A Daughter's Goodbye
My mother has been my acknowledged best friend for about half my life, and my unacknowledged best friend for all of it.
Now she's leaving me.
Not by choice. If she had anything to say about it, we'd still be planning vacations or little day trips to craft shows and bookstores, reminiscing about her grandchildren's antics when they were growing up, laughing together at funny stories we'd heard, having lunches together and just enjoying each other's company. But she has nothing to say about it. She has Alzheimer's.
I first noticed her memory lapses about two years ago. I'd taken her shopping and carried all her bags into the house. About an hour later, she called me and wanted to know if one of the bags was still in my car. It wasn't. She had no idea what she'd done with it. She never found that bag.
The contents weren't that valuable, but she was upset. I was too, although I didn't let her know it. This wasn't just my mother temporarily forgetting a word, or a name. This was different. As time went by, I noticed more frequent memory lapses. I asked her several times if she'd go with me to see a neurologist. Each time, she politely refused.
I understood her reluctance to see a neurologist and possibly have her fears confirmed. After a year had gone by, though, I decided to stop asking her. I made an appointment for a Monday morning and told her about it on Sunday afternoon.
She didn't argue. My dad was a different story. He was angry and told me to mind my own business. As far as I'm concerned, my mother is my business. I took her to the neurologist.
After taking her medical history and giving her a cognitive test, the doctor ordered an MRI and we made an appointment for two weeks in the future. At that appointment, he indicated that she had senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type, which is the only diagnosis that can be made while a patient is still living, since Alzheimer's can't be definitely diagnosed until autopsy.
My mother didn't seem to be listening to the doctor when he mentioned Alzheimer's. He spoke very softly to me, and didn't repeat the word again. Since she's hard of hearing, it is sometimes difficult to know what she's heard and whether she's choosing to ignore something, but I believed she didn't hear him, and I was glad.
It probably goes against the grain for anyone who believes a patient should be fully informed, but I know my mother, and I knew that telling her outright that she had Alzheimer's would take away her hope. When I took her home, I waited until she went upstairs to change her clothes and then told my dad about it. I told him he was never to say the word Alzheimer's to her, and he agreed. As far as I know, he never has.
In the fifteen months since her diagnosis, my mother has moved from the first stage, as I described, into the second stage, which involves loss of short-term memory and can include mood swings, personality changes, and paranoia. She has been taking medication since her diagnosis, and it has helped, although as the disease progresses, she has needed larger doses and now takes two medications instead of one. In the first stage, she commented often that her memory wasn't working right. In the second stage, she has commented less often but more heartbreakingly. One Sunday afternoon as we were eating lunch, she told me she'd been wondering if she had a brain tumor.
My sister has been caring for her for about six months, with some help from me, and her job grows increasingly difficult. We've looked into nursing homes and personal care homes. At one point, both parents had agreed to move into a lovely personal care home not far from their home, but my dad changed his mind, and my mother is heartbroken at the idea of having to live there without him. So we continue to try to keep her at home, knowing that someday she will have to go to a nursing home because my sister will no longer be able to care for her. When that happens, I can only hope she doesn't remember anything.
Margaret Morris has been writing since the age of sixteen but, until she discovered web publishing, had never submitted anything for publication. Her mother was diagnosed with senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type in June, 2000, which has led her to express her emotions in poetry and prose.