Spending time with my mother as she neared the end of her life, it felt like someone had set up a mirror at the point at which the spirit enters and leaves the physical realm. Her declining mental faculties and increasing dependence were a mirror-image of the increasing capacity of a baby developing into childhood.
Accepting the changes brought by dementia meant allowing myself to enjoy my mother’s ‘second childhood’, and to take delight in the same small things that she would have noticed in me as an infant – the few words that made sense in between the gobbledegook; helping with simple cutting, pasting and colouring-in activities in the weekly arts and crafts class; and lunchtime games that helped her to finish her veggies. All these simple things became opportunities for closeness, for celebration, and for wonder.
Welcome the child
Jesus said you must become
as a little child to enter Heaven.
My mother took Him at His word!
In her later years she set about
dismantling responsible adulthood.
As if she felt she had ‘mothered’ enough
and longed instead for some care and fun,
my identity morphed
from one week to the next
from daughter to mother to sister to friend.
Coming home to a make-believe world,
she who had taught us to speak the truth
started breaking the rules and telling lies!
But her joy exposed the vanity
of clinging too tightly to sanity.
And when she reached the end of her life,
closing the circle where it had begun,
I beheld her childlike innocence
with the same delight and tenderness
with which she had first welcomed me.