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, January 20, 2006

The same, yet different

During a meditation time yesterday I had a strong sense that I needed to go see Mother today. So, after getting some things done in the morning, I headed to The Birches to arrive right after lunch.

This was my first visit to her in her new room. The Birches contacted David a few weeks ago to say that Mother had a lot of friends upstairs on "The Ridge" and that they would like to change her room so that she could be up there. We agreed to the change. Each "neighborhood" is built the same way and Mother's new room is identical to her old one. The shape and location of her corner room is exactly the same and they did a wonderful job of moving all her stuff and putting things back both on the floor and the wall exactly the way they were downstairs.

When I arrived, she was seated with some others in the dining room, and people were just heading into the TV room as lunch was finished. I came and said hello. She gave me a cheery, "hello" and then said "God bless." It was not a greeting for someone she knew well. Her eyes were somewhat vacant...looking a bit larger than usual and somewhat less engaged.

As the others headed for television, I brought her back to her room, pulling her past a man still seated in the dining room that she seemed to want to commune with a bit too intimately. Russell is forgotten in a heartbeat, I guess. I don't know the residents upstairs, except for Evelyn (of "fluffy stove" fame last winter). Evelyn is as active as ever, never ceasing her roaming for even a moment.

I brought my laptop so that I could show Mother pictures from my Florida trip and the powerpoint presentation I did with the eagle pictures I took. Evelyn made three visits into the room, during that time...once poking her hand all over the keyboard...glad she didn't hit the delete key. Mother enjoyed the pictures a bit, but she seemed more fascinated by the icons for manipulating the pictures at the bottom of the screen. Her attention was drawn to them again and again...ever the organizer.

She has gained a fair amount of weight and her pants looked a bit tight. Once I turned off the laptop, Mother began to call to Cody (the big stuffed black lab) and I went and sat on the chair with the stuffed cat that Rob gave her for Christmas. I asked if Cody got ever went after the cat. "Not often," she said. She came over and patted the cat. "He's a nice kitty," she said.

Then she sat down on the bed. There was a throw there I had never seen before...hope it's hers. On top of that was the throw given to her and David by members of David's church in Claremont when they were married. I looked at it and realized that today was their 10th anniversary. I'm always bad with such things. One corner had their names embroidered in a pair of joined hearts. She read their names and the words around them, "Marriage: the beautiful blending of ..." she stumbled on the next words, finally she got out "two" and then a bit later "lives." She went back to read it again...spelling out some of the words this time. She had difficulty with the same two words. She tried spelling the last, but had trouble coming up with the "i" in "lives." It's the first time I've seen her have trouble with reading or letters. Probably not a good sign for a former English teacher. She folded the throw so that the embroidery was no longer visible.

I asked her if she knew any of the people up here in this new neighborhood. "Not really," she said, "but I recognize their faces. So I hold out my hand." Always grace.

I talked to her about Florida and her sister Judy's wedding last week. (We didn't bring her, as she would have had to be away overnight.) "Only Judy would want to be married outside in January," I said. She laughed, a bit of remembrance of my aunt's eccentric side. She wasn't too talkative today and eventually conversation dwindled. So we had our prayer and I headed out as she went back to pat the cat...quite at home on this tenth anniversary, and yet not there.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Christmas Day 2005

It was an odd Christmas this year. Since it was a Sunday, both David and I had church obligations in the morning. With my scheduled flight to Florida on Christmas night and Rob and Stephanie off visiting her parents, I was sort of on my own. So, once church was done and I had gotten packed for the trip, I headed up to The Birches.

Of course I wanted to be with Mother on Christmas. I brought her present and since David, Laurie, and Ward were there when I arrived, we all exchanged gifts in an unplanned celebration. But still I wondered if she knew it was Christmas. I think at some level she did...but what level?

That's always the question these days. People ask if she still knows me. She does, but at what level? I don't quiz her as I see some families do...asking "Who am I?" or "Where do we live?" Maybe I don't want to know the answer. But I see recognition in her eyes, so I know that I am still a familiar face. I just can't be sure that she could correctly identify that familiar face if I pushed her. And so, for both our sakes, I don't.

She doesn't ask about others anymore as she once did. She has stopped asking me if I've heard from Grandpa or mentioning that he hasn't written. She no longer asks if I've seen David. She did surprise me on Christmas, however. I stayed about half an hour after the others had left, and I told her that I was going from there to the airport to fly to Florida for a couple of weeks. "Send me a note to let me know you've arrived," she said...just as plain as day. Of course, as I'm remembering this now, I am remembering that the one thing she managed to clearly ask for, I didn't do. Sigh.

We had our usual prayer and eventually I headed for the airport...only to spend about four hours there and have my flight cancelled due to bad weather. I finally got out the next morning. It was some level.

I want to take a moment to thank whoever it was who brought this blog to the attention of WGBH Morning Stories (in Boston). An edited version of "The First Noel" post from last Christmas was their feature the Tuesday before Christmas. They said that a listener called in and recommended something from this blog for their show. It was a fun thing to do, and I've had mail from those that it helped who heard it on the air or in the podcast. So, to my anonymous benefactor, thank you.