The moon hangs like an orb, suspended in the sky. Weightless. Floating. Full.
As if it does not carry the weight of measuring time and days as it brightens the dark sky on its descent into a new day.
This day it drops into is my birthday. Another measure of time, in years. A span of 365 risings and falling of the moon, marking 56 times today.
But the one who gave birth to me that day 56 years ago does not remember.
For her time is still, only measured in present. No before or after moments. Only now.
At times it is a gift, this only present moments. There is no sorrow about the past. No worries about the future. Alzheimer’s has taken away time consciousness. Perhaps it is not thievery. Perhaps it is freedom.
Time is suspended as I sit beside her bedside now, stroking the soft, thin folds of her hand in mine. I move for her this hand and arm, the one she cannot move, rendered still from a stroke months ago. She moves the other gracefully to the beat of an old Filipino song, O Ilaw:
Oh light, in the dark night
You’re like a star in the sky
Oh light in the quiet night
Your picture, dear, makes one hurt.
O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim
Wag is mo’y bitiun sa langit.
O, tanglaw, sa gabing tahimik
Larawan mo, Neneng, nagbigay pasakit.
I read the translation to this song we have listened repeatedly over the past months. Today it strikes me how true these words are. How is hurts to see her bedridden, to see her bones so frail, her arm still, her head and neck so weak. But her smile and the light behind her pale eyes still shine so brightly, the way they always have.
Those eyes close now, yet her hand continues to move to the beat of the music
Her voice is barely a whisper as her mouth forms the words.
Only months ago we would sing this together aloud as I took her for a walk outside, to take her out to feel the sun on her skin and see the flowers she loves bloom. Those days now are few as her lack of mobility makes it difficult to put her in the wheelchair.
She no longer marks the days. Yesterday I told her, “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
She raised her eyebrows with a familiar smile.
“Oh it is? I did not remember,” she says. “What month is it?”
“January,” I tell her.
“January,” she repeats.
“Do you know the day?” I ask.
She shakes her head no
“My birthday is January 13,” I tell her.
“Oh,” she mouths quietly, then whispers, “What do you want for your birthday?”
“A new dress,” I tell her.
She smiles. “Ok.You get one.”
“Ok, I do you want to go shopping with me?” We used to spend hours shopping together.
She shakes her head no.
She whispers again, “What do you want?”
I think of the time we spent only months ago, when I could push her outside and we could sing her favorite song together,
I tell her, “I want you to sing, sing really loud mommy, so I can hear you.”
Together we sing in Tagalog words that have become familiar these past months, translated:
Awake and arise from slumber, from your sleep so deep. Open your window and look out to me, so that you may understand my true lament
I read the translation to this song, this day before my birthday. This day I have scheduled hospice to come to do an evaluation of mom’s condition. Her strength has declined markedly since her stroke last August. My lament over her condition has rendered me sleepless and worried.
This day before I start a new year, I need to know. I need someone to help me measure the amount of my mom’s decline, need to know where she was at in her stages of Alzheimer’s. And the hospice coordinator comes to the door shortly after we finish our song.
“Hello,” she greets my mother, “How are you. Who are you? Can you tell me your name?”
“Bing,” she answers with a smile.
“I want to know if she has a awareness of who she is,” the coordinator had told me earlier in a brief interview.
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“Does she have a sense of who she is,” she answered. “Can she answer the question, ‘Who are you?'”
On this birthday of mine I ask myself, Do I have a sense of who I am? Can I answer this question: “Who are you?”
In the past years it has been entangled between caregiver and mother.And lately I have fallen exhausted into both. But that is not the woman my mother raised me to be.
She would want me to answer that question, as she still can: “Who are you”
Me separate from my mother, from my children
Me the one who is shaped by caring for others but not defined by it
Me, searching for to be fully the one I was created to be
The day my mother brought me into this world 56 years ago
If the measure of our days here on earth is to have a sense of self, let me be the one my mother led by example for me to be.
Loving others, caring for their needs, listening, laughing alongside.
As she has for years
And has she does now
In each moment
Suspended still in the air
Like the moon, full.