I am losing my mother.
I first noticed it about 5 years ago. While I was in Philadelphia, I would go visit her in Maine. She was living out there for a year, away from my dad, to finish up her Master’s in Nursing. She had been working on it for 8 years via distance learning. She had poured her soul into this program. It had consumed so much of her time, her life, her love.
It was time. Time for her to move out to Maine and just finish it up. This was a big deal for her. She had married my dad in college, a month or two before she finished. She had never lived alone, never been responsible for paying bills or managing every aspect of a home of her own. She thrived. I was sooo proud of her. So proud of the way she rose to the challenge and flourished.
I would often visit her over that year. Flights were still cheap and I was terribly lonely. As soon as I was done with classes on Friday, I would hop a flight to Manchester, New Hampshire and she would meet me and we would travel back to Maine. I have fond memories of our time together in her little one bedroom apartment. It was on one of these trips back to her place that it stood out to me. It was a particularly beautiful evening. I was driving and we were just relishing in thankfulness for the glorious colors of the night sky and being able to share it together. But it grew odd as I noticed her comment on the sunset time and time again.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” 5 minutes would pass. “Isn’t it beautiful?” 20 minutes passed. “Did you notice how lovely the sunset is tonight?” This went on maybe 5 or 6 times.
“Yes, mom it is. It’s gorgeous.” Hmmm…this is rather strange behavior.
And that is how it started. It grew slowly, gradually over those first 2 years. She finished her Masters’ and moved back to my hometown, but within a year she could no longer work. No longer teach nursing. She would forget her lesson plans for the day, forget that she had assigned homework or that she even needed to grade it, forget which days her students were in clinical. She had been teaching nursing since I was a young girl…this was old hat to her. But it was unsafe and unreasonable for her to continue to work. It was a huge blow to her self-esteem. So much hard work, so much effort, so much enthusiasm to offer, but she could no longer keep it together. Tears come to my eyes just imagining how she felt. To realize that you are losing your mind.
She is still aware that she is losing her mind. She oftentimes doesn’t even want to talk because she is so afraid she will say the wrong thing and embarass herself or that someone will grow frustrated with her repeated questions.
My grandfather died of Alzheimers about a year and a half ago. They are very similar people. Both driven and hardworking individuals who often hold their stress in at their own expense. I sometimes wonder if these sorts of personal attributes precondition people for this later in life. She has been all but diagnosed with pre-Alzheimers.
She turned 60 a few months ago. She has aged beautifully and you would never know it. Yet, she can no longer maintain her home. She has a difficult time putting a salad together. Dinner is not an option. It is very stressful for her and challenging to figure out how to put various ingredients together. She can’t be trusted to drive anywhere outside of our little niche in Washington State as she now gets lost and confused about directions. She loves to do yard work, but even that is not longer an option. There is poison oak in the field beyond my parent’s home and she forgets that it’s there. That she shouldn’t go out there to pull weeds. But she does, because there are weeds…that need to be pulled. So she does. And the poison oak is back with a venegence. The back field, her own yard…forbidden from her.
But she can do dishes. Oh, how she loves to do dishes. Something that is simple, but meaningful and helpful to people. They don’t have a dishwasher. She takes great pride in washing each dish and will do it throughout the day. Though she doesn’t know where they go, she stacks them and attempts to find each and every last one a home.
I am losing my mother. I can no longer share my heart with her, my fears, my joy or even my desire to get pregnant with her. It doesn’t really register. She is very much childlike now. She has moments of clarity, moments that I stand back in amazement of her memory. But mostly, there are soft round spheres of conversation. We always end up where we started and again and again. It grieves me. She is too young for this. A brilliant mind burdened with loss. It’s so unfair. I need her. We all need her. She deserves to enjoy this time in her life. Enjoy her children and their families.
I want to be the best daughter to her. I want to make the most of every opportunity I have with her. She is one of the most sweet and gentle woman you’d ever meet. So charitable and kind towards others.
I pray for a miracle. A miracle for her, a miracle for me. I pray for peace.