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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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Another Monday

When I arrived on Monday, Mother was asleep in her usual position. I came into the room, put my stuff on the chair and woke her up. Her left eye was sort of caked shut. I said hello, and she seemed kind of blank for a moment. Perhaps it was because she had just come out of sleep. Or perhaps she is starting to forget family.

I asked her how she was doing. "I'm just drying out my clothes," she said as she lifted her leg up off the bed. There was a pair of slacks at the bottom of the bed and somehow she seemed to think they were wet. Perhaps they were at one time. All the rest of the laundry was gone from the laundry basket, so she could have been referring to a number of things.

She was wearing a lei of bright flowers. "Looks like you've been to a party," I said. "That's fine in view of the fact that it's a poem," she replied, pointing at something on the table. I never figured that one out.

It was time for lunch, so we made our way down to the dining room. This week they had us sitting with Pearl and Velma, two women who say absolutely nothing. Not that Mother is a chatterbox either. I made several attempts to start a conversation with Pearl or Velma, but it fell flat. They smiled politely, nodded, and said nothing. So I asked Mother, "How have you been?" "Busy," she said. She reached out and touched my sweather. "That's nice," she said. "You ought to like it," I replied. "It's yours!" David had brought me a whole pile of clothes of Mother's that were now too big for her, and it was one of those sweaters I was wearing.

About that time they discovered that Harold was missing from the dining room and someone went to fetch him. He came in and lit up like a light bulb when he saw us. "You look lovely as always," he said to me as he was led to his table. Carl's wife was nowhere to be seen, leaving the "mean table" that excommunicated Dot the last time at only two women.

Dot was taken over to Eleanor's table, and the scenario was the same as always. She ate fast, told everybody she had eaten fast, and then completely forgot she had eaten and started asking for lunch to be brought to her. I don't know if she was ever a church-goer, but if she was, I'm sure the heavenly banquet imagery was something that filled her dreams. Back at our silent table, Mother ate every last bit of her lunch. Every bite of chicken, every pea, all of it.

I continue to be so impressed with the staff there. There are always two choices for the meal, but when someone wants something different, they call down to the kitchen and get it made for them. They keep an eye out for those who need help eating, and are always patient and filled with gentle encouragement and good humor. It's an excellent environment.

Carl's room (right next to Mother) has a new occupant--a woman named Phoebe. They sat her with Frances and Russell for lunch, which is where Mother started out. I'm guessing that's intentional. They are easily the nicest people in the neighborhood, both with enough sense to be able to have a conversation if you want one. As we were leaving the dining room and went by their table, I said hello to Frances. "Thank you for coming here and for saying hello to me," she said. Then she turned to Mother, "How are you today?" She put out her hand, which Mother took. "You're a special lady," Frances said to her.

We went back to the room, did the bathroom routine, and I asked Mother if she wanted to do a puzzle or go for a walk (although the weather was iffy). She responded by patting down the pair of slacks she thought were wet and then lying down on the bed. So I pulled out a book and read for awhile.

Finally it was time to go, so I woke her up and we said a prayer. On my way out I stopped by Frances's room and thanked her for being so good to Mother. I need to bring her flowers or a gift or something. I just think she's the best.

It was a visit without any great events or great insights. It was just another Monday made sacred by ordinary things...eating all the peas, a book and a nap, a kind word. For all the agony that is Alzheimer's, I'm not sure that day was less fulfilling than millions of other people's ordinary days; and perhaps it was more so. Other people don't live with Frances.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

As I'm going backwards, I have to say, Anne, I love the attention you pay in your journal to the members of your mother's community. It's both enlightening and heartening.

1:35 AM  

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