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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Thursday, December 01, 2005


It's been a year. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2004 that Mother went to live at The Birches. It's hard to believe a whole year has passed. It's also hard to believe it hasn't been 20 years. Time has little meaning in the fog. There are fewer and fewer reference points.

We all went to join Mother at The Birches for Thanksgiving. Aside from the fact that it was snowing hard in the morning and my usual one hour trip took two hours and twenty minutes (thus bringing me to Concord halfway through dinner), it was a nice day. They had set up banquet tables in the upstairs common room for residents who had family members joining them. Rob and Stephanie were there as well as David, Laurie, and Ward. Here's a picture of Mother and David at the table.

The food was quite good. They had a couple really big turkeys (good since the first one was gone by the time I arrived) that the chef brought out to a central table and carved in front of us. Other food was set up on buffet tables just outside the room. Jason, our usual holiday chef was serving...such a cheerful guy, and a good cook to boot. In the dining room downstairs was Frances and her family. I was glad to see a large group with her.

After dinner we went downstairs to Mother's room where David gave her a chickadee from Emily and Bob, friends from our church in Rhode Island. It's one of those stuffed chickadees from the Audubon Society that makes the real bird call when you squeeze it. She had a goldfinch that seems to have flown away. Here is Mother with the new chickadee.

I'm glad she has a chickadee. She was the one who taught me to feed the chickadees out of my hands when I was young. I would stand out in the driveway, still as a post, until they would dare to come get the sunflower seeds out of my hands.

Chickadees are little, but they are brave. They will dare what other birds will not. So it's good she has a chickadee. Bravery is needed where she is. The cloud of unknowing.

There's a man in the church who has a father with Alzheimer's. He came to me after church and said he wanted to lift up his father during our expression of joys and concerns, but he couldn't decide if it was a joy or a concern. His father is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's. That is a concern. But in his mind, his father is traveling to all the places across the world that he traveled to in his lifetime. All that traveling brings him happiness, and that is a joy.

That's what it's and concern, thanksgiving and mourning, all mixed up like the turkey stuffing. The bitter-sweet of holidays is so evident here. Family is together, the meal is good, the staff are kind, the surroundings lovely. But illness and grief lurk under every table, the echo of silverware on empty plates.

And yet, when it comes right down to it, being there is all that really matters. Presence. Coming to the table to do what human beings have done for eat, to share as best we can, to remember who and whose we are. Whether we have a mind or not. Whether we are sick or well. We come. We are there. We are present. And somehow that makes a family, a community. Us and the chickadee. Until it, too, flies away.