Mondays With Mother: An Alzheimer's Story

In 2002 my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It is a hard road, and we live it one day at a time. This is a chronicle of her disease and my Monday visits with her.

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Name: Anne Robertson
Location: Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
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Monday, November 29, 2004

The Birches

It was only three weeks after her start in daycare that David reported her night wandering. She would get up five or six times a night...sometimes he would wake up and sometimes he wouldn't. His fatigue was showing. Twice he found her outside when he didn't know she had gone out, and winter was coming. We began to look at alternatives.

David did the lion's share of the investigating. We visited one place he had found locally where one of the other Alzheimer's patients at the church was living. And then he found The Birches at Concord. One trip out there, and I was hooked. It is only for the mentally impaired and was built just four years ago. We all went out there together to look at it. David, Laurie, and I talked with the administrators while a nurse took my mother for an evaluation and had her sit in on a couple of the activities. They had an opening.

On the way home, I said to my mother, "Well, if you don't want to take that room, I will!" And I meant it. The staff was kind and gracious, there was no feeling of being in an felt like a home...a safe, caring home. We made the arrangements and set November 29, 2004 as her move-in date.

In the run-up to that, David took her out there on several occasions, so she could get used to the place and her room. I went almost every day to prepare her room. I bought furniture, hung paintings, framed dozens of family pictures in collages to hang on the wall or put on a dresser. I bought bedding and pajamas, a shower curtain and towels, and I sat literally for hours in her room at different times of the day and night to see what the atmosphere was really like. I blanketed her room with prayer.

And then the day came. I had arranged for a clergy colleague of mine to come on the 29th and to do a room blessing. We arrived late morning, brought in the final touches for her room, and then went to a private lunch they had prepared for us. There was an aide who ate with us, who was assigned to be with my mother for the rest of the day to help her get adjusted.

After lunch we went back to her room for the blessing. As soon as he began the prayer, I could feel the tears welling up. It was such a good place...I couldn't imagine a place that was better...but oh, how hard it is to have your mother become your child and to have to leave them in a place when they can't really understand what is happening or why.

Her mental state had deteriorated even more. In the preparations for the move it was clear that on some days she understood what was going to happen, but on other days it was all a fog. Leaving her at The Birches was gut wrenching, and it went so much better than it does for many. The aide simply led her away to go bowling and she went without any fuss at all. No tears, no clinging, no begging us not to leave her. We were so blessed.

And yet it was still one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. What did she understand? Did she know we wouldn't be there when she came back? Did she know David wasn't moving there with her? Would she remember that we loved her or would she wake in the night and feel betrayed? We were not allowed to return for a visit for three days so that she could get adjusted. We all held it together until the aide took her away. Then we cried like children and went home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in a nursing home in Kansas and I want to show this blog to every staff member. You so eloquently put into words what family members are feeling when they bring a loved one into our facility. Being able to put yourself, as a staff member, in the place of a family member or resident is so important. Thank you so much for writing this.


10:53 AM  

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