Mom and the Memory Thief

AA Mom

Mom at 91, 24 September 2015

Oh how I loathe the memory thief, Alzheimer’s or dementia or whatever medical terms apply to the disease(s) that rob once-vibrant individuals of that most precious of possessions.

My mother’s descent on this painful path has been steady but fairly gradual, at least until the past year or so. Friends and books told me years ago to cherish every moment I have with Mom, knowing that how she is right now is the best she’ll be from this moment on. I’ve tried to do just that, to remain aware and thankful for every ability she retains, every memory she’s held onto in her heart and mind and every example of her personality and character that has continued to shine through and tell me she was still Mom, still herself in the way she reacted to things and looked at the world and communicated with other people.

The staff at my mother’s assisted living facility have told me over and over again that my mother is one of the sweetest residents they’ve known, that she’s nice to everyone, so polite and so kind. That’s my mom – that’s what my friends told me as far back as elementary school, ‘Your mother’s so pretty’ and ‘Your mother’s so nice.’

How lucky my family has been, to have my mom at its centre for so many years. And how tragic it is now, as it is for all families who have gone through this, to see her changing not only in how little she now remembers but also in how she behaves and responds to the world around her – with increasing anxiety, confusion and sometimes yelling out her frustrations – still herself at the core, but that self disappearing more rapidly than in previous months and years.

Today Clive and I took Mom and her friend (she calls him her boyfriend, age 93) out for pizza lunch, one of her all-time favourites (Nellie’s Place, thin-crust pizza of course). Mom said she couldn’t remember what pizza was. ‘Do I like it?’ she asked. ‘You love it,’ we said and she was happy. It’s incredibly difficult on so many levels to take them out now, and when we got them safely back to assisted living I felt more relieved than ever before.

Mom still knows me and my son (we’re not sure she remembers who Clive is) and I’m trying to keep focus on the present and, as always, to cherish each moment with her. She’s not well enough to attend my son’s wedding (she would forget about it instantly, in any case) but we know she’ll be with us in spirit.

Thank you, Mom, for being who you are and for giving our family your love and support all our lives. May we somehow repay that love back to you as you live each day with your signature courage and beauty and grace.

Thank you for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Morristown, New Jersey.

6 Responses

  1. We’ve gone through that journey too, and it never gets easier. Enjoy the good times with her..She was the best neighbor a family could have! I like Nellies Place too, and so did my mother.

  2. I’m near the very end of the same journey, and am about to fly home from Bavaria to Alaska to say a final good bye. You are so right, keep on enjoying every moment and every smile. What a precious photo of your sweet mom; she is lovely.

  3. We’ve discussed this many times, but you have described the experience of visiting “the person who is your mother now” quite eloquently. Such heartache and cruelty to the family. It’s even harder for someone like your mom, who was so classy and wonderful! Dottie raised a wonderful daughter who is managing this journey as well as possible. I’m looking forward to supporting you in person next week.

  4. MarthaB, thank you! I think our moms both did amazing jobs living in their own homes and being each other’s neighbour for so many years. One day you and John and Clive and I will have to get together at Nellie’s Place!

    Susan, hello and I am so appreciative of your comment – thank you. Sending a cyber hug and all best wishes that this time and final good-bye for you and your family is peaceful and as comforting as possible for all. Good luck and safe travels.

    Mary, you’ve walked this path and your counsel has been invaluable. I remember when like Susan you knew your mom’s final moments were approaching 😦 Look forward to seeing you soon!

    Thanks all xx

  5. Hi Carolyn,
    I really know how you feel, girlfriend.
    My mother had dementia after her first stroke in 2011;
    Everything that I did to be with my Mom after her strokes was well worth it. Since I also was separated by distance, I would send flowers & gifts when I could not go or talk on the phone. The wonderful times that I did go back to Hawaii ( 3 trips ), had some memorable moments. I know that Mom was grateful beyond her capacity to express herself and it was all well worth it.
    Your Mom is so lovely. The last caretaker that looked over my Mom also said that my she was so sweet. Your Mom is returning to a pure and innocent state of being, like my Mom was.
    Enjoy your time with your Mom. The moments are golden.

  6. Thank you, sweet xpat 92 — your comment really means a lot to me. Especially love and agree about ‘returning to a pure and innocent state of being’ — this is so true, in their childlike ways and a kind of purity that comes with the other dreaded aspects of the disease. The moments are golden, indeed.

    Hope all is well with you too! Cheers and thank you xoxox

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