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, March 14, 2005

A Prayer

When I arrived today, Mother was sound asleep. I got my coat off, put my things down, and when she woke up, I was coming out of the bathroom. So now she'll probably be wondering just who might come out of the bathroom next, but so it goes. I was a little bit earlier than usual, so there was still about 20 minutes before lunch.

I tried to engage her in some conversation, but she didn't seem to have much to say. I told her the amazing story on the news of Brian Nichols, the man who gunned down a judge, a deputy, and a court reporter in Atlanta and Ashley Smith, the Christian woman whose amazing love and courage ended the manhunt. She said she had heard some of that on the news, although since she also says that about a lot of other things that have never been covered on the news at all, it's hard to tell.

Then it was time for lunch, and we went down to the dining room. This time we were at yet another table with a woman named Ruth. Ruth seems very sweet, but she doesn't say much and often falls asleep in the middle of the meal. One of the aides usually helps to feed her. She can put the fork in her mouth just fine, but she seems to forget to do it and just drifts off. Once during the meal she looked up at me, her eyes bright and alert, gave me a big smile and burst into laughter. Then she drifted off again.

It was a bad day for Russell. His wife, Helen, passed away at the end of December, but he had forgotten. Today he was missing her and was mostly depressed. He left once during lunch to go look for her. Dot explained to him that Helen had passed away. "I never knew it," he said. Dot put her hand on his. "Feel my love coming to you," she said. I could feel it at the next table.

There was still no sign of Carl, and I did not ask what had happened to him. I'm not sure they would tell me anyway.

For the first time that I have observed, Mother ate every bit of her meal. All the salad, all the corn, all the beans, all the macoroni and cheese, all the garlic bread. She did leave a tiny bit of cake, but ate all the coffee ice cream with it. When she was finished, we went back to her room. After the obligatory bathroom stop, she lay back down and I took out my book.

After about a half an hour, Mother woke up. It looked to me like she might have chipped a tooth, so we went into the bathroom to look at it. I'm still not quite sure, but it didn't seem to be bothering her, so I let it go. She went over to the shower, pulled the curtain to one side, and started to get undressed. I got her back out into her room and away from the shower idea and then she said, "Well, I'll need a coat if we're going out." So, I went with the flow, got her coat and hat, and we went out for a walk.

It was a beautiful day...bright and sunny...and the path was pretty well cleared, although there were still some patches of ice. The path takes you around to the other side of the building where you can enter again on the second floor into the neighborhood called "The Ridge." She was ready to go in then, so that's where we went.

Everybody knew her as we walked through. We went by the large, gathering room upstairs, where they were preparing to do a craft. The woman in charge called her by name and asked if she wanted to make an Easter wreath. We went in so she could look at what they were doing. "Do you want to make a wreath?" I asked. Mother made a bit of a face. "I think I want to use my time more fertilly," she said. She never was much into crafts and passed that lack of interest on to me.

We went back downstairs and passed through the dining room where Russell was sitting, dazed, in the chair where he had lunch. Mother went up to him and stroked his back. He didn't respond.

We went to her room and got her coat and hat off. It was about time for me to head back home, and I did something I had never done with her there before. I offered to pray with her.

I'm not sure why I didn't do it before. I think part of me was afraid I would break down and sob. I wasn't exactly sure I would be able to handle it now, either. Her door was shut, but you could still hear Russell out in the hall calling for Helen. She brightened up at the idea, and we sat together on the bed, holding hands. I thanked God for the day, for the chance to be together, for my mother and all that she is. I asked for blessing and for strength and for peace. She chimed in with me to say "In Jesus name, Amen."

In most of the ways we come to cherish, Mother is dead. There isn't a way to really communicate through words and thoughts anymore. Her body has been separated from the family and is in a good, safe place...but not at home. After the prayer as we sat together on the bed, she pointed at the picture window that looked out on the snow and bright sunshine. "Even with a pretty picture like that it is difficult," she said. I know it must be.

And yet, during the prayer, there was no death. There was no separation. There was no home apart from God, and we were both home together in that moment. Ultimately, that is the Gospel. As Paul says at the end of Romans 8, nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Not even the loss of our minds. Where love is, God is, and the worst that life can throw at us can't take that away.

It won't be the last time we pray together.

At last it was time to go, and she followed me out the door and back down past the dining room. "I have to go home now," I said. She thought a minute. "I guess I'll stay here," she answered, and headed back toward where Russell was sitting.


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