11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

When There are No Words

My mother has had Alzheimer's Disease for eight years. At least. She is 83 and living in a nursing home, fed through a stomach tube.

A few weeks ago, she was sleeping when I arrived for a visit. I nudged her awake, then climbed into bed to cuddle with her as I have done on every visit since she had moved there. It is the closest human contact she has, since my father's bad back won't let him get in bed with her. I have cherished those moments because of the way it makes her smile and how her eyes twinkle, and because I feel her love radiate life from my sweet, lost mother.

On this occasion, I didn't see the usual joy. I saw fear.

My mother didn't know who I was. She was afraid there was a stranger in her bed and she was powerless to protect herself. She tried to say something, but her words came out as jibberish. I showed her pictures of us when I was a child, but she didn't make the connection like she had on the other occasions when she couldn't quite get who I was. So, I climbed out of the bed.

Then, I dropped my shorts and mooned her. I have always been the joker in the family, and this made Mom laugh harder than I have heard her laugh in years. That bare bottom could only belong to her daughter. "You are beautiful," she said. A full sentence. She finally knew it was me.

I think she recognized me the other day. I am dog sitting for a little Chihuahua mix, and since Coco is so darned portable compared to my two big dogs, I brought her to visit my mom. Mom's left side has been paralyzed since a major stroke 17 years ago. The Alzheimer's has frozen most of the rest of her body, so she does not move much. So, I put the little dog on the bed. She didn't say anything and she didn't smile. Coco wagged her tail and kissed my mother, but there was still no real reaction.

A Florida afternoon thunderstorm started brewing, and with the first rumblings from the sky, tiny Coco started quivering in fear, trembling all over. I tried to calm her, but she kept shaking. Mom watched this, transfixed. "It's ok," I told Coco.

After a long moment, Mom moved her right hand. Slow and unsteady, she moved it closer and closer to Coco and finally rested it on the little dog's side. She kept it there, holding her, trying to comfort her.

Coco didn't stop shaking until the thunder stopped. But, she didn't move away from my mother to be closer to me. I will never forget the innocence of that tiny dog, or the slow awakening of my fading mother.

When there are no words, there is touch, which says more anyhow.