12/25/2010 02:07 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hello Dolly - a Holiday Call Home

My mother's mind is floating away, but increasingly she has the same spirit she must have had as a teenager (bottom left, hanging from swing), and talks more often about her own mother. She describes her mother with a call and response language "I will see her..." "By and by?" 'We will meet..." "On that shore?" "YES!" as if I've won a hereafter quiz.

Moving away is as hard as I thought it would be. "We've been friends a long time," she says. "Almost my whole life," I answer, entertaining no one but myself. The new development is that when she hears my voice on the phone she's so excited she jumps up to give me a hug. "Still on the phone mom," I remind her when she comes back. Maybe she's seeing a holographic future where you can hug the people who call you. I tell her I'm coming to visit soon, but we're back in New Orleans and she practices saying New Orleans. Then she says: "That little boy..." shorthand for Louis Armstrong who she pictures as a child with a trumpet.

This is followed by a request that I sing Hello Dolly and she shouts the word "Dolly!" at the appropriate intervals. It entertains the nurses, so I've shortened the verses so there can be more shouting of "Dolly." Her nurses are friends as well as caretakers. Many from the Alzheimer's ward attended my dad's funeral. She's going through the gradual fading out that I recognize from his disease, but there are still important things to be heard.

On Christmas Eve, after a few rousing rounds of Hello Dolly, In the Sweet By and By and Oh Christmas Tree my mother says: "I love all the people I know." Now that she's mom unplugged, that was the high point of the call. But if you're only able to hold one thought, what a blessing if that one thought is love.

Merry Christmas Mom. And Hello, Dolly.