Alzheimer's is an insidious disease and one of the most heart-wrenching illnesses to affect one’s family. My mother first started exhibiting signs about ten years ago, soon after my third daughter was born. How she loved them all and would care for them when needed. Now, I don’t even bring them with me when I visit her, because I am only visiting her physical body, the one that once carried the spirit and the mind of the woman that raised me. There is unfortunately no other way to describe it. I want them to remember her as the proud, beautiful and caring woman that she was.
I find it difficult to visit with her, but when I don’t, I feel guilty. It used to be that when I would visit her, she would at least smile and could carry on somewhat of a conversion. I remember last summer on one of my visits she didn’t know my name but she said, “You came out last,” and that was true. I am the youngest of my immediatefamily. Now she just sleeps as if in a trance, oblivious to the world around her.
My mother’s sister and only sibling, died from Alzheimer’s in 1979; she was 52. Back then, Alzheimer was not understood like it is today. It was something fairly new, a new form of dementia andone that affected the young, as well as its common victims, the elderly. I watched with horror as my Aunt Camilla, affectionately called Tante, lost her memory, her dignity and eventually withered away and died the way she came into the world, in the fetal position.
My maternal grandmother, Nani, had started exhibiting sign of dementia in her nineties, but at the ripe old age of 96, that is somewhat expected. She died only a few years ago and I still remember her with much fondness. I saw my grandmother in my mother, as they shared so many similarities.
When my mother first started to exhibit the sign of forgetfulness, not being able to balance her checkbook, things like that, we were hoping that it was just her age catching up with her, but we should have known better as she was still a fairly young woman. She had to quit a job she really enjoyed and eventually volunteered to give up her driving license after a few minor, yet scary, accidents.
Things would get progressively worse, but the medicine Aricept helped delay the progression and the final inevitability of this horrid disease, death. It would help to give her a reprieve, a few more years before she would lose more memory. But this insidious disease would slowly and eventually eat away at her memory. It would take the memory of her childhood, her marriage and her children’s births. It would take the memory of the times she shared with her family and friends, all while her body stayed healthy.
This illness not only affects the victim, it also does a number on the family, primarily the caregiver, whose own physical health, saying nothing of their mental health, may deteriorate. My father took care of my mother 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He did what he was supposed to do; he cared for her whether in sicknessor in health. He did it because he loved her unconditionally and continues to this day. He couldn’t do it alone and now, at the age of 79, needed some outside help. That help came in the form of a wonderful nursing home. He visits with her and feeds her every day, although she does not even know his name. The woman that he spent the last fifty plus years married to, does not even know that he is there. He still remembers and that is why he goes.
For my brother, sisters and I it is difficult as well. We try to help out when we can and visit as often as possible.
It’s only a matter of time now and I fear her end is near. Then another grieving process will begin. The first time it really hit me was one day while I was driving with my wife and I uttered the words, “that the woman that raised me is no longer” and it hit me like a ton of bricks and feeling the weight of my thoughs, I started to cry.
My mother has always been a very spiritual woman and I share her beliefs. I know that the day she dies she will be in a place that she always knew she would end up. That will be the day that she will realize that we were there for her and loved her dearly.