My Mom's Best Friend
She may have all the woes of an octogenarian, but my Auntie Pat is physically healthy and I know she will still be with us for sometime. Yet, somewhere along the way, we lost her. And she can’t find her way back.
Maybe in a special part of her mind, we do exist. But that part doesn’t come around too often anymore—not in the last months that I saw her.
Auntie Pat is my late mom’s younger sister and best friend. When my mom suddenly died four years ago, Auntie Pat still had the capacity to grieve over the loss of her manang (older sister). And grieve she did for a year or two. But like mist, the grief wafted away, not because “time heals all wounds” but because she started to think of my mom in ancient past, when they were children, in and out of her confused and indistinct time zones.
Alzheimer’s is fast becoming an epidemic, afflicting today over 24 million people worldwide and counting. I personally know of other aunts, uncles, and moms who have left the world before their time while we, their families, mourn the passing of their minds.
As an Ambassador’s wife, my Auntie Pat has seen the world and has rubbed elbows with the world’s Heads of States. But she and her husband, my Uncle Love, chose to come back to the small town which my mom never left; the town where Auntie Pat and her older sister grew up and raised their young families.
Coming home, and leaving her grown children in America, Auntie Pat became a probinsiyana (rural lass) once more.
Reunited, minus the responsibilities of growing children, Auntie Pat and Mom had the time of their lives. They traveled and enjoyed new things together. They sought out their other siblings and redefined bonding. It was idyllic and comfortable, you might say, for a few years until Mom passed away and Auntie’s brain had begun to falter.
Barely two years after, my uncle Love passed on, as well. We couldn’t tell whether losing her beloved husband of over 60 years was something she was aware of. She seemed to be grieving, but not really. Or maybe she had forgotten what grief means. Her children began to worry. They live too far away to give Auntie Pat the caring she needs. So one day, her eldest daughter (my cousin Minna) came home for a few months to see to her needs.
In all this, here’s a baffler. Although her memory has been practically shut—forgetting everyone—she knows God! She follows your lead in prayer and sings hymns with fervor, most lyrics in her memory still.
The difficult decision to bring her back to the US had to come, but only after a tug-of-war of emotions.
“We can’t uproot her all over again.”
“But she doesn’t know where she is anymore anyway.”
“Her memory takes her to so many places and America won’t make much difference.”
“There we will all have the chance to show her our love and take care of her.”
On the eve of her departure, we had a party. She sang, danced, laughed, and prayed with us—happy memories that could last forever. But not in Auntie Pat’s mind. An hour after we left, she was on to a totally different era, maybe a snippet of one not-too-pleasant memory.
The Auntie Pat that I knew was always a refreshing, calming presence—a gracious hostess, a mild-mannered lady, a considerate woman, an attentive listener, and an appreciative guest. As I described her in one of my books, “She talks like a queen and walks like a queen.” Well, the queen is no longer here; she is not in America either.
Cousin Minna updates us and sends Auntie's latest photos—the next best thing to being with her. But the once-sweet smile is perfunctory and the once-bright eyes are glassy.
We miss her. Where could she have gone?
One of my prayer partners, a doctor, makes everything seem right. She says, “Your Auntie Pat is blessed. In her condition, nothing can hurt or worry her.”
“But what if all she remembers are those that hurt and worried her?” I ask.
“All her memories are short, or gone,” she retorts.
“But her feelings aren’t,” I reply.
“Right, but the feelings are fleeting. And fleeting feelings—sad or happy—don’t count.”
Indeed, what counts is that one day, up there where Jesus lives, when all of us shall have left this earthy life, Auntie Pat will recognize Mom and us. And we, who dearly love her, will see the queen as she was—a wonderful aunt who prays hard and sings glorious hymns with her heart full and mind intact.