We were having lunch in a small French cafe near mom’s Florida home, reminiscing about working together at the same department store many years ago. She sold fashion designer clothing and luxurious furs while I worked in the women's sportswear department. We have always had so much in common, and her love of fashion was a huge influence on me. She was also instrumental in helping me get my first job in the industry.
The conversation changed, however, when she asked how long we had known each other. Somewhat taken aback, I made light of the fact that she had given birth to me 60 years ago and that I was the oldest of her five children. She looked directly at me with her beautiful blue eyes and quietly said, "I'm not your mother!" At first I was shocked and in denial that this strong woman who had lived independently for nearly a century, and worked until a few years ago, had no recollection of who I was.
Since that luncheon, my Mom's dementia has worsened and she has a hard time recognizing her children and grandchildren, let alone remembering our names. I find it takes a lot of patience to understand what she is saying, sometimes picking out a word or phrase and building a conversation around it. I sense her frustration when she tries to tell me something and it just won't come out.
Living on opposite sides of the country has made communicating increasingly more challenging. My daily calls have to be well thought out before I hear her say hello and reintroduce myself. What has saved us is having a sense of humor and our passion for fashion, which has not been effected by her loss of memory. I have found that Mom enjoys hearing about current trends in style and color. Instead of asking about what she had for dinner, our conversation is about what she is wearing or what I wore to a function or event.
Mom still dresses up everyday, and applies her Cover Girl foundation and Revlon lipstick herself. A recent phone call was about a new hat that she wanted me to know about (in reality, it was one she already had). She put the phone down and went and put it on for me and then described it in full detail. She seldom leaves her home without one of her stylish hats, which usually draws compliments from complete strangers. She gets a kick out of someone who recognizes her style.
Living in south Florida, her wardrobe consists of mostly white pants and tops that she layers for the season. The caregivers who stay with her keep everything perfectly ironed, making her clothes look new, even though some of them date back to when she worked for Neiman Marcus 25 years ago. Mom worked her whole life, which gives me plenty of material to talk to her about. There are amazing stories about her working and living in Chicago and New York in the 1940's, and how she owned her own cosmetic company before she was married. I'm the one telling her story to her now, which gives me such joy and pride.
As we make the journey to the next phase of her life together, it's comforting to know that we share so much, including the fashion gene, and I will keep reminding her about how lucky I am to have her as my Mom.