A few weeks ago I received a frantic call from my brother. He asked all of us, his siblings, to call our mother and give him our feedback. We did, and then she went in for an assessment. In just two weeks my mother had moved from someone with manageable dementia to someone with full-blown Alzheimer’s. We knew it was coming. Still, when the doctor says “it could change any time” and that it could be swift, you hear it but you don’t HEAR it. For most of us boomers, we’ve read and listened and watched numerous items of interest about Alzheimer’s, but it’s a bit like childbirth – until you do it (are you listening, men?) you have NO idea what it’s like. And what it’s like is devastating. For the person, for the family, for the grandchildren, for everyone.
I will carry with me forever the look on my mother’s face that weekend when I first saw her after the turnaround. She looked at me for the longest time, and then I moved closer and she said “Kathy?” So – she knew me. But just. In fact, hours later she looked at me and said, with all the articulateness that I’ve loved in her (and that she has perhaps fostered in me), she said “I don’t know your history.” Could it have been plainer or sadder? I don’t know if my heart actually stopped beating for a moment, but I’m sure it did. It might have been just a momentary thump. Still, the world stopped for a moment. My mother, the woman who kept our home running for years, who managed a floor of engineers, who could tell you everyone’s birthday and the names of the grandchildren’s children, could not remember anything about me. Even now, as I write this, I wonder if it really is time to start putting all of this down on “paper.” It’s too new, too hard, too raw. My mother can’t remember when I cut my bangs too short in grade school and didn’t want to go to school. She doesn’t have a picture in her mind of me in my First Communion dress, holding my flowers and looking too cute for words. She doesn’t remember seeing my first play or hugging her first grandchild or great-grandchildren, or even knowing that she has five children of her own. It’s too hard, Lord, and I feel the need to beseech someone, to plead for an end to this travesty. How dare our minds go while our bodies remain so intact? How do I live with that possibility in myself?
So… I’ll stop now. I will remember the most recent visit when she lit up on seeing me. I’ll try to forget that trying to remember anything about me made her anxious and fretful and “dizzy.” I’ll try to remember that she laughed once or twice, mostly at my silly husband with his winning ways with older people, but she laughed nonetheless. And I’ll be thankful that she knew when to end the visit. “I’m going back to my friends now,” she said. Best to be glad that she knows what friends are and has the words for them.
I’m her daughter. That’s a word that has slipped away.