Today I visited my mother who has advanced dementia in her assisted living facility. It has been a long process over the last few years of watching as one ability after another slips away from her.
Now she is losing her speech. The all-but-dissertation sociology PhD student, the master Scrabble player and worker of crosswords, the ace proofreader, the woman who could speak two languages fluently and three others to varying degrees is gone. Now my mother is tired of words and sits in silence with her hand folded to her chest like a little Quaker nun. Like my grandmother before her, she seems only to be waiting for God to take her home. I worry and fuss over her but can only elicit nods or head shakes and the odd thumbs up. It's heartbreaking.
But then I find the key that opens her up. I sit so that I am looking directly into her eyes and say those time-worn words: "I love you, Mom". She looks back at me and in a barely audible voice pronounces the only words she will say in our two-hour visit before retreating to her inner silence: "I love you." The words we need the most, the only words that really matter.