Alzheimers from a daughter's eyes
Alzheimers from a daughter's eyes
She and I have parted ways a thousand times since. None of us, least of all she, can say for sure when she began to lose herself. I only know that she is a new stranger every time we meet again, as much to herself as to me. And at each parting, I know I will never see this particular stranger again...
You could trace her decline, if you looked carefully enough, in her garden. She had always had a green thumb, planting seasonal flowers in a chaotic burst of colorful masses. Green grass like a carpet snugly between the flower beds. It was a beautiful garden where no khaki bush were found, no dead flowers in between always watered and well kept sunny garden. During a by chance braai we all stood admiring this great colorful scene... And that's where I first noticed the colorful scene was becoming undone at the seams.
The colors weren't so bright like the month before. There was dead flowers to be seen. And to my dismay I realized her Azalea's had khaki bush growing in between. I knew something was wrong I knew... but started pulling at the khaki bush taking out dead flowers giving water to the dried up ground, thinking if I don't recognize the problem it will go away.
I started watching her. Seeing the confusion in her eyes as old friends greated her at church. Didn't find it so funny when she asked who is that when my brother brushed by kissing her on the cheek. The panic in her eyes - I could feel in my heart, as I realized we are losing our mom, my dad still in denial explaining over and over the same thing keeping her calm. As the service went on my heart was breaking my mind was racing I felt captured in a nightmare I didn't want to be in. As I watched my mom staring of in space holding on to my dad's hand for dear life, and I realized he is her Lifeline as well as ours to a life: to a mother's love who isn't with us any more.
As our worst fears was diagnosed, shortly there after. She spent less and less time away from home, she became a stranger but with my mom's face and croocked smile. No more finding her busy in the gardens, or baking for church functions. Her and dad's chairs empty in church was the most difficult to comprehend.
Dad is selling the house. The house and gardens where mom was ruling with love and laughter has become her fearfully jail. Waking up not knowing where she is, who the man was that was next to her. The confusion in her eyes when we came over, the cringing away from hugs and kisses she was so good in handing out. We started making appointments and not bring the children with, to minimize the panic in her eyes.
One of the greatest frustrations of Alzheimer’s disease is the burning desire to help, or coach, the sufferer back into “normalcy.” Like Lee in the film, You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here and I Don’t, my mother strings together fragments of sentences that never quite take her where she means to go. She’ll begin the motions of a familiar task, and then switch into the motions of another mid-stride. My father struggled to resist scolding Mom when she would empty the dishwasher and put the silverware in the refrigerator. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry, and then generally did both.
It is the first and biggest hurdle for family, I think, to let go of the instinct to finish sentences, to ask for clarification, to correct mistakes. If I resist, I can carry on long and satisfying conversations with her. I firmly believe that she has a vibrant inner life that mostly makes perfect sense to her, but she has lost the capacity to connect those thoughts with her language centers, and the capacity to make sense of the motivations and actions of others. There is, essentially, a total context chasm between us. I can’t force her back into my world, so I have to venture into hers.
The key, for me, is to listen to her rhythms and intonations, and watch her face and body language. I answer those same questions I’ve heard a thousand times in the past many years — “So where do you live now?” “What have you been doing for fun?” “How’s your love life? — with freshly embellished answers. I interject in her train of thought with the appropriate nod, or laugh, or raised eyebrow on her cue, and she relaxes into the interchange. We can sit and chat for hours, and actually have a conversation which, if maybe Dadaist on its face, is in fact (I think) deeply reassuring for both of us.
In the end, I think maybe the only gift the disease gives is laying bare the core of it’s host’s true self. This new mom of mine doesn’t get angry; as my father said to me recently, “She’s still the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” She was always that, albeit layered with a good dose of sarcasm and a reasonable temper. When I walk in the door, she still says “Oh what a lovely surprise,” or “I was hoping it was you,” even though she no longer knows my name. She’ll stroke my knee or my hair as we sit drinking coffee and eating Ginger cookies.
I started getting use to meeting a new mom every time I go over to the Retirement home. With my last visit, I got a “You’re so pretty.” I don’t think I have ever felt more loved by her — or by anyone. I know the next mom I meet with my next visit will probably love me even more.
Regretting the times I wasn't in the "mood" to visit. Or the times I didn't phone because my life was to busy... I know my mom is still here but not living here anymore. And as I say goodbye I know my next Hallo will be with a stranger again...
But at least I still have a mom...
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