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, February 13, 2007


Finally, in keeping with the title of this blog, I visited on a Monday!

I arrived mid-afternoon and Mother was seated at a table in the dining room. I came in and said hello. She made no response. I gave her a kiss and she looked at me with a blank look. I sat down at the table, glad no one was there to ask who this was that was visiting. One woman was across from her, but soon she had a visitor and they moved to another table.

Mother had an empty glass in front of her. Would you like more to drink? I asked her. "No," she said, "but you're welcome to if you want." Lucid but cold. It was almost the last thing she said in our visit.

Seated at another table was a woman with long, straight gray hair and a straw hat. A walker stood beside her chair and on her lap was a large...and I do mean large...stuffed pink rabbit. I watched her trying to feed her cookie to the rabbit and dribbling milk on its fur as she tried to get it to drink.

In the meantime, I tried to engage Mother in conversation. It was extraordinarily difficult. I asked questions and made comments but it was like the words were never spoken. She stared at something unseen in the kitchen. I began to think she was losing her hearing until I said in the same voice, "I have a new job." Instantly she turned and looked at me with interest. "Oh?" So I told her about being the new Executive Director for the Massachusetts Bible Society and said that Easter would be my last Sunday in the church. I told her about being in the Boston Globe and my trouble trying to find a place to live, but she was back to examining the finer details of her napkin.

The woman with the rabbit was hugging him close and I found myself growing envious. I wanted to hug a rabbit, too, and make the terrible distance between me and my mother go away.

"I'm taking a trip at the end of the month," I said. Nothing. "I'm going to Israel." She turned and looked at me with interest. She still knew of that ancient land of the Bible. It was still there. For a second. Maybe her own travels passed through her mind in that moment...Russia, Morocco, Alaska, Hawaii. Or maybe she struggled to determine whether Israel was a place or a food.

We sat quietly for a time. The woman with the rabbit got up and hobbled over to our table, trying to cling at once to both rabbit and walker. In quite clear terms she told us how her "baby" was growing up. How he managed to pull himself up and that his legs were getting stronger. She showed us. She told how he was learning and how he was a pain sometimes, but that was all part of it. She loved him. It was obvious. Then, selecting the rabbit as the most important support, she put her walker against the wall and hobbled into the TV room.

Mother continued to observe the design pattern on her white paper napkin. I told her that Rob was no longer commuting so far to work because they put the radio station in his attic. Again, nothing. Soon it was time for me to head south. I kissed mother goodbye. As I did so, she looked at me and laughed. She didn't laugh at all during the visit before that. She is no longer on antidepressants.

Driving home I thought of the rabbit--and of course thoughts of large rabbits turn my mind to Jimmy Stewart and Harvey. Of course this woman's rabbit was quite visible, although just as fictional in its own way. It had an imaginary life as an infant boy struggling to take his first steps, and there was nowhere that the woman went where he did not go. After all, you can't leave an infant boy on his own, now can you?

And Mother, too, had her Harvey. Whatever it was, it was in the kitchen for quite some time. It was reflected in the embossed lines on a paper napkin. An alternate reality...or perhaps simply a new mental interpretation of what was really there. It called to Mother. Called her away from a world where your children are making major changes in life, away from a world that exists on the outside to a world that exists only on the inside of each individual mind.

And I had Harvey, too. I was talking to someone who wasn't there, a figment of my imagination by all signs, but one that seemed for all the world to be sitting in front of me.

And I wished I had a large pink rabbit to hug.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your latest entry and it was re-living what happened to me 1 week ago when I visited with my mother. When I got off the elevator that takes me to her unit, one of the nurses saw me and walked with me to my mother's room with me. The nurse said to my mother...'Look who I found wandering the corridor'- my mother glanced at me and there was no recognition. My mother's not knowing me started around Thanksgiving 06. On this day, I sat down on her bed and told her who I was,- still no recognition. I wanted to run away as I fought back tears. I did get my mother to sit up in bed and we sat together in silence on the edge of the bed and I held her hand for a bit. Then, she saw my hat on the chair in the room and asked me if it was mine. I said 'yes', and put it on to model it for her. Well, she broke out into gales of laughter. I was thankful for any emotion she was capable of and I smiled as I recalled her laughter from days when life for her was meaningful.
Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Twice Blessed said...

My husband has had Alzheimer's for 14 years. I feel so very blessed to be with him each day.

Last week we finally called in hospice.

How glad I am that I have a strong faith in God. I know He will always be there for me to guide me today and tomorrow.

If you have a moment please visit my blog.

4:31 PM  

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