This Mother’s Day has more meaning for my family than it has in past years. Our beloved mother, Gisela Ullmann Rodriguez, is still with us in body- but the wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother that we have known and loved for 50 years, is not wholly with us this year.
My mother is slipping away from us. There isn’t anything that can be done about it. She has what appears to be a form of Alzheimer’s disease.
It all started around January of 2010. It started with very little things, and it didn’t really become alarming until we noticed she was forgetting birthdays and other details she would NEVER in a million years, have forgotten.
When I was growing up, my mother was one of those “SUPER MOMS” who worked outside the home in addition to being an incredible homemaker. Even after working in an office all day, she had an amazing dinner on the table every single night. We were very proud of the fact that she was a valued professional in the workplace, and she was an incredible role model for my sister and me.
As I got older and became a mother to my own children, I could never understand where she got her drive or energy from all those years. She and my father raised my sister and me to have a very strong work ethic; but I could never believe or understand how she managed to accomplish all the things she did. She was renowned for her drive and ability. She lived up to her German roots and never forgot where she came from.In addition to being a driven wife and professional, she has always been a devoted and patient mother and grandmother. And while she could be very stern and serious, she has always had a great capacity for love, compassion, and generosity.
She retired in December, 1999, from a very stressful and demanding job as an Office Manager/Property Manager of a local condominium. Sometimes she worked close to 60 hour weeks. It wasn’t unusual for her to be on 24 hour a day call and have to go to work on weekends. Always the consummate professional in every regard, she was a relentless advocate for residents, as well as staff.
In previous posts, I have written about my family. It can’t ever be stated strongly enough that my mother was the glue that held our family together. In her prime, there was no problem too difficult, no issue outside of her ability to cope. In dealing with her daughters and grandchildren, she was often tough, but always fair and compassionate. You didn’t want to aggravate her or make her upset, but even if that happened, she was quick to forgive us and move forward (not so much with my father).
My mother, Gisela Ullmann Rodriguez, has been the epitome of the modern woman. Born in Köln, Germany, a couple of years before the onset of World War II; her life began amid chaos, danger, and deprivation.She came into a tough world at a very tough time. She was a child of war, and that experience has been a defining one throughout her entire life. As a small child, she lived in a world of uncertainty and dread. Her house burnt in a bombing raid and the family had to relocate with relatives far from the city life she was used to in Köln. Her one salvation was the strong extended family bonds and the resilience of her mother’s family, which held them all together throughout the years of deprivation and danger.
When my grandfather returned from his years in a British Prisoner of War Camp, she didn’t recognize him. She was ten years old. War was the thing she knew best, and that had a powerful impact on her.
My mother loves my husband, David, because he is, to her, the embodiment of the things she knows and admires most. She respects and admires his ability to DO things and makes things happen. She has a soft spot in her heart for him because he reminds her of her father- a man with many strength, and weaknesses, a man who knew about war and hardship, a man of action and determination, and a man with rough edges and charisma.
My family of origin- father, Pablo, sister, Lisa, me, and mother, Gisela, in 2011
Nothing pleases my mother more than seeing someone do an honest day’s work. It isn’t that she didn’t like to have fun; she just wasn’t very good at it. Relaxation and rest has not been her strong suite. In her world, she reserves the highest respect and admiration for those who provide service to others. She sees something familiar to her in David’s soul that none of us in the family have- a first-hand, personal experience, and understanding of war- and all of its sounds, and smells, and sights. They both have lived in war, and that is a bond that is beyond our comprehension.I could write a book about my mother’s life. She has led a fascinating one. Nothing glamorous or very exciting, but extraordinary in her ability to confront extreme difficulties and pull together under extremely stressful circumstances.
That is why it is almost unbearable to accept and fathom what is happening to her. It is so unexpected and out of character. How could this happen to someone who was so detail-oriented and never, ever, forgot ANYTHING?! She remembered EVERY friend’s birthday and anniversary. Her memory was almost annoying, as she rarely forgot even the most mundane details. Her mind was truly like a steel-trap.
And now, more and more, she can’t recall what happened 20 minutes ago. Sometimes the things that happen in life are crueler than you could have imagined possible. Because the worst part of it is that the things she remembers most vividly are those things that happened during her difficult childhood- war, separation, loss, and family. I fear for a day when that is all she remembers.So we are grateful to still have our beloved mother with us. We still enjoy her company, and she enjoys us. We have to adjust, and that is a character-building experience. Is it ever? We aren’t alone. There are millions of families who have, or are, or will be, going through what we are now going through. We take it a day at a time. Our love and our time is more precious than ever. Each day she remembers is a cherished gift. We don’t squander it as we did. We don’t take it for granted.