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My mother had a cleft palate. It was fixed when she was three years-old, and you could never tell anything was wrong by looking at her, but it left her with two impediments: her speech and her mother.
Because of my mom's speech impediment, my grandmother told my mom she would probably never get married. Really? Is that the way you bolster your child's self-confidence? Maybe she thought she was protecting her daughter from the harsh realities of life. To me, it felt like my grandmother was priming my mother for failure. Perhaps I shouldn't be so judgmental. I mean, it is Mother's Day and my grandmother was a mother. So maybe my grandmother had a tough life - it's possible (or maybe more like probable, since she was always an unhappy, bitter person...but that's for another time).
So clearly my mom did get married, though not before her mother convinced her to say that she was ten years younger than she was. It wasn't until after she died that I discovered that she wasn't six years younger than my dad; rather she was four years older. That explained why we never really saw her cousins, aunts and uncles. This was a tough secret to keep. But keep it she did. Heck, with those tight lips, she could have worked for The Manhattan Project.
As for me, I never heard her speech impediment. I mean, I guess she was a little nasal, but that's all I knew so it sounded fine to me. And it sure didn't stop my mom. She was a fighter, the ultimate survivor. To prove it, she became a public speaker. The first time she took me to hear her speak, she told me, "When I first start to speak, you will hear tittering in the room. Then, after a minute they'll start listening to what I'm saying. Then, like that..." she would snap her fingers, "... I'll have them." And it happened every time. What a gutsy lady my mom was.
My mom went on to become a powerhouse. Among other things, she was President of the Garden State Ballet and New Jersey President of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. JFK even credited her with winning New Jersey for him and we all went to his Inaugural Ball. And my grandmother saw it all - attending every event at which my mom was honored.
My mom was invincible. Nothing could bring her down. Or so I thought. But then came something she was no match for: Alzheimer's. I watched as this scrappy, heroic, lioness of a woman was brought to her knees, and day by day, month by month, year by year, vanished into the unforgiving chasm of Alzheimer's - just as she had watched her mother do the same.
Visit our Brain Health page for more information on Alzheimer's.
My mom died 20 years ago. Surely, I thought, by the time I could get Alzheimer's, there will be a cure, or a way to manage it like HIV/AIDS. But I was wrong. So now it is my turn to do battle, but not with the disease. The disease will always win. No, I have to do battle with Congress to allot funding for research to defeat this equal-opportunity, Democratic/Republican/Independent/Tea Party killer.
So I'm fighting for you, Mom, for your memory, for me, for my kids and their kids and every generation to come so they can live the full life they deserve and proudly carry forward the genes of the valiant woman you were.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom...
Photo: Trish Vradenburg
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