My mother has Alzheimer’s. There, I said it. Rarely do I state those words so directly. It pains me to say it, but it feels good not to deny it. I’ve been struggling with this for about 4 years now. In the beginning there were only subtle clues to the interference in her brain. She always seemed a tad overwhelmed. She was making careless decisions about finances. She was less confident. And I ignored them, blaming it on her thyroid.
Once diagnosed, true to my nature, I (and my family) took action. She retired, moved, lost her drivers license all in a matter of months. I began the laborious, but loving tasks of helping her set up her household, just as she did for me when I was a young adult. We inventoried the grocery supply, we created a budget and took over the payment of her bills. Together, we practiced how to operate a new stove in her cottage. I employed family and friends to help with errands, shopping and doctors appointments.
As the disease progressed, more hands on help became glaringly apparent. She could no longer take the City bus. The doctor office messages became more confusing to her. Once an outstanding cook, the complex task of reading a recipe proved too frustrating. Cooking morphed into heating food in the microwave minute by automatic minute. For her, pushing the time button on the appliance followed by the five, zero, zero, start was just too difficult.
But, oh the stories! She remembered them well and delighted me and my girls in her typically understated description of her unusual childhood. These stories I couldn’t get enough of. It was not hard to coax her in a conversation of the past, as the conversation about a recent meal was long forgotten. Her most favorite topic of conversation was her grandchildren, my daughters and nephews. She thinks they are all perfect as only a grandmother could. Repeatedly she’ll ask, when will they be home next? I ask that too.
So this weekend, as we worked side by side in the garden, she delighted me in stories of her youth. We gossiped about the grandkids. And she shed more light on her relationship with her own mom. She made me laugh as I tried to fill in the gaps of the words she was trying to recall. Laugh at the absurdity of her mother’s lack of loving parenting. Smile at how she still loves her mom despite her mom’s coolness. Wonder at the care with which she still can muster up the wisdom to accept how things are in life and make peace with it, even though all the circuits aren’t firing properly.
As much as I think that I am mothering my mother, she has much to teach me.