey with Alzheimer's but today I am reflecting on something that has been bothering me recently.
Like many families, we celebrate holidays and milestones achieved together. My grandmother always made a wonderful gathering for every occasion and the food was oh so good, all happy memories.
Once my grandmother passed, my mom and aunt continued these traditions. Mom was there for the holidays and cherished every milestone her children and grandchildren accomplished, from wedding plans to baby showers. She was so excited for each of us, and was there as we gave birth and when our children made their sacraments. She even celebrated minor events; little things like cheerleading awards.
No matter what the occasion, you could see the pride beaming from her eyes each and every time.
Then, Alzheimer's entered our world. Instead of memories of sharing these special times, I started to remember the lasts: the last time we celebrated mom's birthday, the last Christmas, Easter, and all occasions outside the nursing home.
We now celebrate with mom in small groups at the facility. Later, we all gather together, carrying on the traditions. But, there is always an empty chair there that mom should be sitting in.
I remember the last big milestone she was able to attend. It was her granddaughter's engagement party, four years ago. Since then, there has been another engagement, two weddings and a great-granddaughter born. At each, my sister and I were together with the family celebrating but next to us was the empty chair where mom should have been.
I could see the pain in my sister's eyes as we watched both her daughters walk down the aisle and again the empty chair was staring at us. The big day, when mom's first great-granddaughter was born, my sister held her grandchild with me by her side and again, an empty chair.
Recently, my daughter turned 21, and again we followed a family tradition of celebrating in Atlantic City together. Myself, my husband, my daughter's brother and sister and husband, my sister, brother-in-law, niece and her husband were all sitting in the casino as my daughter played her first slot machine, drink in hand. We were all laughing and reminiscing of the days that we celebrated with all the other kids. We were having such a wonderful time.
All of a sudden, my niece said "I remember this spot, this is where Nanny Jean liked to play." Again there was silence and the empty chair was there, staring at us.
All these traditions are being passed down to our children and we will continue to gather and enjoy our beautiful family, celebrating holidays and all the milestones achieved.
But Alzheimer's will always be there, reminding us with the empty chair.
Editor's note: Michele's journey as a caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer's was chronicled in "Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer's," an in-depth look at the real lives of families impacted by the Alzheimer's epidemic. Her story continues on her personal blog on AgingCare.com.