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, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day

Today was another family gathering at The Birches, this time in honor of Valentine's Day. I arrived first and discovered that all the residents of The Courtyard had been temporarily moved upstairs so that they could wash and wax the floors. That's a major undertaking with people who are confused even in their regular space with their usual routines.

So I headed upstairs to find Mother. Russell and Frances were perched at the top of the stairs in a couple of comfortable chairs. Others were in the common room making paper roses with some of the aides. I searched in one of the neighborhoods and found Harold and wished him a Happy Valentine's Day. Two of us were looking for Mother. "She could be anywhere," said the aide. I noted that there might be a significant lack of clothing on that floor by nightfall. Finally we found her in The Ridge and I took her into the common room to sit down. One of the aides made a rose for Mother and put it in her buttonhole.

I asked Mother if anything interesting had been going on. "Not really," she said, and then laughed. There was more life in her eyes today. In one of the upstairs neighborhoods is a woman who seems to be on the move pretty much 24/7. She's the one who said unintelligible things to me before and then apologized. As Mother and I sat there, she came over to us and said to my mother "Green shore running." Then she left. Mother turned to me with a quizzical look and said, "Green shore running?" I just shrugged my shoulders, but was interested to note that Mother realized it had not made any sense. The aides talked gleefully about the massage therapist The Birches hired for a Valentine's Day present for the staff. The wandering woman came by for another pass. "Soft, puffy stove," she said. "That's how I left it." Then she was gone again. I didn't see Carl anywhere.

Eventually Laurie came up and found us and we went down to the private dining room that David had reserved for our celebration. There were cards and a Valentine's Day cake David had brought for dessert. Rob and Stephanie came as did my cousin Marek, and of course David and Laurie. I don't know that Mother said more than two words during dinner, but amazingly she ate almost all of it. Once lunch was finished, and cards and gifts were opened, we made our way back to her room, although the smell from the floor wax was still pretty overpowering. There was going to be a Valentine's party at 2, but it was only about 1 pm.

I urged her into the bathroom and stayed to help her, which she needed. Then she went back out into the room, alternating lying down on the bed and looking at pictures in an album David had brought. It showed her riding a camel in Morrocco, standing with Mary Gray in Cancun, and other pictures from the trips she took in retirement.

On the dresser was a Valentine for David. Apparently they had a time when residents had help making Valentines. David had already opened the envelope and the card was standing up on the dresser, and I looked inside. It was very odd. In printing that looked like the printing of a very young child it said ToDadvid...all run together, with the extra "d." Then in normal cursive script, but not quite like her handwriting it said "Happy Valentin's Day (without the t crossed). Underneath that was the kicker. It said, "I hate you" (again without the t crossed). At the bottom, in her hand, was her name.

I'm not sure how all of that came to be. I can't imagine an aide helped her...with childish writing and misspellings and certainly no aide there would help someone put "I hate you" on a Valentine. My guess is that they were working in groups around a table and that is was one of the other residents...or maybe more than one...who "helped." But it couldn't have felt good to David, even though he knows better than to think she would say that.

David and Laurie left about 1:30 and Rob, Stephanie, and I stayed for awhile. I was curious to know if Mother had really needed any help in writing. So I brought her the Valentine and said, "Let's fix this. A Valentine should say I love you, not I hate you." So I crossed out the offensive words, and gave her a pen. She wrote, quite readily, "I love you." So I went a bit further. "This top part is messed up, too," I said. Look, they've misspelled "Valentine." In true English-teacher fashion, she circled the parts that were wrong. On the facing page of the card, I had her do the top part again. She did pretty well with "To David, Happy Valentine's Day," just struggling a bit with the end of "David" and "Valentine" in putting too many dips or humps inbetween letters. She knew she was messing it up and corrected it as best she could. Then she put an arrow that pointed back to the regular page for the rest of the message.

Once that was done and I saw that she could still write in quite fine penmanship, spelling, and the rest, she lay down. Stephanie pulled out one of the old Coventry High School yearbooks and was looking at the section that described a teacher strike that delayed the opening of school for 3 weeks in 1978. I was in college then, but since it began before I went back, I remembered some things about it and how my parents wouldn't join the picket line but showed their support by bringing coffee to those in the line. A couple of things I didn't quite remember and so I asked Mother. Not even sitting up on the bed, she proceeded to give a perfect and detailed account of the strike. The sentences were complex and accurate.

I don't know what that was. I don't know if it was just a good day and she could put sentences together, or whether sentences about the past are different than sentences about the present. Clearly it was a better day than the day she made the Valentine. We took her up to the Valentine's party before we left.


Blogger MikeC said...

Remember the love, not the hate. Wonderful story; thank you.

6:55 PM  

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