No matter how expected, the fall is surprising, stops the heart.

In retrospect, we can retrace the journey and nod our heads, “Yeah, that makes sense, tracks with other stories.” But as we slide down the slippery slope of the disease, we don’t truly know what’s next, and each new milestone or change surprises us.

Mom’s sudden decline in January was surprising. Mom making it to her 84th birthday was surprising. On her birthday, you could have told me, “She’ll die tomorrow” or “She’s strong, she’ll might make it to 85,” and I would have been in no position to dispute or agree. I didn’t know. 

Maybe that’s what delivers the heavy blows to our hearts along the way. Not knowing, guessing, the surprises (expected and unexpected), and the reminder of just how little we control.

Another surprising thing for me was the serenity I found when I released the need to control and made peace with simply showing up for whatever the day would bring.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.
sliding towards the edge

Sliding towards the edge

Mom is 84 today. I shouldn’t be surprised because I always thought she’d live well past her 90s. 102? 105? But then January: a sudden decline, sliding towards the edge.

Sliding towards the edge of the world

In 2003, mom, my cousin, and I took the kids into the June of Rocky Mountains. We were a little early for the explosion of wildflowers, but we explored the lakes on top of the world, patches of ice and snow that defied the approaching summer.

As we played on one slope, my son lost his footing and began sliding towards the edge of the earth, faster and faster towards the abyss just beyond. I began my controlled fall down the slope, grabbing for anchors and purchase to save him (and myself).

In the misery of those scrambling moments, my heart left my chest and dragged my head through all the grief and tragic efforts. From the second my son disappeared over the edge to the recovery helicopter. From the top of the world with my children to my son’s empty room. All the dreads and dammits and disappointments. All the puddles of sobbing nights.

My son’s body stopped short of the edge of the world, and I managed not to scramble past him and over.

I don’t remember exactly what happened between sliding to a stop and sitting in the back of the van. We probably squeezed our hearts back into place with a desperate hug. We sat for a long time with the van hatch open, staring at the slope and the edge of the earth. Life electric tingled from our core to our toes and fingertips, grateful hearts, and boggled minds.

Sliding towards the edge of life

My son’s fall was unexpected, which added to the emotions. While mom’s sudden decline in January through Alzheimer’s markers wasn’t unexpected, the steep and the sudden of it was shocking and terrifying. The recovery and emotion from mom’s decline are different from that day in the Rockies. But the grief of loss —the sucker punch crisis-in-motion delivers— is just as strong, just as real.

Mom slid closer to the edge in January, so close that we didn’t expect her to make this birthday. But she did.

She’s too weak to climb back up the slope and sit on top of the world with me to recover fully. I’ll just sit here where she is, at the edge, and celebrate the blessings that remain.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022