Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

My Mother My Child: A Daughter’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease

This is part one of a longer story.

I was 28 years old when Alzheimer’s disease sneaked its way into our lives. It was the Fall of 1982 and I was just coming out of a two year post-divorce reclusive period. I was back in school, dating, and starting a new job. I felt free from the burden of my heart ache and guilt. I now could do anything I wanted and spent lots of my time in bookstores and travel agencies seeking information about the world, preparing to explore it fully. I sat this one Thursday afternoon in my studio apartment, wrapped in a soft yellow shawl sipping tea and sorting through brochures about Tahiti, Bali and New Zealand. These were the lands of my dreams- exotic, beautiful and far away.

The telephone interrupted my dreaming. It was My mother’s doctor with a diagnosis for me. Alzheimer’s Disease. He explained something about plaques and tangles in the brain and described the gradual deterioration of memory. I waited for him to mention a pill or therapy that would cure my mother’s problem. I asked him. The doctor lowered his voice in reply: “there is no known cure.” He explained that Alzheimer’s is a progressive, irreversible brain disorder that usually affects persons over age 60. (My mother was 65), but some individuals in their 40s and 50s are afflicted. “I’m very sorry.” He invited me to enroll in a new research program for people like my mom. I made those arrangements with him and hung up.

I sat in my room shivering in the dusk while the full meaning of what I learned sank in. My mother has an irreversible brain disorder which will gradually take her away from me, her only child. How will I take care of her, pay the bills, go to school? What about my new life and dating again and finding a husband? Who will want me? Where will we live? I felt certain in that moment that my life was over.

During that next year life just kind of went on. Mom continued working as a live-in housekeeper. I went to school and work. I put travel ideas on hold, though. I would receive regular phone calls from mom’s employers who shared details of her forgetfulness: sugar in the fridge, brooms in the clothes closet, chicken bones in the laundry hamper. I felt impatient with them. Couldn’t they pardon a few inconveniences? After all my mother had served them well for over thirty years. What was wrong with these people?

We participated in the Alzheimer’s research program. We met with various doctors, social workers, psychologists, students and other interested parties. Mom was asked to answer again and again such questions as who is the President of the United States? do you know what day it is? What year is this? Please count backwards from ten. Mom would laugh as she struggled with the answers. Why, Kennedy was the President. Everyone knows that! She looked at me for help and I squeezed her hand encouraging her to answer the best she could. Secretly I found the whole thing annoying. What difference did it make what day it was? I explained to these people that my mother lived a simple life. She was kind and thoughtful. She loved all living things, and she never ever forgot to feed the birds. She was self-reliant and very practical. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t mend with simple tools or needle and thread. She sang beautiful soprano and read scores of books by Dale Carnegie, Howard Vernon, and Norman Vincent Peale. She believed that if you only filled your mind with pure and simple thoughts, your life would be blessed with happiness and good health. Wasn’t this important? They smiled politely and nodded. Some would place a reassuring pat on my arm. I can still remember the click of ball point pens recording whatever they were finding notable and continuing to ask their relentlessly dumb questions.

After a year of this, the whole thing seemed too inane to continue. These visits were not helping my mother and they were a great hassle for me. Meanwhile the stories from Mom’s employers continued. She was now mixing the darks with the whites, throwing $100 silk panties in the hot cycle and flirting with the repairmen. She would have to go.

I found us an apartment and gave Mom the master bedroom with private bath. She hated it and was angry with me for making her live there. She wanted to work and be useful. She wanted her old room at the house she lived in for 31 years. If I had to pick the most agonizing period of my mother’s illness, this was it. She had enough understanding to know something terrible was happening to her yet I could not find the words to ease her suffering.

~To be continued.

When We Had Time

I believe the tragedy of our modern culture is how little time we have to amble and hang out with our neighbors, our families, our friends, and ourselves. The tragedy becomes more apparent as each passing year seems to race by faster than the one before. I wouldn’t even mind it if I understood what was so important that we were too busy to chat with our next door neighbor.

Grandma Mary lived across the street for 50 years and was living there when we moved in.  Grandma never hurried.  She woke up in the morning, made a cup of coffee, and watched a little morning network TV.  When my children were little they would call Grandma over every morning for coffee.  She would amble on over.

Then later in the afternoon we would put on the kettle once more and Grandma would be summoned, which she always accepted.  We had time then.  I had time to drive Grandma Mary to her doctor and she had time to take me to lunch.  I had time to take walks because Grandma Mary, at age 85 had time to romp with my small children.  And then she had time for yet another cup of coffee down at Minnie’s on the corner.

Minnie had time to bake cookies and make coffee.  Neighbors had time to walk over and sit around gossiping, sipping, chewing and just plain being neighborly.

As my kids got bigger, they got to run across the street and bring Grandma for coffee.  When they got bigger still they could walk all the way to the corner and have cookies with Minnie and Mary and Chuck and Laura and the Dotties .and Jerry and Margaret, Sonny and Marion; and Bill and Grace.  Virtually every one of these dear people passed away before my children became teenagers.  But the memory of people who had time for them is very much alive.

excerpts from Viv’s Journal 12/2/05


Food is delicious when prepared well.  Unless you are a fat juicy summer peach tasting perfect just as you are.  It’s yummy to drink coffee at the bakery, biting in to a freshly made glazed donut or ruggulah.  Sirloin steak medium rare with garlicky mashed potatoes and asparagus, the thin kind with a squeeze of lemon, a pat of butter, and a dash of salt.  Oh my God.  This is best eaten when you are really hungry.  It is absolutely best when eaten during a diet when you take the time to really prepare it well and make it pretty on the plate with curls of parsley and carrots to brighten the plate.  Umm.  Everything tastes better when dieting.  You appreciate what you’re eating, fully conscious of the flavor, texture, smells and colors.

Food, yes, delicious.  And yet that isn’t the whole story.  There are moments that hang off the shrub of an hour perfectly ripened by the rays of time.  That precise juicy moment when you say YES.  YES, I’ll marry you.  YES, I’ll play with you.  YES I’ll accept your offer; your invitation; your generosity.  YES, I’ll pick up my roots and move to the other end of the country.  YES I’ll accept the job.  YES I’ll come to your poetry reading; take that photo; hold your little hand while you splash in the wading pool.  YES to walks in the park, laughing at the moon, the movies, at parties and picnics.  Fun time with you.   Spectacular moments savored in delicious memory sauce simmering on the back burner, ever changing flavors.  Made most delicious by making them with you.

From Viv’s Journal May 19, 2008