Yesterday, in the US, was Memorial Day or, as my great aunt use to call it, Decoration Day. A day to remember, remember our soldiers, remember our ancestors. What an impossible day for someone with dementia.
I took Mom to the three family cemeteries within an hour of her home. Something we have been doing together all my life. Usually we do it mid-May, planting red geraniums in front of family grave stones. But this year, with the ICU visit and everything else, Memorial Day was the first available day.
The first cemetery has my father's family. The six grave sites are scattered all over, most all marked with my mother's last name, her married name. We get out of the car, she knows in which direction to walk, years and years of visiting tell her that, but she does not know which headstone we should be looking for. I kneel down in front of my paternal grandfather's stone, clear away weeds and start to plant. My mother asks who these people are. Are we at the right stone? I cringe.
Something inside her tells her that we should look for a stone with "Mother" on it, I point out my great-grandmother's grave. Mom tells me that these are her relatives in this cemetery and not mine. How do I respond to that? I don't, I just cry, I plant and cry. Who does she think I am? Have I just become one of those nameless ladies who come everyday to take care of her?
Next on our trip is the cemetery where her parents, aunts, uncles, her maternal grandparents, and my Father are buried; the family plot. She watches me plant, resting herself on a neighbor's headstone. She yells at me because I have forgotten the grass clippers. She sets off my car alarm because she's yanking the door handles, trying to find the clippers. The peace and quiet of the cemetery is shattered.
I wander over to visit Richard. He came to stay beside our family when I was just ten years old and he was 21. He is my first memory of the War in Vietnam. I always thought he was so old, now I know he was so, so young. His mother and father's remains have recently joined him here. Richard is like an old friend, though I never knew him. His stone has been here longer than his mortal body was on earth.
"Look" Mom says "my name is here. My name is on this stone."
I can't talk to my Mother now, I can't remind her that she put her name with Dad's, that they'll be interred together. I know she is wondering why, why is he here, why is he in my family's plot. Her recent mumblings about my Dad have not been nice, memories surfacing of their stormy marriage.
This is her family's plot, where she will be someday. Now I know, I feel it deep inside me. This is the last time I will ever come here with my Mother to plant flowers. It is the last time we will do this together. The next time I bring my Mother to this cemetery, it will be to plant her.