Recently I spent on and off three weeks with my aged mother. Her Alzheimer’s disease has made her far worse in the six and a half months since our last visit. My greatest fears are becoming truths, my mother’s eyes now become vacant as if the switch in her addled brain turns off the spark of intelligence we all carry in our eyes. Her face and demeanor become very old, frail almost ghost like. My dear mother has an added piece of delirium, a profound sense of abandonment by her mother. My grandmother died in 1982 at age 82, we didn’t know about Alzheimer’s in those days, it was thought my grandmother had dementia, and nevertheless there might be a connection of which I’ll discuss further into the article. This memory robbing disease has left my mother with no recollections of her mother. I’ve explained in concise detail how my grandmother indeed was active in my mother’s upbringing and died when my mother was in her sixties. I then posed the following question to my mother; “Mom would you rather have me die before you or would you want to die before your child?” Depending on the moment the reply varied from, why ask me that question you are my husband and then she would follow this up with she wants to die before her husband (me) or in the rare moment of clarity; “of course I should die before my child that is the right way the children bury the parents. These fleeting moments of reason soon, all too soon vanish and we start over again.

My brother and I are fearful of becoming like our mother as I’m sure our sisters are, however he and I tend to over achieve in our physical endeavors to stave off the disease. I stay physically active and anyone who reads my blog is aware of this and I write and do scrabble all to keep my mind and body active. I don’t mind getting old but I prefer not to have my last years like our poor mother.

During the visit I had occasion to take my mother to the doctor on a follow-up to her last visit and had the opportunity to discuss my mother’s medications. The doctor had increased one drug to help diminish the anxiety and help my mother start a thought and complete the connection from start to finish. However the increase left my mother in a near catatonic state. Marla the wonderful woman who looks after my mother during the day and I took her for a drive and all my mother could say, in a sleepy voice; “I can’t open my eyes; why can’t I open my eyes?” over and over again. She laid upon the sofa and the pall of silence hung like the precursor to death in the room. Although I know in my heart of hearts, death like a balm would be a relief for my mother I’m not ready for this to happen in that way. The doctor adjusted the medicine and soon my mother was her usual abrasive self, filled with despair and fright but not as profound as before.

Moments of clarity were filled with laughter and profound sadness and one incredible forty-five minutes of awe. I think the saddest time and this occurred twice was when my mother turned to me and said, “I’m losing my mind, I’ve lost my memories, I’m terrified of losing my dignity, please help me.” As I wrote these words tears came to my eyes. I have known magic wand, just a voice I hope has the right pitch and tone to tell my beloved mother; we her children love her and will do everything possible to allow her to live with dignity and remind her of the good she has done all her life. The cruelty of her disease, robs her of the times she gets daily phone calls, visits from family and old friends and those who come to say thank you for making my life better. I have lost my beloved wife and brother to cancer, but in both cases until the end my wife was lucid and my brother was in a coma for about a week before he succumbed. No doubt they were both gut wrenching and heart breaking, but watching my mother these past ten years incrementally diminish as a human being is like a slow deliberate torture. Laughter, the greatest commodity to stave off the insidious assault of Alzheimer’s happened many times; my mother would come out say and something so outrageous and correct like she used to do when she was always lucid. I sometimes would tell her stories from the past and the connections in her brain became receptive and she would understand and smile her once and always radiant smile. These moments were small blessings, cherished because it allows me not becoming despondent all the time, even though I’m aware the disease will become worse.

The moment of awe occurred while my mother was reading her book, the book she has read every day for the last six months. Marla and I were sitting across from my mom when she turned to us and asked if she could read us just one sentence. My mother was lying down and her book was above her and she read for forty-five minutes. What struck us is she was able to seamlessly read the story, giving her voice the correct inflection for the character upon the printed page. Her voice took on the male tenor, the female nuance; basically my mother could have read her story to a room full of experts on stage presence and would have won hands down. Although I’d like to think I’m good at words, awe keeps recurring to my thoughts. I told the doctor of this incredible time frame and Marla concurred with me. The good doctor told us, we know when Alzheimer’s patients read aloud it helps them maintain cognitive thoughts, reason and most importantly piece of fractured mind. Yet the doctor’s don’t know why this occurs.

I have one last item on my agenda. My mother would often turn to me and say;”God has forgotten me, I’m too old to still be alive, I need to die, why has he forgotten me?” I never had a good reply and I must confess what I’m about to tell you was spontaneous. I mentioned earlier in the article about my mother’s generosity, this is true and her good deeds extended far beyond the borders of Canada. I said to my mother, I think I know why God’s letting you live mom. Do you know how generous of heart and money you were in the past? Well mom, God is waiting for all those people you have helped to come and say thank you one more time and when they all have said thank you God will say Helen it time now and peacefully you will go to heaven and be with dad.