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 28, 2008

Sleep well...

I visited Mother last Sunday afternoon before heading to an event with Rob and Stephanie. "Visit" of course is a relative term with her, and Sunday it was even more so.

Arriving about 2 pm, I found her, along with her now three roommates, asleep in her room. Nap time after lunch, I suppose. I went over to her bed in the corner by the window but had to move her wheelchair to get to her. When I moved it, the most awful alarm went off, blaring for almost two full minutes until a nurse could get down to shut it off. Mother did not even open an eye. She was out.

There were no chairs, so I sat on the bed. No response. I gave her a kiss, shook her a bit, and called to her. Nothing. She was clearly sleeping...I don't want to imply she had slipped away...but she was down for the count. So I just sat there with her for about half an hour.

There was a time when her Parkinson's took over her jaw and her brow furrowed. I could not ease it. So I just stroked her hair and prayed with her until it was time to go. She would not know I came, except perhaps in some mystical or subliminal way. But then who knows if she knows I have come when she's awake.

Here's a picture, by the way, of the visit the week before, taken in the dining room of the new place.

It all makes me wonder what being alive means. I've especially thought about that tonight, as I type in the wee hours of the morning after Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, too keyed up to go to sleep. She can't wake. I can't sleep.

I want her to be alive tonight of all nights, but not just alive. I want her to be awake. I want her to know about the history that was made tonight, because I know she would cry as I did both for the distance we have come as a nation and for those who had to suffer and die to bring us here.

I remember a couple of years ago reading old letters from my father to my great Aunt Anne. It was 1955 and my parents had been married just one year. It would be four years before I came along and my parents were living in California as my father served time in the Army. They didn't have money for a whole year's rent, so they just had a place in the winter and spent the summers camping, taking the opportunity to travel a bit.

On one of those trips to northern California, they joined with another couple and decided to splurge and stay at a motel. Try as they might, however, they could not find a motel with a vacancy. It was about two-thirds of the way through the letter that my father inserted a parenthetical explanation that the reason all the motels were filled was that there was no room for colored people. The couple with whom my parents were vacationing were black. I found that remarkable for 1955 and it helped me understand why my parents took up the cause of civil rights in the sixties.

I've written about this before...maybe even here...but it stays in my head. All I knew was that Billy Wiley was my friend. I didn't understand why the boys in second grade would try to beat him up. I didn't understand why my parents had to go to town meetings and fight to get Billy's family permission to live up the street or why there had to be meetings at our church about them coming to worship with us. I didn't understand why my father wanted to take pictures of Billy and I together--slides that he showed at a school assembly at the high school where he was a Vice Principal. Why did high school students I didn't know want to see pictures of Billy and me?

Billy was just my friend. We once sat together in the corner of the mud room of my house to eat dog biscuits because the dog would so obviously do anything to get one of them that we figured they must be pretty good. They weren't, and we laughed as we spit out the dog's gourmet treats. When I fell for my first boyfriend, Billy carried secret messages between us. I didn't know then what I know now about the world that Billy and his family inhabited as a black family in an all- white town in the sixties, even in New England.

But my mother knew. And my father knew. Maybe because they had once joined their friends in a tent because there was no room for them at the inn.

All of that came back tonight, and as I cried at the walls that came down and the promise of a new day, I cried even more that Mother, who would have given her eye teeth to see this day, was asleep. She can't know. My father, from his place beyond the veil, knows. But Mother sleeps, perchance to dream.