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, August 03, 2006

A gift

I headed up to The Birches today, arriving about 2 pm. I found Mother in the TV room with several other ladies. She looked up at me and smiled and said, "Oh, hello!" and I sat down next to her. She had a throw pillow on her lap and was trying to do something unknown with the edging around the pillow. A woman next to her, wearing a straw hat with a huge sunflower on it, decided that she really wanted to have that pillow. So Mother put it down next to the woman and patted it. She looked around the room and counted the chairs aloud. The woman who wanted the pillow asked where she was supposed to be and Mother did her level best to answer, saying something about the three projections on the wall. Both seemed fairly well satisfied with the outcome.

I asked Mother if she could come back to her room for a minute and said, "I have a job for you." She perked right up...having a job seemed almost as good as having ice cream. She needed a bit of help to get up off the couch, but not too much, and we started for her room. We had only moved past one chair when the woman sitting in the next one held out a piece of paper she was reading. "This tells me what to do, but I can't figure it out." She held the paper out to us. It was a song sheet for "In the Good Old Summertime." "It's the verses to a song," I told her. "The worst is wrong?" she asked. It took some time to straighten out.

Mother and I then headed through the dining room where a man was visiting with his wife. It was the same man we had sat with at a birthday party, back in the first few months that his wife had been there...sometime last fall, I think it was. He was quite friendly, and quite fond of Mother.

He looked at her and asked, "Who's that with you, Joanie?" My heart stopped beating. It was the test I've been afraid to give...the question I wanted to know but was too afraid to ask. Does she know who I am? I looked at Mother, bracing for the worst. "This is my daughter," she said without missing a beat. A thousand pounds fell from my shoulders, and a thousand joys sang from my heart. We went on back to the bedroom.

The job I had for her was to sign a birthday card I had picked out for her to give to David, whose birthday is the end of next week. I got one of the yearbooks to write on, sat her down on the bed, and got out card and pen. We read through the card, and I asked her to put "Love, Joan" at the bottom. The last thing printed on the card was "Happy Birthday" and she copied those words. Her writing was a bit shaky, but still legible. Then she wrote "Happy Birthday" yet again under that. "Good," I said. "Now, why don't you write, 'love, Joan'" She did that quickly and easily. "Perfect!" I said. Then she wrote "Furfight." I think that was her version of "perfect"...a homonym of sorts. Then she started copying that word...if it can be called a word. Eventually she felt the card was done and I put it away and will mail it next week.

The stuffed animals in her room are breeding. There are more all the time. She spent quite a bit of time fixing the fur on the skunk's tail. Then she moved the little platypus to be next to the big platypus and picked up the red bear. She read the tag which said it was for collectors. She posed it in a very particular way on one of the chairs saying, "There, now they can find it when they come to collect it."

She picked up a pile of cards and we sat back on the bed and read through many of them...some from last month, others reaching back to her birthday, Easter, Valentine's Day, and Christmas. We talked about the people who sent them, and I gave her some news as we talked. Most of it didn't get much response, until I said that my new church was going to be starting Stephen Ministry. About six light bulbs went on. "Wonderful!" she exclaimed. My new book was passed over with an "Oh," and she just kind of looked at me when I told her about Jarrett and Julie's new baby. But when I mentioned Stephen Ministry, she was back in reality, if only for 20 seconds, and seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. Such an odd disease.

Then she picked up a safety card that for some reason was on her nightstand. She read through all the warnings about not smoking in bed and not letting kids play with matches...and then came the same set of warnings in Spanish. As she puzzled and puzzled over the Spanish, I pulled out her Bible and found a sheet where she had about 8 Psalm numbers listed.

The first was Psalm 89 so I turned to that and started reading. She moved her warning card inch by inch closer to the Bible until it was right over the text. "Where are you reading?" she asked, and I showed her where I was on the page. Then she put the card aside and read along with me. We finished the Psalm and she put her card in the Bible as a bookmark. Then I asked her if she wanted to have a prayer, which she did. So I prayed with her, then hugged her and cried for a bit.

She got up from the bed without assistance, and on my way out, I brought her back down to the dining room where the man and his wife and several others were still seated.

She was there today. I could still find her. And she knew me. I am still her daughter. How much longer?