I miss my mom. Oh, she is here and I see her every day in person, but she is not who she used to be. Mom has Alzheimer’s disease, and the doctors classify her as level 3 of 4 or 5 levels, depending on who you read. Physically she looks the same, maybe a bit more fragile and not as aware or mindful of her physical appearance. Remembering what we are doing or about to do is problematic for her. Her long term memory is fading too. She still knows faces and names of family, but not where they are or what they are doing.
She mostly talks about the clouds and how they are roaming around in the sky, or how bright it is if the sun is out. When we go to Starbucks to get a Mocha, she watches the busy street traffic, and comments about how many cars and trucks there are on the road. She expresses concern about the busses that have First Student labeled on their sides. I tell her it is the name of the company that makes them, but she doesn’t remember, and asks me over and over “what do you suppose that means?” It’s a challenge to answer her repeated questions in different ways, but we all try. It just doesn’t seem to be appropriate to tell her she just asked that question; it would probably upset or confuse her.
I remember mom as being an efficient and organized lady who loved to take care of her family. She lost 2 daughters, one at age 3 and one at age of 27, both from renal disease and their complications. She was their primary caregiver through both of their illnesses. I think this took a great toll on her and my dad. I know what is like to lose a sister; I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a daughter, let alone two.
When dad was alive, towards the end of his life, he used to tell me he was worried about mom because she had no hobbies – she just lived to take care of her family. I assured him that Matt and I would take care of her. I think the disease had already started to take its toll on her by then, we just didn’t know it. She was pretty good at covering up her memory loss, so it wasn’t until dad got worse that it became apparent. She forgot to cook, or clean the house, or sometimes would not even get out of bed in the morning. Dad was trying to do all the things Mom couldn’t do, all the while in failing health himself. He needed the assistance that mom could no longer provide. That is when my brother Matt, his wife Debbie, my husband Cris and I helped them move to an Assisted Living apartment. They lived there a year before dad’s decline took him away.
She is a happy person; we are lucky about that. Some Alzheimer patients are angry and hostile. We are also blessed to have found the Thanksgiving House, a wonderful Adult Foster Home where she is content and happy, and well taken care of. She is a sweet lady, takes direction well, and is helpful to others living in the Foster Home with her. It is only 5 miles from our house, which makes it easier to visit every day. She is the youngest resident at 87. There are four other ladies living there, most in their 90s, several with dementia, and one lady of 103. Mom is watchful of them and helps them to their rooms or straightens their clothes when they stand up. She also helps at mealtimes, setting and clearing the table, things she did by rote all her life. There is a small Yorkie named Tuffy, a kitty named Lovey, and a parakeet named Mr. Peety, who reside in Thanksgiving House. The cat is especially fond of Mom and can be found curled up with her during her naps or at night.
Mom no longer initiates activities. She used to sew, read, cook, garden, and play cards. She does none of these activities now, she just doesn’t remember how. She has to be assisted or directed to get up, dress, brush her teeth, take a shower, and go to bed. She doesn’t use the phone on her own, but is able to carry on a good conversation with family and friends if you dial for her. I especially miss getting phone calls from her. She still loves to walk with her arm tucked in mine and will go with me if I ask her, but does not try it on her own. I think on some level she remembers being lost when mom and dad were living in Assisted Living and she went out for a walk and lost her way. The police found her wandering in a school yard a mile in the wrong direction from her apartment.
If you left her on her own, most of the time she would be watching TV, listening to music, or taking naps. She often lays her head back and closes her eyes because, she says, it “feels good”. She has a permanent dent in her hair at the back of her head from this pose that requires some fluffing to make it stand up and look presentable.
Seeing her every day is sometimes hard. I so want her to be the interactive mom I knew. But that is not to be. This disease robs a person of themselves and leaves the family with the shape but not the substance of the person they knew. It doesn’t make you love them any less, but makes you work a little harder to be with them, all the while watching them decline. I am content seeing that she is settled in to the routine at Thanksgiving House and thank God for its existence. The Caregivers are wonderful, positive, and nurturing for all the women there. They understand mom's limitations and constantly ask for feedback regarding her care. The other constant that keeps me sane is being able to talk about it with my brother and my husband. They are living this too, and talking together, planning, and sharing helps.
So for now, we will all continue to visit her, take her on walks, bring her to family functions and love her dearly. She appreciates all of that, I think. When the day comes that she does not, we will respect that too, and just let her be, knowing she will be wonderfully taken care of by God and the Caregivers of Thanksgiving House.
Copyright Parrot Writes 2010