Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

Today is the first anniversary of my mother’s death, and so it seems like an appropriate, necessary time for a valediction—a farewell address reflecting on how I’ve fared without her in the past year. The word “valediction” even contains her name, “Val,” making it seem meet and proper to do so. Less has changed than I expected—the anguished, desolate waste land I expected to be stranded in after her death never materialized. Instead, my grief has erupted in short bursts: […]

Home is So Sad

This summer we laid Mom to rest. A gentle euphemism—”laid to rest.” What I mean is that we buried her ashes. We did it twice, actually, because Mom wanted to be buried next to her beloved parents, Dad wants to have his ashes scattered at their beloved lake cottage, and they both wanted to be together forever. So we split the difference, and put half of Mom’s ashes in a cemetery in Malden, Massachussetts, and half in Highland Lake in […]

Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Temple

Memory Is Something If You Give It Away

Recently, I was knocked flat for a day by a stomach virus. I couldn’t do anything but lie in bed, which gave me a lot of time to miss Mom. In my half-asleep state, I imagined a conversation with her—the one I wish I’d had, before it was too late. It began with me asking, “How does it feel to have Alzheimer’s? How does it feel in your head?” Her answers were clear, but just like with a vivid dream, […]

Into the Wild, Precious Life

When your mother has just died, people come up to you with empathetic eyes and soft voices and ask, “How are you?” So genuine is the concern that I feel like I should burst into tears and confess that each day is a trial, that I feel as if I’m plodding through mud, dragging my sinking heart behind me like a heavy stone. Instead, I admit, I’m doing surprisingly well—so much so that I wonder if my heart has become a cold stone. Ads for the just-released movie Wild deliver a […]

Momento Mori, or Motherless Me

  “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” because you are proceeding through the gates of shameless, narcissistic navel gazing. My mommy has died, leaving me motherless, which seems like good justification for ruminating, even if there’s little reward in it for you, my hapless reader. I spent the long weekend in Connecticut for Mom’s Memorial Service, which was lovely. I wish she could have been there to enjoy it! Friends and family gathered from as near as the choir […]

In Memoriam: Valerie Jean Gates Wintsch

Valerie J. Wintsch, 75, died peacefully on January 2, 2015, at Arden Courts in Hamden, CT, from complications of Alzheimer’s. A vivacious, well read, and intellectually curious lady, Valerie loved good books, music, friendship, and laughter. Most of all, she loved her family. She was a devoted daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. Born in Naugatuck, CT, in 1939, Valerie was the daughter of teacher Dorothy Moses and chemical engineer Charles Gates. She grew up in Elmira, Ontario, a tight-knit community […]

This Hour Her Vigil

The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and lights are packed away, a New Year’s Day ritual that is tedious but satisfying. This year, my sense of accomplishment is troubled by a nagging sense of something unfinished, something demanding my attention. But the task before me is not mine to complete: it is my mother’s. She is dying. We are merely keeping vigil. Her Alzheimer’s has run a rapid course since her diagnosis 3 years ago. Nevertheless, this last stretch has caught us […]

Of Mere Being

I’ve just returned from a much anticipated, much dreaded three-day sojourn in Connecticut, where I saw Mom for the first time in her new living quarters, an extended care facility called Arden Courts. My family had given me a pretty clear picture of what to expect, but they couldn’t prepare me for the emotional wallop of seeing her, dozing in the common room, wheelchair-bound, listing to the side, head tilted back, arms stiff, legs atrophied, feet puffy in her unused shoes. […]

You Don't Get What You Pay For

One thing we’ve learned about Alzheimer’s care is that you don’t get what you pay for. Quality of care doesn’t correlate to cost of care. For instance, my Mom was getting excellent care in the assisted living wing of the retirement village she lived in, a few buildings away from my Dad’s apartment. The facilities were lovely: she had a spacious, private room with an elegant seating area composed of Aunt Opal’s Queen Anne furniture. The staff was friendly and […]

Sending Kids to College for the First Time

We  just moved one of our twin sons to Washington University in St. Louis, one time zone away. In two weeks, we’ll help set up his brother at Stanford University, three time zones away. I’m thrilled for our sons, nervous about the challenges ahead, and excited about the marvelous opportunities that lie before them.  Distracting myself with organizational tasks and preparations, I’ve managed to avoid being maudlin, morose, sentimental, and weepy (most of the time). Letting Luke go was harder […]