Our mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 4 years ago, though her mind has been slipping away for closer to 10. We didn’t think too much of her forgetfulness in the beginning, as she was only in her 50’s with so many more years to live and experiences to be had. The sad reality was that her mind was already in the tight grip of Alzheimer’s disease, and there was no stopping it – or even slowing it – once it started. She would forget things here and there, like where she left her car in the mall parking lot, or whether or not she fed the dogs, but she was always herself - chipper, hardworking, busy, smiling. She always extended a happy welcome when you would enter through the back door to the kitchen, dish towel draped over her shoulder, humming as she washed dishes. These days, her demeanor is quite different, but there are moments when it's easy to see that she's still in there, like when she breaks into her uncontrollable laughter at one of my brother's jokes, or when she hums a tune while patting her little dog Linda's head.
The seriousness of her illness didn’t truly set in for me until Christmastime of 2018. I stopped by my parent’s house for a visit and found my mom in the dining room sitting by the decorated Christmas tree. By this point, conversation was already difficult with her and had to be limited to easy topics. Do talk about her dogs, the weather, her new hairstyle; don’t talk about what she did that day, upcoming events, what she had for lunch. I chose to discuss the Christmas ornaments with her, pointing out my favorites and giggling at the unsightly pipe-cleaner atrocities obviously made by my siblings and I back in grade school. “My children made those. They used to live here,” she explained to me, bringing me to the sudden realization that she didn’t know she was talking to her daughter. Every suppressed emotion about my mom’s declining mental health hit me so hard in that moment that I had to politely excuse myself to leave and I spent the next several hours driving around thinking about all the things that we had already lost in the race against Alzheimer’s. She would never take her dream vacation to Ireland; we would never have the family tomato sauce recipe; she would never know her grandchildren.
I’ve been away in graduate school for the past 4 years, and every time I get the chance to visit home, it’s as if mom has aged a decade. I am eternally grateful for my siblings who support my mom and dad – whether it’s physical caretaking or bearing the emotional burden of watching our mom’s illness unfold. Perhaps the hardest part of all, my mom spent her last coherent years as caretaker for her mom, who passed away in 2016 after struggling with Alzheimer’s for as long as I can remember. Even though it sometimes feels like there’s little we can do to help her, when my sister Julia suggested we participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, I knew we had to do it. This event gives us an opportunity to raise money and support for patients like our mom, whose lives got cut short far too soon.
We greatly appreciate your support through your donations to the Alzheimer’s association. Your donations help further research into the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s, ensure that individuals with dementia have access to the care they need, and provide a network of support for both patients and caregivers. Additionally, please feel welcome to join our team and/or join us in walking on October 16th!
Love and thanks to you and yours,
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