The last words my mother ever spoke to me were, “I love you.” She assured me of that during a visit years before her death but only a short time before she withdrew into whatever private world it is in which dementia victims reside.

The last words my mother ever spoke to me were, “I love you.”

She assured me of that during a visit years before her death but only a short time before she withdrew into whatever private world it is in which dementia victims reside.

Already she had begun to spend considerable time there. She spoke infrequently, about topics that were slightly out context, with decreasing ability to make those with whom she was conversing understand her subject. She didn’t even seem to recognize the people she was talking to — never called us by name. But she seemed comfortable with us, either in conversation or silence.

“Look at that black thing,” she said when I arrived for my visit, bending to pet the black dog that had accompanied me. She called the chow chow pretty. She said it was cute.

In the days that followed it became her companion.

The dog would lie beside my mother when I was running an errand or visiting a sibling. Upon awakening each morning, she would greet my mother warmly and wait to be petted. In the curious manner of dogs, she would seek Mom out at intervals of a day, sniff and nudge to determine that all was well with the quiet woman, and move on in life.

My mother sought the pet out, as well, to stroke her gently and repeat the only name she ever called the dog. That “black thing.”

So it was unsurprising when she wandered into my bedroom the morning I was packing to return home.

“Oh, is the black thing going?” she asked with disappointment as I packed my dog’s water and food bowls.

“Yeah, Mom, she lives back in Ohio with me,” I answered, “But she’ll be back.”

That seemed to satisfy her. At least she changed the subject. Her final comment was sudden, and startling.

“You know I love you,” she said, looking directly — it seemed deeply — into my eyes.

I smiled and held her gaze for a moment, then gave her a hug and a kiss to somehow seal the emotion with a loving gesture. “I love you, too, Mom,” I whispered into her ear.

When she bent to pet the “black thing” once more, I wiped away a tear.

Not long after that she slipped nearly entirely into silence. What little she said was not uttered in conversation as much as it was announced to all those gathered in a room. When she looked into your eyes, at most she’d smile.

But, her final words to me linger. At times when I think of them I want to believe that her visit with me that morning was less a way to say good-bye to “that black thing” and more an effort to say good-bye to me. 

I think the words were a gift.

That I remember them each year as Mother’s Day approaches is a blessing.

Gary Brown writes for the Canton Repository. Contact him at gary.brown@cantonrep.com.