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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Friday, October 28, 2005


My 44 year-old brother had a heart attack this week, a week before the anniversary of my father's death from a heart attack at age 47. Aside from being yet another crisis that delayed visiting Mother, it raised one of the more difficult questions of Alzheimer's disease. Do we tell her?

To be honest, in the first hours when nobody knew if he was going to come through this or not, I thought, "If he dies, would we tell her?" It's a terrible question. How could you not tell a mother that her son has died. On the other hand, would she even remember or understand? And if that part of her brain was connected and did realize what had happened, would you fill the one part of a functioning brain with unspeakable tragedy? Ugh.

Thankfully, that was not the news we had to impart and, after some angioplasty, Rob is now going to be fine. With that procedure over, I decided to head up to the Birches today. "Did you tell her?" relatives asked. No, I didn't. The news isn't bad at this point, but I was afraid she might only partially remember. Suppose she only remembered, "Rob had a heart attack" and spent her days grieving, thinking he shared my father's fate or that he was worse off than he was?

But I did wonder how the conversation would go when the thing that has been completely filling my time and thoughts this week was off-limits for conversation.

As it was, it didn't really matter. I went back to her room and she was sound asleep and snoring loudly. She has put on some weight, you can see it in her face. It took a lot of effort to wake her. Finally she stirred a bit, but didn't really open her eyes. "Hi there," I said. "How are you doing?" "Here I am," she said and went back to sleep.

I puttered around the room for a bit. I put some stray pictures in her album, threw out some trash, and took an envelope with the address of an old family friend who had sent a card so that I can acknowledge what she cannot. I put away some clothes and then stood over her and said a prayer for her as she slept.

She woke a little bit, and I asked how she was feeling. "Well..." she said. "Is something bothering you?" I asked. "Just the nuisance thing that put the house of annoyance out of business" she said.

Sentences like that are very frustrating. Aside from all the amusing possibilities for the "house of annoyance," there were enough negative words in the sentence to indicate that something was amiss. But the sentence didn't make enough sense to determine what it was. I told her I hoped to get a new dog this week and she stirred a bit. I reminded her that Grace had died this summer, and she was briefly sad.

When I kissed her goodbye she opened her eyes briefly. She spent the whole time on the bed, most of it asleep. It was strange. I drove an hour and a half for a visit, but I was torn about really pushing to make her wake up. What for? To live again in the house of annoyance? Maybe she was having lovely dreams. If she were awake, what would be gained? Not conversation or the exchange of information. The weather was cold so we would not go for a walk. No one was out sitting at the dining room tables.

It was enough to sit with her as she slept, being present while I can and praying for sweet dreams.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

My mother has Chronic Renal Failure. Part of this disease is that it increases her sleep potential, which was already prodigious. It was frustrating, at first. Then, I began to notice that her sleep periods are lively and when she awakens it is as though she's been visiting somewhere else, or her dead relatives have been visiting her. Sometimes, too, I'll ask her a question to which she doesn't have an answer, then, after a session of sleep, she answers the question in normal conversation, as though I had just asked it.
I've begun to learn how to "work" with her sleep periods, although, truthfully, it's a hit and miss type of work. Sometimes I have to wait for a few sleep periods to pass before a question is answered or a memory is dredged up.

1:43 AM  

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