|Mom with Dad and Scott|
My mother has Alzheimer's. That is one of the hardest admissions I've ever made. My realization of her condition was gradual. The first I remember her struggling was six years ago. We had a reunion at her childhood farm in Arkansas and since I had not made that drive since college, I called and asked her for directions- she couldn't tell me. At the same gathering, a cousin asked Mom for her address to update the family information list and Mom didn't know what it was. It has been a steady decline since then. My father had all the tests done, put her on the latest medications, and rededicated his life to fulfilling his marriage vows- the better or worse, sickness or health part. It's hard on the kids but the strain is on Dad. We see her on holidays and in the summer but he has to be aware of her every minute. The balance between maintaining dignity and assuring safety is a tight rope for those providing the care for the Alzheimer's patient. Dad walks it every waking moment and probably even in his sleep. Mom has no stress- the wear and tear is on him.
When I taught psychology at Friendship Christian School, Ron Welch would speak to my class on Alzheimer's. His father-in-law, a former college professor, had the disease and Ron would tell about the way it was manifested in his life. I was fascinated by the rituals and what seemed to be bizarre behavior. Little did I think some day I would tell my own stories. How could I know that I would watch my mother pour Italian salad dressing on Wheaties instead of milk and not be able to tell the difference? Who could guess that she would not know which of her siblings and cousins were still living or deceased? Mom was always a servant and still tries to be helpful. She constantly rearranges things and puts them up to the point where Dad's expensive hearing aid disappeared and was not found for weeks. We are fortunate. Her health is good and she still knows us somewhat. She is incredibly sweet, while some Alzheimer's victims become belligerent. While she cannot tell you what day, month, or year it is, she still remembers the old hymns at worship services by heart. The best way I can describe Mom is that it's her but it's not her. I hope that makes sense.
Let me tell you about my mother. She was an incredible elementary teacher who balanced work with family. She was a preacher's wife who stayed above church politics, if there were any. Mom was never too busy to comfort us when we hurt, correct us when we were rockheads, pray for us when we were in trouble, and keep us more than adequately clothed and fed on a minister's salary. She found time to be a Cub Scout den mother and became surrogate mom to many young ladies who lacked what we took for granted. Later, she became a noted speaker in marriage seminars and taught younger women, as the scriptures command, to love their husbands and children. Mom has influenced many to be what the Lord wants and expects them to be. She could get her feelings hurt. Once, I gave away a food processor that she had given me. It was impractical for my needs and it was taking more time than it was worth to use but it crushed her when she found out and she cried. (I learned from my mistake!) That's the mother I remember, not the one who Dad has to tell, "It's Steve" when I call so she won't have to figure it out. Not the lady who asks, "What do you think?" when I ask her who came over for supper because she doesn't know and she tries to hide it. Not the woman who cuts up every tomato, apple, or potato that Dad leaves on the kitchen table, trying to maintain her usefulness. Not the woman who couldn't understand why she was not allowed to drive anymore for the safety of everyone on the road and herself as well. Not the woman who has to wear an identification bracelet in case she gets lost.
If your mother has good physical and mental health, count yourself blessed. Tell her you love her at every opportunity and for no reason at all. Thank her for making you make your bed when you were little. Be grateful she enforced the family rules even when it hurt her more than you. Hug her because God gave her to you. And while you are at it, thank God, too.
Applicable quote of the day:
"In Alzheimer's, the mind dies first: names, dates, places. The interior scrapbook of an entire life fades into mists of non-recognition."
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