I had just finished helping Alice get dressed. Picking out clothes to wear and getting them on was long since too hard. Now I stood behind her brushing her hair as she sat at her dressing table. Our eyes met in the center of the three-part mirror that had stood like a folded screen on her dressing table for as long as I could remember.
“Because you are my mother.”
Big pregnant pause. “I’m your mother?”
And another. Alice turned to face me. “Who’s your daddy?”
“You were married to Dave. You had three children. Mark is the oldest, then me, Suzy is the youngest.”
“Ah, yes. I remember.” Alice turned back and I kept brushing, watching her through the mirror. She looked up and found my eyes in the reflection. “I wasn’t very good to you. I’m sorry.”
Unfinished business. That’s one of the reasons she was here living with us. But I never imagined I would hear these words stated so simply.
“So you forgive me?”
“Of course.” On an intellectual level, I had forgiven her years before.
“Because you did the best you could.” I knew that if I wanted it, Alzheimer’s would let us have this conversation every single day.
But forgiveness is also action, action that lets me re-do the past. I wanted to stand at this same dressing table and brush her hair without yanking, without getting annoyed at her knots and chopping all her hair off. I wanted to listen to her as she spoke about her day. I wanted to guide her through uncharted territory. I wanted to face sickness of the mental sort straight on instead of sweeping it under the rug. The rhythm of the brush soothed us both.
When I set the brush down on the dressing table, next to a bowl overflowing with the strands of beads that Alice loved to wear, she turned around to face me again and said, “Running a hotel must be very hard.”