"Lucid" and "cognizant" are two words I never imagined using to describe a visit with my mother.
But more and more her memory is fading, and at times she seems like a shadow of the strong, smart, creative, resourceful woman who, along with my dad, raised me.
"We had a good visit," I'll report to my husband. "We played cards and talked about when she was a kid living on the farm."
She does less these days, although she still crochets. She sticks to smaller projects (still bigger than I could attempt) and likes to make square dishcloths. I see that in her latest batch the sides are uneven with the corners being more rounded than square. She tells me I can pick four. I choose carefully and treasure each one.
Crochet projects aside, things don't interest her like they used to. She still enjoys shopping, but worries about being away from home. "How long do you think we'll be gone?" she asks.
"We'll make it a quick trip," I assure her, knowing full well that her day's itinerary is completely empty. Sometimes she gets carried away looking at things in the store and we stay for hours.
"I never was a good cook," she says, and although I don't verbally disagree, I know she is wrong. I remember the heartiest of meals while growing up. They were of the meat and potatoes fare, with a salad and Western dressing on the side - every night, served the moment my dad came home from work.
Now she sometimes has trouble heating up a frozen pizza, or making scrambled eggs. When I visit, I think about bringing a cooler of food, juice and milk, mostly for my kids, but I wonder if it would hurt her feelings. I realize she probably wouldn't notice, or care.
Things that used to upset her don't anymore. Annoyances and anxieties seem to have faded along with her memory. She is more carefree. It is bittersweet.
On one of my recent visits, we wanted to go shopping, but she couldn't find her purse. Five years ago this would have thrown her into a flustered tizzy. Instead, we called the grocery store where she was earlier in the day. They hadn't found any lost purses. "Let's go anyway," she suggested. "I don't need my purse to shop. If I find anything, I'll pay you back later."
She was lighthearted in the store. My cell phone rang. It was my dad, saying he cancelled her credit card, just in case her purse was stolen. I told her the news. "Oh, I don't like it when he does that," she said, and I realized this had happened before.
I expected this to disrupt our trip, but it didn't. Something an aisle away had caught her eye and she was on the move again. We found a pink cashmere sweater that she thought would look beautiful on me. It was more than I would normally spend on a sweater, but she was insistent that I have it. It would be her treat once she found her purse.
We returned home, cashmere sweater in hand. By this time, my dad had located the lost purse sitting next to their bed. It was good news.
We reviewed our purchases; I pulled out the pink sweater and she looked at it like she was seeing it for the first time.
"Did you get yourself a new sweater?" she asked. "It's a pretty color. It will look nice on you."
We sat at the kitchen table and she told me the story about how she fell off of the tractor when she was a young girl on the farm. She shared other familiar memories over the next hour. We talked and laughed. When it was time for me to leave, I grabbed the shopping bag that held my new sweater.
"What's in there?" she asked. I showed her the pink cashmere. "Oh, that's a pretty color. It will look nice on you," she said.
We hugged and I held on for just little longer than I normally would. Then, I had to go.