Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Mom can't remember my name...

I am breaking a personal rule with this post. I have always, without exception, tried to keep my private life separate from my public life as a writer. To me, that is—and has been since my first book—of prime importance. Yet today, after returning from two weeks in balmy (er...hellishly hot) Florida, I am going to talk about something as personal as it gets.

My mom is closing in on her ninth decade. She's blessed with a wonderful suite of rooms in my sister's beautiful home. She is surrounded by fields, cows, horses, cats and family - not to mention Rudy the bull, all grown up into 1500 lbs of cuteness. It's idyllic and neither she nor I can imagine a better place to be at this stage of her life.

We're lucky in that we are a loving family, giving and sharing as best we can. So I gladly hopped a flight to spend two weeks with Mom when the family got the chance for a trip to England. It was a great vacation for them and a chance for me to get more than a brief few days with my last remaining parent.

I knew she was relatively healthy for her age, other than the usual assortment of medications - blood pressure, mild diabetes and blood thinners. Not unexpected at this stage of life. Another blessing for her...she has always been active, and I think that helps, as does the fact she can care for her own basic needs. It hasn't helped her memory, unfortunately. And it didn't take long for me to realize that the short term retention is gone.

She knows me - and remembers the names of my husband and son. Sometimes. At others she'd ask if I were planning on settling down? Or when did I have to go back to England and Ed? (My late aunt's husband). I would answer these questions with a smile the first time. And the second, and the third. Patience seemed to come easily because this was my Mum. She forgets so much now, but still recalls her childhood quite clearly.

Her routine helps. Keeping things consistent seem to give her a sense of balance, of knowing what she should be doing - if anything. Change upsets her, frightens her a little I think. She wants to be useful and not burden anyone, but making a cup of tea can result in a pan of water boiling on the cooktop for an hour because she's forgotten it's there.  I could not leave her for more than an hour or so.

This isn't a new experience for so many of you out there, including friends who have shared so much and helped so much as I walk into this mystery, this puzzle of why her short-term neural connections have failed so completely.  And yet she can recall the hymns she sang in Sunday school in Devon almost ninety years ago. You've told me of similar experiences, some lighter, some a great deal worse. And you've shared your emotions, for which I thank you all.

I thought of those conversations at the most difficult times...the ones where Mum would realize she was forgetting. That she had asked that question five minutes ago. Seeing the frustration and fear in her eyes was agony, because there is no way to help her with what she's experiencing. She has not been formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but the symptoms sound very similar.

Whatever the medical terms, I mourn the loss of those memories - my childhood in England, the friends we had there, our little house - she has forgotten my growing up. And at one point she looked at me and said "I can't believe I'm your mother." Yes, Mum, you are indeed my mother and I'm so proud of being your daughter. I'll try and remember things for you, and we'll be sad together about the things that are gone.  I send my love to everyone going through this with an aging parent. And I write this to tell you, as others have told me - you are not alone in the struggle and it is okay to cry.

God bless,