The worst of times, the best of times


As I write this, I’m observing the yahrzeit of my mother, Sylvia, on the 25th anniversary of her death, on May 15, 1997.

At first blush, it’s difficult to fathom that it’s been a quarter-century since I spent Mother’s Day with my mother at her nursing home bed, where she was unresponsive and was basically waiting to die after several years of battling Alzheimer’s disease and its complications.

By that point, it was a blessing that she had only a few more days to live, because her mind, body and soul were all ravaged beyond belief by the Alzheimer’s, which had long ago robbed her of everything that had made her my mother.

We first started noticing cognitive and behavioral changes in my mother in the early 1990s, but by the time we were able to get a definitive diagnosis, in June 1994, her condition had progressed beyond the point where treatment with experimental drugs would be considered helpful.

But the worst was yet to come.

Two years later, my mother had deteriorated to the point where I was told by a social worker that she had to be removed from the apartment that she and my father shared in Brookline, Massachusetts.

That occurred on June 6, 1996, and my mother was then sent to a Boston-area hospital for a week, until we could locate space for her at a nursing home.

Exactly one week later, on June 13, 1996, Sylvia was placed in what would be her final residence  – and things went downhill immediately.

Part of the reason for that was that my mother had just enough self-awareness left to realize that she was in a place where she didn’t want to be – and would never be leaving. As a result, she behaved as many seniors affected by dementia have likely done over the years: she gave up.

The next year was hell, as she was put on way too many medications that did nothing for her and only made her more agitated and angrier at those closest to her: her family. She blamed me especially for putting her in the nursing home, and therefore spent most of her remaining semi-coherent time lambasting me and my wife, Lynne.

Her condition only worsened, and after the nursing home insisted on shuttling her back and forth from psychiatric hospitals – which only increased her agitation and essentially sucked the life out of her – her passing was a blessing.

But Sylvia’s story wasn’t over – not by a long shot.

In the early days of the summer of 1996, while my wife and I were dealing with my mother’s deteriorating health, we were also pursuing the adoption of our first child from China. That was in the days when thousands of Chinese children, mainly girls, were being adopted yearly by Americans, due to China’s one-child policy (which ended in 2015).

My wife and I started the adoption process in January 1996, and after 19 months of bureaucratic delays, we finally received a picture of the girl meant for us, in August 1997. We had already decided that our daughter would share the Hebrew names of Lynne’s father, who died on Memorial Day weekend in 1996, my mother, and my grandmother, who had died in 1993 but hadn’t yet had a baby named for her.

Those intentions took on a deeper meaning after we received our daughter’s date of birth: June 13, 1996, the date when my mother’s life essentially ended, after she was, in effect, exiled to a nursing home against her will.

Over the years, I’ve begun to interpret that eerie juxtaposition as a positive sign. I see it as proof that it was part of a divine plan to make sure that we received just the right girl to raise.

Now, almost 26 years after my daughter’s birth, and 25 years after my mother’s passing, we have been nothing but blessed with our first child. Arianna, who is a teacher, has grown up to be a responsible, independent adult who willingly takes on challenges. Recently, for instance, she followed in her father’s footsteps, running her first marathon, in Providence. (Her father ran 17 26.2-milers in his younger days.)

She made us proud then, as she’s done so often in her life. I have no doubt that she would have been loved by Sylvia, if she had lived long enough to become a grandmother.

LARRY KESSLER ( is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He and his wife adopted their younger daughter, Alana, from China in 2002. He blogs at