It has been seven years since Alzheimer's took its final ravage on on my mother's brain and body. I had spent eight years, (with lots of help from my three siblings and many caregivers), caring for my mom.
|My mom on High School Graduation day|
Nancy Reagan said, "When you have met one person with Alzheimer's disease, you have met one person with Alzheimer's disease". This is so true. Every patient has a slightly different presentation and every presentation changes by the day!
My advice for those who are fumbling through the early stages of care, and feeling like they cannot do anything right to protect their loved one is:
"The only plan, is to plan for no plan to work as you planned".
It may sound odd, but the fondest memories of my mother are during the years she had Alzheimer's. She became a kinder, gentler mom; happy to be helped. Happy when I covered her limitations in conversation, or explained how I also forgot the same sort of things. Happy to laugh, and we did! Happy to have her children there, and we were there, almost everyday.
One funny memory is, in the early stage, she developed a new-found, very enthusiastic love for shopping, and urged me to take her clothes shopping everyday, "like girls", she would say. At that point, she viewed herself as a young woman and I, her girlfriend. Of course, she no longer carried a purse or money, so who wouldn't love shopping! I paid for all of her whimsical selections - happily.
She had spent 30 years always providing for her children first, and during her illness a new pride in her appearance developed. She loved her weekly beauty parlor visits along with her "compulsive" (and free) shopping jaunts. She was so beautiful. At 82 her skin was almost flawless. Everywhere we went people would compliment her beauty and she would blush and beam. For the first half of the illness, she loved going out to restaurants and having cocktails - she would go everyday or evening if we were able to take her. And we usually did. She was very persuasive.
She lived in the moment and enjoyed most of them. Yes, she did have her battles, especially in the early stages when she had a good deal of self-awareness. I would crumple when she would ask me, "Why haven't I slipped away yet, why do I know this is happening?".
We became close siblings because of Alzheimer's disease, we became more patient because of Alzheimer's disease, we learned how to selflessly give to others because of Alzheimer's disease, and we learned of the healing power of laughter when you just do not know what to do next.
During the long goodbye to our mom, we became better people in the world. We graduated "Alzheimer's University" with honors. I am so proud of my entire family. I thank my mom for living through the long goodbye with graciousness, humor, and trust. I thank my siblings for loving so unconditionally. I thank God that we could all find the positive in a situation that many cannot bear.
My mom had the brightest blue eyes you have ever seen. They shone bright and sparkled all throughout the disease while the light in the eyes of others fell dull. At the moment of her passing, after seeming to be asleep for over a day, she opened her sparkling eyes with her last breath and looked up toward Heaven. With her children around her; I believe her message was: that her light shines on in all of us. This was my mom's final lesson to her children.
Thank you for reading,