It's that time again for ARTEFACT MOTHERHOOD - a project shared with other international female artists who are documenting our journeys as mothers and creating memories for our children through our photographs and words. Have a read through mine and then go check out the next amazing artist in our blog circle!
I wish you could have known my mamma, your mormor before Alzheimer's came along and took so much of her away.
I wish you could have been able to see my mamma in the way I do. But I understand that's impossible, I've had my lifetime to make sense of it all.
We've been back a week now from our incredibly love filled trip to Sweden connecting with family but there's one big thing that I can't stop thinking about: the way you, Nixie, felt about seeing your mormor.
The last time you saw her you were only two years old and you have no memory of being with her so really for you, this was not only Forrest's first time meeting her but also yours. I had tried to prepare you in the month leading up to our visit about what she might be like and how Alzheimer's affects her. I talk about her a lot anyways and always share recent photos and videos that I get sent from your auntie Anita so you have "seen" how she is now. You were so excited about seeing her so your reaction to her took me by surprise.
(Images from February 2016 about 3 months before yoou turned two)
(Images from September 2016, your last visit 2 years and 4 months)
The last time I saw your mormor was last November and there hasn't been that much of a change with her although when she first saw me she didn't know who I was. In the earlier stages of her Alzheimer's I felt every change within her so intensely but in a way I have already grieved losing her. The one beautiful thing about Alzheimer's, well, not really beautiful but I try to see it that way is that it is all about the present moment and making her feel joy and love in those moments. She's not able to remember anything that has happened 5 minutes before although Alzheimer's doesn't follow a linear path and sometimes it seems like she's more aware than in other moments.
At the moment we really only have the same conversations over and over and they are as follows: hi mamma! Do you know who I am?? She usually replies no, I'm not sure (Although by the end of our visit she did remember that I was her daughter)I'm your daughter Ann who lives in England. Then she says oh is that far away? And I say yes it is. And she will say oh I wish you lived closer and I say I know, so do I but I think of you and miss you everyday and i love you so much! And she says really?! You do?! That's so nice! I think of you too. Then she'll ask me again where I live and I repeat my answer and then she'll ask me how I ended up in England and then I tell her I met Kevin, your daddy and that I fell in love and she always says, oh well that's not bad at all is it! That's lovely! You're lucky. Then I tell her I have two children, you & Forrest. And she replies oh wow really?! And this time I got to tell her “they are here with me” and that “they are right here” and she said oh they are your kids?! And I said yes they are, you're their mormor and she said oh wow that's amazing I'm so happy I get to see them. But then 5 minutes later she will have forgotten who you both are. But the thing is that whenever we have this conversation her eyes light up in the most beautiful way each time and all I see is pure love. I see her. There are still parts of her that shine through and beyond Alzheimer's.
A couple other conversations we have that continuously repeat themselves is : I'm so lucky I like it here, everyone is so nice and I love helping in the kitchen. And she always talks about the view from her window and the apartment building in front of her and how she's convinced that there's not very many people that live there because she Nevers sees anyone outside on their balcony. She always shows me a photo of her mum and dad and tells me how kind they were. This time I asked her if she remembered them and she replied no but I'm sure I must have met them at some point. Then she always shows me a picture of herself when she was 1.
On the first day we arrived, after a long day of travelling, we went and paid her a very short visit. I just really needed to see her, it never feels right if I don't go see her right away. As we walked through the doors of her place I felt butterflies in my stomach, I was so excited to see her and for her to see you, Forrest and daddy (who hadn't seen her in almost 7 years!!) Daddy and mormor used to be really close and had such a beautiful relationship so I know for him it was quite a shock seeing how frail she looked.
One of the big reasons I wanted all of us to go this time was so that I could get some photos of all of us together because it might be the last time we get to, although I hope it's not. I'm just so aware of how short our lives really are and how quickly time passes. My mamma has been saying for so many years now that she hoped one day she would get to see you both so I felt it was really important for her and for you and Forrest to spend time together even if she won't remember any of it. The reason I stopped taking you to see her after the last visit when you were only two was because at that stage of the disease she was very irritable and couldn't really cope with a toddler who wanted to touch and grab everything.
The first meeting didn't go so well. You would only stay in her room for minutes at a time and didn't want to go near her and kept just running outside of her room and sitting down in the hallway. I was very taken aback by this but I assumed it was just because you were exhausted from travelling and it's a bit of a strange place, with strange smells and nurses around, and mormor is in a wheelchair and looks very frail and she has a lot of bruises on her arms which she likes to always point out. I also thought that even though you don't understand Swedish that it must have been strange for you to see me asking my mum if she knew who I was and her saying no and me needing to explain that I am her daughter. I had already told you that she won't remember who you are and that she will probably ask the same questions over and over again. When I told her you and Forrest were my children she was so happy to meet you and thought you were both such beautiful children. I tried to get a photo of all of us but you flat out refused. I told my mum that you were just feeling a bit nervous. Luckily she had no awareness of the way you were acting, she thought you were just having fun and playing and then we were back in a loop of me reminding her that I'm her daughter and her asking me if I had any kids. We didn’t stay very long before heading back to your auntie Anitas.
The following day, which was my birthday, I wanted to spend it having cake with all of you and mormor. I had thought that having seen her the previous day and after a good night’s sleep that it would be a different experience. But I was wrong. You still struggled. Daddy & Forrest waited outside in the garden area while you and I went up to her room to get her but when we got there she wasn’t there! We found her in the communal kitchen doing the dishes! That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about her, she loves to clean and help with things. As soon as she saw me (you had run away and hid yourself) she gave me the biggest smile and I said my usual, “Hej Mamma!! Do you know who I am?” and she replied with her usual “no, i’m not so sure” and when I replied telling her I was her daughter she got so happy and stroked my face and told me how happy she was that I was there. Then the same questions followed of where do I live, why do i live so far away followed along with me telling her I have two children. I told her it was my birthday and that today was the day that she brought me into this world via c section 43 years ago and that I wanted to eat cake with her. I grabbed some plates and spoons for all of us before taking her downstairs. Nixie, you were still really struggling and wouldn't go near her and I just couldn’t make sense of it.
When we all gathered at the table outside to eat our birthday cake, my mom got really excited once she saw all the cake and said this feels like a real party!! She used to not have much of an appetite but she devoured her slice in a couple of minutes, I couldn’t quite believe it!!! Me and my mum sat on one side and the three of you sat on the other side although you, Nixie, kept running away from the table getting more and more giddy and staying far away.
Once we finished our cake we took my mom for a walk down by the lake. Again you, Nixie wouldn’t even walk next to her or even look at her. I so wished I could have read your mind to understand what it was that you were going through. My mom was really happy to get to see you though and she even wanted you both to sit on her lap while I pushed her in the wheelchair but that was definitely not going to happen. Once we reached the waterfront I wanted to get some photos of all of us. I had asked you before we went to see mormor if this would be ok and I told you it was really important to me and you said ok. At first, you refused and just kept running off and away from my mum. But after a while you agreed to a photo but you wouldn’t stand next to her, only next to me. I felt so sad for my mum and for you and myself all at once, it was a bit overwhelming for me if i’m honest and I think my emotions took over a bit and I struggled in the moment to be there for you. I’m so happy daddy was there to help. And I am so grateful that my mum wasn’t aware of anything that was going on. At the moment she’s in a happy loop completely oblivious to a lot of things. I was getting increasingly frustrated and more emotional with the way you were acting, everything just felt really hard so daddy decided to leave with the two of you so that I could have some time with my mum on my own. My mum was so happy to get snuggles from daddy, I just loved how her entire face lit up. Once you all were gone we just sat in each other's company where she continued to ask me the same questions as always; where do you live? Is it far away? Why do you live so far away? Why don’t you live here? I always give her the same answers. I actually loved getting to tell her I’m her daughter over and over again because her reaction every single time was so beautiful; full of joy, excitement and happiness that I was there with her.
Me and my mum didn’t stay too long before heading back to her place where we had a really emotional time. Even though I'm now used to how my mum is and the intensity of the grief I used to feel isn’t really there anymore, I still get sad seeing how far down the Alzheimer's path she has become. I burst into tears at one point because I always find it hard after not seeing her for a while and feel full of guilt when she asks why I live so far away and if I’ll ever live in sweden. When she saw my tears I just told her they were because I miss her and that I wish I could come more often. She grabbed my face in her hands and said oh don’t cry. I asked her if she knew who I was and she was unsure but then remembered I was her daughter and just held my face in her hands. It was a really beautiful moment for me. I was feeling more emotional than usual due to the way our whole reunion played out but in my mum's eyes it had never even happened, she had already forgotten. And I guess that’s in some ways the beauty of Alzheimers at least where she’s currently at; she gets to stay in a happy loop.
I guess while I was with Mormor you and daddy had a long conversation about her and you really wanted to try again and demanded to come back to us but by the time you did, me and my mum had already left. I got a text from daddy saying that you were all downstairs so me and my mum went back down to see you. But I think since it took a little while for you to see us again your bravery had already disappeared and you were back to hiding from us.
I wanted more than anything for you and Forrest to feel a connection with your mormor, to create some new memories with each other during this trip. But the vision I had held wasn't meant to be. You really had a hard time being in her presence. You told me you felt nervous. I tried to get you to talk to me more about it but you couldn't.
What is it about seeing mormor that you find so hard?? I don't know was the only answer you could give me until after you had your last visit with her the night before returning back home to England when I tried talking to you about it more while on the train back to auntie Anitas. On that day you had been much braver and I knew you were trying really hard to step outside of your comfort zone but I still didn't understand what the real issue for you was. I had said to you, “I think I know, but I’m not sure.” You then told me that it was what I was thinking and that you wanted me to tell you but I told you no that I really wanted to hear it in your own words because I didn't want you to just agree with me for the sake of agreeing and ending a tough conversation. All you kept saying was that you felt really nervous. I said I understand that but why? What exactly is making you feel nervous? Then you finally told me what it was.
You simply whispered into my ear the word "Alzheimer's" and I said ok but what does that have anything to do with anything? And then you whispered into my ear "I'm scared of catching it" and in that moment my heart just broke for you and I wrapped you up in my arms, holding back tears, telling you that was something that could never ever happen. That having Alzheimer's is like when Forrest broke his leg but that it affects her brain and not something you could ever catch, that it's not contagious and that I would never ever put you in an unsafe situation. I just couldn't believe that all of the times we went to see her together you were full of fear of possibly getting it yourself and how it must have been torture for you to have been in that situation worrying about you, me, daddy and Forrest catching it! All of a sudden I gained absolute clarity and everything made sense. Of course you had to behave the way you did because you thought you were in danger and I’m so sorry that I obviously missed a huge thing when trying to prepare you to see mormor. I just didn’t have the slightest clue that this was a concern for you although I probably should have known because you have become so anxious about getting poorly all thanks to the pandemic but it hasn’t been something that has been such an issue over the last few months that I assumed you were past it.
Oh my sweet sensitive girl, how I wish we could have forwarded to our last night in Sweden together from the very beginning. Maybe our whole experience would have been different! But once you learned that you couldn’t “catch it” you told us you now felt safe and you instantly seemed so much more relaxed. We have lots to talk about now over the next few weeks, especially about how important it is to share what’s on our minds because a lot of the times what we may believe to be true turns out not to be true at all. I just want you to know how much I love and admire you and how I'm in awe of the strength & love you showed to be in Mormor's presence when you were absolutely terrified. You are truly one of the bravest little girls I know.
Go next to my beautiful friend and wonderful artist Jo Haycock in our Artefact Motherhood Project to read her post in our blog circle.