Letting Go of Needle and Thread

Creative Commons License photo credit: Callum McKain


I find parts of my mother are falling off. I don’t know how to put them back on her. I want to pull out my needle and thread and sew them back on. I think, If only I was a better seamstress. If only I could thread the needle faster. Why are my fingers so clumsy? Of course I cannot sew her back together. I see pieces of her fall to the ground, yet they are invisible. Where is my fireball mother? Where is her sharp mind and quick tongue that always cut me off impatiently; two women competing for words as only a mother and daughter can do? They are gone. Ha, the irony! Years of me screaming, “God, you never let anybody get a word in edgewise!” Now, my mom’s words are slow and sloppy. I must wait while she searches for them. I want to scream, “’Cold!‘ You’re looking for the word ‘cold’. The opposite of hot is cold.” That may sound callous. Why, you might ask, am I so impatient with a woman who is losing her mind and cannot help it? Welcome to the illogical world of love.

Yet, this journey teaches me over and over what life is about. Life is not what we want it to be. It’s just not. The pain of losing my mother and her sometimes inability to say my name, or to remember what I told her five minutes ago has stretched me into forms and dimensions I never dreamed of. Scorpion pose or hanumanasana don’t hold a candle to the way my heart has been torn but stretched wider. What ARE these poses anyhow, but metaphors for the expansiveness of our hearts?

I took my mother out to dinner the other night. Not easy. She uses a walker. No one knows why her spine crumbled into a doughnut about four years ago at the age of 58, making her look elderly. She is taken for my grandmother constantly. It’s evident to me the cause is her Alzheimer’s. The parts of her brain that decode spacial interpretation are dying, so she looks down at the floor all the time as if she is trying to get close to it, convinced that the patterns in the carpet or sparkles in the granite on the sidewalk are actually three dimensional and rising up at her. In the time it takes to walk four steps with my mother, I could have walked two city blocks in Manhattan by myself.

Creative Commons License photo credit: shaire productions

I guided her into the restaurant and we made our way, slowly, to the table. I am fast by nature. Moving, talking, dancing, I find my mind’s demons released through speed. But, there is no speed with my mother. I must find peace with this slow, confused walk. Tripping on her feet. Banging into chairs if I do not guide her. People look. I am learning not to care. I am learning to find equanimity that is evolving through loving my mother.

I order for my mother whenever we go out. She gets confused. She can’t remember what’s on the menu, or where she is. I request baked ziti for her and eggplant parm for me. When her food arrives she repeatedly tries to use her spoon. Being an only child with a family who can’t often visit, I find myself in these surreal moments alone; moments where the boundaries of life and what is “real” are tested. Do I let her use her spoon if she is successfully eating, thereby not embarrassing her by telling her she is doing something wrong, or do I take away her spoon and replace it with the fork? I decide on the latter and as I suspected she gets angry, “Oh, I guess I’m not doing something right again!” she barks. I change the subject. Make a joke. She laughs. We are over it. Let go. Just keep letting go.

The greater revelation of course is that this has nothing to with a fork or spoon at all. How disillusioned I have been to think that just because one knows how to use a fork he or she is well, and those who don’t are not. The questions must be asked: What is it to be “well”?

Here is a roundabout way of offering an answer to this question:

My mother:
Sings at the top of her lungs. (All the wrong lyrics mind you, but she sings damn it).
Says Hello to everybody she passes, people she doesn’t know, people she has just said Hello to three times, and she tells them that she is happy that they are there, and that they look beautiful.
Becomes like a child when I touch her, when I hold her hand or hug her. (But, what is a child anyhow, but an open, generous and sweet being?)

My mother also gets angry.
She pushes picture frames and books off the table looking for things.
She leaves door and drawers open and puts toilet paper in the sink.
She becomes irritated when she can’t remember where the bathroom is or how to get to the lunchroom.

Creative Commons License photo credit: emdot

In these moments I gently tell her she is all right. That it’s going to be OK. This usually calms her down. In other words, she rises to the light. No matter how scared or confused she is, when she is met with gentleness and kindness she smiles. When she doesn’t, I am reminded this is what love is: Being present with her as she is instead of how I want her to be.

I’m learning to let go. Not in a nihilistic way or in Pollyanna way, but in an honest and courageous way. If I stubbornly cling to “but she should know how to use the bathroom,” or “she should know how to use a fork,” then I will miss her.

We only say “should” anyhow because we are afraid. We don’t know what to do with things that don’t remain same, solid, stuck. When I say, “should” it’s because I’m afraid my protector is slipping away and I’m not sure if I can rise up to this new role of being HER protector. But, she is slipping away, of course, and I can rise up to this role because I have.

It’s all slipping away. Everything we have in this world will. Best, to have gratitude for each moment.
My mother is well. She loves and responds to love, and in between moments of confusion she pipes up with, “Be a river, Rachel. Just let it all fall away and go towards what you love.

We are doing the best we can, all of us. Be here fully and honestly and open yourself to the pain and to the joy that comes from being with what is instead of how you want it to be.

The heart is an ocean. As the poet Maya Angelou says, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

I am learning to stop trying to sew my mother up. She is full and whole and beautiful as she is. She is teaching me the fragility of being here. She is teaching me that we all have masks, personas, and armors, but below it all we are like flowers leaning toward the light always. Reaching towards the song, the touch, and the softness. In other words, we’re leaning towards love. We’ll always be able to understand that, with a fork or a spoon between our fingers.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Neal.


Posted by:

- who has written 3 posts on Yoga Modern.

Rachel D. Bennett is a writer, yoga teacher and dancer living in New York City. She is a graduate of Hunter College with degrees in dance and writing and also of the William Esper two-year acting program. She attended the Boston Conservatory Summer Dance Program and Oxford University Creative Writing summer school and has completed her 200-hour teacher training through Yoga Works. She attends dharma talks at the Shambhala Center and Interdependence Project where her mind is constantly stretched, specifically in the ideas pertaining to what is self and compassion? She is a SAG and AEA member and continues to dance and practice yoga as a way to celebrate being here. She teaches yoga that focuses on the breath and getting out of the mind. Rachel is working on a memoir about her mother and Alzheimer's called "REMEMBERING MY MOTHER."

47 Responses

  • Laura Max Nelson says:

    What a beautiful post. I love your writing style and really identify – honored to have been tagged!

  • Sarah says:

    Love this honest and touching piece, Rachel. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Julie says:

    Rachel, I love your constant optimism. Whatever you have been and are faced with in life, you always strive to see the positive aspects about any situation. Bravo you strong woman!

    • rdbennett says:

      Julie, Thanks for your comment, but at some level, it's really a selfish motivation. Seeing the positive is in many ways much easier than seeing the negative. I don't have any energy left for negative. If I indulged there, I'd be swept out to sea never to return! Seeing beauty where I can gives me strength to keep going. Does that make sense?

      • Julie says:

        Yes – totally makes sense! But you have a natural ability to see the positive. By writing this article you did something positive instead of hiding the pain and struggle, and this article in turn I'm sure has inspired others or at least helped them think, "Hey I'm not the only one out there going through all of this".

  • Brittney says:

    An honest and gorgeous piece. My toddler has been sick this week and I can identify in a small way with some of your challenges. I will try to be present with him as he is instead of how I want him to be. Thank you for sharing.

    • rdbennett says:

      Brittney, I'm so glad this piece spoke to you. Isn't it amazing how on the surface stories seem different, but with a closer look they are quite the same?

  • John Bennett says:

    Rachel — You have written something beautiful and profound and I love you the more for it. You have an understanding of pain and anguish and I feel your suffering. You are a fine writer. Don't quit. I know you feel you are walking a lonely path, but you are not. God bless you for watching out for your mother.

    Love, uncle John

    • rdbennett says:

      Uncle John, I'm so touched by your response. Thanks for your encouragement and for telling me not to quit. Dad would be pleased. All my love, Rachel

  • bean says:

    So honest and real. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  • Amber says:

    Rachel, this is without a doubt a magnificent representation of your gift as a writer, and your courage and willingness to use your gift as a vehicle to inspire the world with what is so desperately needed: LOVE. Thank you for your open heart and crystalline voice.

  • Mike Rhea says:

    This is an incisive look at the process of Alzheimers. It is well written, but painful to read. This is the kind of article that should be published commercially and widely to humanize the disease. In my time at Reuters, WINS Radio, the Associated Press and the Baltimore Sun, I would have welcomed a colleague with these skills.

    • rdbennett says:

      MIke, From a true news man like you, your words are a compliment. I hope, in some way, that I can humanize the disease. I almost feel like I have to.. Thanks again for your feedback.

  • Becky says:

    What a heart-wrenching and beautiful piece.

  • Yael says:

    Rachel, so beautiful. And that quote from Maya Angelou really resonates.

    • rdbennett says:

      Yael, I know, isn't it a beautiful quote? It really made me think of my mom and also of life. Too often we feel as if we must define or prove the worth of something that wakes us at some deep level instead of celebrating it for what it is. Thank you for you comments!

  • suzy weisman says:

    Ali shared this with me…a magnificant piece of writing..you are a gift to your mother.

    • rdbennett says:

      Suzy, I'm sure in your work as a therapist you see people suffer from different situations all the time. Somehow, we, keep on. The human spirit is mysteriously unbreakable. Thank you so much for reading my post!

  • Rachel,
    I'm looking for words to respond to this beautiful display of complex, yet unconditional love you've given us an insight into. My words are simply inadequate. I continue to be amazed by you. You've endured so much for someone so young but in my heart, I know YOU are ok too because you've become so very strong. I wish our lives could mesh (in-person) more often because I miss your genuine spirit and our long talks. I love you…and your mom!

    • rdbennett says:

      Gretta, Thank you for your kind words. It has made me stronger! It's so good to hear from you and thanks again for reading. Rachel

  • Samantha Reeves says:

    Rachel, this brought tears to my eyes. Alzheimer’s runs in my family and I continuously fear that I will be forced to learn this reality. You’re truly an inspiration as you live life so gracefully and accept this newest role. I adored your mom – so please give her big hugs from me.

    • rdbennett says:

      Samantha, I will give my mom your love! It is scary, but I honestly believe if you take good care of yourself, you can stay well. Mostly exercise. Eating well. All that. Thank you so much for reading! Love, Rachel

  • Kacie Quinn says:

    What a beautiful piece! You are an amazing writer, and you have me sitting here, in tears, thinking of the wonderful times we all shared on Lawrence and Ridge. Even as you write about your mother's current health, I can hear her voice and all of the wisdom behind it. Your parents' wonderful gift of writing, and the insight they carried with them have certainly been passed on to you. They have blessed you with many gifts, and you are using them well. Love to you and your mother….

    • rdbennett says:

      Dearest Kacie, We DID have good times, didn't we? Looking back, that was such an innocent time. It's crazy that we don't know how the future will change everything. That's what I meant when I said it's best to be grateful for every moment. We have no idea how what seems simple or mundane is fact a gift, -even a luxury. Thank you for your sweet words and I count your friendship as one of my greatest blessings. My parents were/are very special and it's amazing when we realize that when our parents go they don't really because they live inside us. Much Love, Rachel

  • Jessica says:

    Beatiful and honest. Thank you.

  • Patty S says:

    I know, I was there myself, and I love this. Your mom's wisdom is still there, and it shows in what she told you: “Be a river, Rachel. Just let it all fall away and go towards what you love."

    • rdbennett says:

      Dear Patty, It's so true. Her wisdom at certain moments is so potent and sharp it's like an arrow that goes right to an issue and she illuminates things very powerfully. I know you know this own journey with your own mother and I am so grateful you took the time to read and respond. Love, Rachel

  • Laura says:

    Much love to you, Rachel. In light of today's tragedy, with the passing of our dear friend's father, so much has been brought into focus. Illuminated. My nerves are taut with realization, with honest recognition of the fragility of our existence — that could be MY father, mother, loved one… and how lucky am I (so far) that it is not? Can I truly appreciate that blessing in advance of the fact, or will I only know the full measure of my grace in hindsight? I'm trying to be prepared, and am grateful for the words of wisdom you offer in your writings, and in our talks, one-on-one. Your fortitude is epic and "the stuff-of-life oe'r brims" in these words; I am inspired. And I am hopeful. I, too, am especially appreciative of your mother's quote, "Be a river, Rachel. Just let it all fall away and go towards what you love.” If ONLY we could all truly live those words. We should be so lucky to embrace that philosophy. I will try that much harder to just keep letting it fall away. For your mother. For my baby :) For Emily's dad. I will try!

    • rdbennett says:

      Dearest Laura, The fact that you are ask yourself the question, " Can I truly appreciate that blessing in advance of the fact, or will I only know the full measure of my grace in hindsight?" illustrates that you will not be one of those pour souls who wish they'd lived life when they had it. Too often we lose a precious person and realize that we were living in a fog and didn't treasure them WHILE they were with us or die ourselves without having been grateful (or awake). Baby Max is very lucky to have such a special mama. Love, Rachel

  • Hillary says:

    Rachel, I’m so glad to have started my day with this article. You write with eloquence and honesty. Thank you for your moving words on love.

    • rdbennett says:

      Dear Hillary, It's a day at a time for each of us, isn't it? Thank you for reading and commenting on my post! Love, Rachel

  • Rima R. says:

    Rachel darling,

    This is so poignant – Your account of experiencing 'samsara' so close, so painfully, so young. To realize that yes, things change, things end, but that perhaps there is also something that stays on, that lives on, that never changes. As Pema Chodron reminds us: We must give up the hope that the ground underneath our feet will remain solid and it is this very hopelessness that will make us fearless and alive in the present moment. The only thing to sew together is the sequence of moments of our life. Big Love. Rima.

    • rdbennett says:

      Dear Rima, I love that quote by Pema. It's absolutely true. Once we realize that nothing is solid and cannot remain so a relief springs up inside. Hopelessness, often associated with despair or giving up is nothing of the sort. Instead, it's an opening to what is instead of what used to be. So beautifully put, "The only thing to sew together is the sequence of moments of our life." That's a comforting thought..to just live each moment as true as you can and then you have a life, not a dream, but a life! Love, Rachel

  • Eleanor says:

    Rachel……You did such a wonderful writing of what one goes through when a loved one is affected with this illness. I know as I went through this with my mother. Thank you for putting it in words that everyone can understand what one goes through at this difficult time.

    • rdbennett says:

      Dear Eleanor, Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for commenting. It is such a difficult road, no doubt. I'm sorry you had to face this with your mother. Somehow love carries us, doesn't it? Rachel

  • Heather C. says:

    Beautiful Rachel…thank you for sharing and thank you for being ‘real’.

    • rdbennett says:

      Dear Heather, Funny you mention "real." My detector for people who are real and those who are not has become razor sharp. I think it's because dealing with this situation cuts away all the crap. There is no time for anything or anyone who is not kind, present and true. Period. One needs energy to care for the person affected and anything that doesn't serve that just has to go. I suppose in this way my mom's illness is a gift. It has brought me great clarity as to what matters and what does not. Thank you for reading and commenting! Love, Rachel

  • LA says:

    This is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Thank you for this.

  • Susan says:

    Beautiful piece of writing on love, loss and living. Thank you.

  • Kristen Calgaro says:

    Read this with tears in my eyes…thank you for sharing your wisdom! You have a TREMENDOUS heart.