By Al L., Philadelphia, PA
“Smile for Mommy. C’mon Emma, smile for Mommy,” Maggie called to her four month old daughter. As if she understood her mother, baby Emma smiled. It was probably gas. Maggie clicked her cell phone to get the picture.
She would add it to a special ornament. It was silver ornament in the shape of a gift box, with a silver bow on top. Each side of the box had a space for a picture. On one side was the grainy black and white of her grandmother as a child. On the second side was her mother in washed-out 1960’s era Kodachrome. On the third side was her picture, a true Kodak moment as a child of 7 showing a wide smile with no front teeth. On the fourth and final side would be Baby Emma’s picture.
Four generations represented on one ornament. The perfect gift for her grandfather. Even though it had been years since Pop’s dementia had started and his slow spiral from “sharp as a tack” to “not knowing people’s names” was complete, it was still worth it to help Pop put the ornament on the tree.
Maggie put the baby’s picture on the final side, grabbed her coat and Baby Emma and headed to her mother’s house. After her grandmother had died, Pop had moved in with her mother and father when he started to fail. He was a guest in the house, not knowing that the woman and man who lived with him and who he saw every day were his daughter and son-in-law.
He just accepted that they were there, not really knowing who they were. Never really engaging in conversation. Just sitting in his chair watching TV. Most days he just smiled at them and said nothing.
It had been several years since he called any family members by their names. But each Christmas Maggie and her mother would unwrap the ornament and point out the people and tell Pop who was on the ornament. Maggie would start the conversation, “This is Rachel, your wife, when she was a child. On this side is Mary, your daughter. And this is Maggie — that’s me. And guess what Pop? One day when I have a baby — your great grandchild, I will put her picture on the other side.”
Pop would just smile and repeat the names with Maggie, more of a rote response rather than showing an understanding. Each year Maggie would go through the same ritual and together they would hang the ornament on the tree. She would kiss Pop and hug him, holding back a tear.
Her mother opened the door for Maggie when she arrived, grabbing Baby Emma and joyously almost squeezed the life out her granddaughter. Maggie put down the diaper bag, the snap-in car seat, the bag with bottles and what seemed like a hundred accessories for the baby, not even having time to take off her coat. She went over to Pop who was sitting in the easy chair with his feet up staring at the TV. She put the ornament on the table next to Pop and lovingly kissed his head.
“Here mom, let me bring the baby over to Pop.” Mary reluctantly let go of the baby.
“Here she is Pop. Emma. Your great granddaughter.” Maggie gently placed Emma on Pop’s lap.
“Hello beautiful baby,” he said to her. Baby Emma looked up at Pop and smiled. “Oh, what a lovely smile you’re giving me.” Pop caressed the baby’s cheeks with his well worn hands. “You most certainly are a beautiful baby.” Pop then lifted his finger to his lips, kissed it and then placed his finger on the baby’s lips.”This is for you, Emma.” The baby stared at Pop and reached up and grabbed the finger that was still on her lips. “What a beautiful baby,” Pop repeated. His face was glowing. A look that neither Mary or Maggie had seen in years.
With the Baby Emma holding his finger, Pop looked at Maggie. “Where’s the ornament Maggie? Is it time to hang it up?” he asked.
Stunned, both Maggie and Mary, wide-eyed and mouths open, exchanged excited looks. ” Think it would look good just below the angel?” Pop asked. Pop looked at his daughter and granddaughter and great granddaughter staring at him in amazement.
“Maggie. Mary. Where do you think? Where we should put the ornament?” He looked at pictures on it. “All of you, in one place. Rachel, Mary, Maggie and Emma.”
Mary took the baby from Pop’s lap while Maggie took his hand to help him out of the chair. “Let’s hang the ornament Pop,” she said. Together Maggie and Pop placed the ornament at the highest branch of the tree, right under the angel.
“That’s a great spot you thought of Pop.”
“Yep, looks good. A great place for me to see all my girls.”
Pop sat in his chair and looked at Mary holding Baby Emma.
What a beautiful baby,” he said. “Baby Emma.”
Maggie and Mary both began to cry. Pop looked at them.
“What a beautiful family,” he said.
The two women hugged and kissed him while he held Baby Emma.
“Oh, Pop. Pop I love you,” Maggie said.
“I love you too, Maggie.”
Nobody said anything for several minutes.
It was Pop who broke the silence. “This is a beautiful baby. What did you say her name was?”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot?”
A silence crept into the room.
“Baby Emma, you say?” Pop asked.
Maggie shook her head. “And .. are you her mother?”
“Maggie, Pop. I’m Maggie.”
“And who is she?” he asked pointing to his daughter Mary.
“That’s your daughter Mary,” Maggie answered, holding back her tears.
“And who is this beautiful baby?”
Maggie and Mary began to cry. For one moment, one bright Christmas moment, they had their precious father and grandfather back. It was a moment they could hold on to. And every year Maggie and Baby Emma continued the tradition and went back to the house to hang the ornament. Pop would hold the baby while Maggie would point to each picture on the ornament and tell Pop who everyone was.
And Pop would smile and say “What a beautiful baby.”
“A World Without Alzheimer’s Disease.” Can we reach it in our lifetime? Find out more and see how you can help by visiting the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.
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