Mom, would you read this page out loud to me?” I was sitting next to my mother on the couch in the den. The words I had written for her to read to me were on a page on her lap. She looked steadily at me.
I looked into her brown eyes, smiled and said, “Mom, I would really love you to read these words out loud to me.” She looked away from me and down at the sentence. She paused for a long moment. Then, in a strong voice, a voice I hadn’t heard in a long time, my mother read: “I love to feel the sunshine on my face.”
I was thrilled to hear her speak. In 1998, my mother, Shirley Burdick, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since 2000, as she entered more advanced stages of the disease, she’d spoken almost entirely in mono syllables.
I wondered if Mom wasn’t speaking because the disease had made her “lose her way” to the words. Experts explained that people with Alzheimer’s eventually experience disruptions in the language centers of the brain—some sooner and others later in the disease process. I wanted to help Mom find her way to more words. I determined that I would round up some words for my mother to read and say out loud and give them to her in a book of her own. And since I was choosing the words, I wanted them to be positive and enthusiastic.
The joy I felt when my mother read them aloud must have been a lot like the joy my parents had felt more than 50 years earlier when I first read out loud to them. “Mom, how does the sun feel on your face?” I waited patiently. Another long moment went by. Her eyes met mine. I asked again, “Mom, how do you feel when you are in the sunshine?” Another moment, and then I could tell she knew what she wanted to say. “Warm” my mother said. “Oh,” I said, “The sun feels warm on your face? It feels warm on my face too!” Then I asked, “Do you like to feel the sunshine on your face?” Her eyes were shining. “Yes,” she said, “I do!”