Tuesday

Remember, Mom?



(Alzheimer's Awareness Stamp, US Postal Service)

I just got home from spending a week in Ohio with my family. I had the opportunity to watch my Yia Yia blow out the candles on her 88th birthday cake. I had the privilege of sitting down with my 91 year old Papou and listen to his wise thoughts on our crazy world. I had the special chance of squeezing my 87 year old Grandmother gently, for an extra long time. I don't know how much longer I have them and I know how precious time is. I know how fortunate I am that I have had them for this long in my life - not only healthy and happy -but with their sharp minds and memories still in tact.

The last night I was home, I went to a 40th birthday bash for some of my closest friends.  Since we are all scattered around, we decided on one date to celebrate everyone's milestone.  I had a long chat with an old friend and remembered old times like they were yesterday.  She told me all about her mother, and how she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's ten years ago in her 50s.  (My friend was only 30).  I can't imagine, watching her mother, so young, so full of life, disappear before her eyes.  She did  not understand that her daughter got married, that she had children, and made a life of her own.  She'll never scoop up her grandchildren and spoil them with kisses and hugs.  It is one of the cruelest diseases that robs people of their lives, their dignity, and so much more.  I had seen this for years during my time I worked with them in the Nursing Homes.  So many families are left to wonder if they are now strangers, or if, by some miracle, their loved ones really do know they are there.

As I spoke to my friend, I remembered all of the stories that loved ones had told me about their family members before they ended up in the Nursing Home.  The close calls, the near tragic accidents, the final straws that landed them in a locked, safe unit at a home permanently.  I recall the gradual reversal of adulthood back to just basic survival.  It is devastating.  But the one thing I always believed, was that deep down, they were there - and they knew when their family was there too. 

There are three women that I remember clear as day from my nursing home days.  One of them, a brilliant professor in her prime, had a bandage over her eye one morning when I went to visit her.  I asked her what happened to her eye.  She said, "he did it."  I panicked.  I thought oh no, not someone that works here, not a random visitor..my mind started running.  "Who did it?"  I asked her gently.   "That man.  Al.  His name is Al Heimer's...he comes into my room at night and does horrible awful things to me.  He hurts me.  He makes me fall."  I had been recording our sessions for research I was doing for a paper in college.  I must have played that back 100 times.  She had personified the illness in her mind and this is how she described it.  A monster.  And it is just that.  Another dear woman would tell me every single day that she was new to the home and that someone, she didn't know who,  took her in the middle of the night from her bed, and she ended up there.  To live that horror, every single day, over and over was heartbreaking to me.  I tried every day to sit with her, to make her smile, to ease her pain - and every day I managed to do so, only to go back at the same time every day to her furrowed brow and worried face and go through it all over again.

One of my most wonderful - and reassuring thoughts on Alzheimer's was because of a little woman in her housecoat named Ethel.  How I loved Ethel - she walked up and down the hallways daily, 'tending to her garden', gathering cucumbers for pickling, singing and smiling.  Every day she'd point out the flowers in her garden, even though all I ever saw were checkers on a table in the rec room.  For her mind to have the ability to rescue her and take her back to her favorite pastime every single day was a gift.  It made me think that our defense mechanisms were strong enough to swoop down and help us survive even the most awful affliction.



I wrote this poem for my friend's mom,  Mrs. C, and the countless others like her.  She is one of the kindest, most gentle, happy, loving mothers I know.  She was dealt a bad hand - and was taken away and all that was left was a frail, yet beautiful shell of a woman.  I hope that anyone afflicted, or who has someone who is suffering with this can find peace.  But I have even bigger hopes that we can find a cure.


Remember, Mom?
by DG

Remember, Mom..when you told me not to jump on my bed because I might fall off and get hurt?
And I did it anyways..and got hurt.
You fixed me right up, with love and patience and never said "I told you so," even though you did.

Remember, Mom..when I kept striking out in Little League?
You told me to keep practicing and trying my best.  And I did.
When I hit it out of the park, your voice was the loudest, proudest of them all
and you believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.

Remember, Mom..when you told me not to throw the football in the house?
And I did it anyways and broke your favorite lamp.
Instead of yelling at me, you let me help you put it back together with Super Glue and a lot of love.
I thought I was in trouble, but you spoke volumes by saying nothing at all.

Remember, Mom..when you told me not to go to that party but I went anyways.
I was in over my head and I called you to come and get me.
And you did.
I thought you would ground me forever..but you only grounded me for a few days.
You were right, but you never said so.  You let me learn the hard way.
And I did.

Remember, Mom..when I said I couldn't wait to be an adult so that I could make my own decisions?
You told me not to be in such a hurry and to enjoy being young.
And I grew up.  And it was hard.
Making adult decisions wasn't always fun, or easy.

Remember, Mom...when I found you walking aimlessly in the neighborhood, lost and confused?
You thought I'd be upset.  And I was.
But not at you.  At the disease.
And I still am.

Remember, Mom..when I finally had to take you to the Nursing Home to keep you safe?
I thought you'd be mad at me.  But you weren't.
You didn't even know who I was.
But you smiled at me, and gave me a soft tap on the knee.

Remember, Mom?  All those times you were there for me?  You loved me no matter what?
I'm right here, mom.
And I love you no matter what.


Peace,
DG

16 comments:

  1. This is one of the most heart wrenching illnesses to devistate families. I watched my great grandfather go from a strong, hardworking farmer who worked from dusk to dawn for his family, never complaining, always giving kind words of encouragment and love to those around him, to a shell of the man he was.

    Very emotional post and your poem was beautiful...sad, but beautiful.

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  2. This is so lovely and perfectly describes this awful thing that strikes such vibrant people. My grandpa had it and it was awful. For him and for everyone close to him. You are so lovely and gentle and spot on. Thank you for this.

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  3. This is wonderful my friend. Such a great reminder to enjoy the moments that we have now. Love it, love you.

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  4. Oh. This is so touching. My grandmother has Alzheimer's and was diagnosed several years ago with it. It is so heartbreaking to see someone that you love slowly not remember you. When I bring my children to see her, she has no knowledge of who I am or who my children are. She just thinks we are strangers who brings the baby dolls for her to play with. Seeing the pain on her own daughter's face (my aunt) of no recognition at times, is almost more than I can bear. As much as I wish my own mother was still with me, I don't know that she would have been able to withstand it either. Thank you for such a beautiful post.

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  5. Replace all the mom's with dad...and that's my story. I was 26 when I found out my dad had a form of Alzheimer's. 26 years old when I called him to talk to him and he didn't know where he was. I'll be walking in honor of my dad in the Alzheimer's Association's Walk to End Alzheimer's in Atlanta on September 29th. My dad was 71 when he died in November of 2010.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

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  6. Beautiful insight on your part about the three women. Love..love ..love your poem..thank you.

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  7. Thank you! My father was diagnosed at 59, 7 years ago. He went to a nursing home last year and it has been a very tough year for everyone, mostly my sister. My sister was his caretaker for 6 years. This disease is such a terrible thing to go through, my father does not know me or my children. My children visit him in the home and are scared of him and the home. It breaks my heart :( Thanks for this story and poem, it was very touching :)

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  8. My father has Parkinson... and one thing that happens is Alz. comes with it.... the other day my father looked at me and called me by my sisters name... the pain that i felt was nothing that i have ever had to deal with before.... My father my hero looking at me and not knowing who i was... i feel your friends pain and your own.

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  9. Thank you for including the glimmer of the woman tending to her garden....

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  10. It isn't fair, when your favorite blogger makes you cry...and yet, thank you so much for this. In our rush, in our snarkyness and who left what dirty sock where, it's so easy to forget that some day, maybe, we might forget for real. And anyone who hasn't yet seen "The Notebook" needs to go do so now. Hat's off to you, DG, for posting about this. My best friends mother died this year, not from Alzheimer's but from ALS. Either way, either the mind or the body goes, and the prisoner becomes isolated....best blog post I've read this year.

    xo
    tzkw

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  11. Tears on this one. My Grandmother was also stricken with this horrible disease. So many sad stories like in your blog. Your friends mother is so young. I can't imagine how difficult that must be. Very touching story.

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  12. My grandmother has this. She does not know me or my kids. I pray to GOD for a cure for this nasty monster. How painful. I love your accounts of the people you helped, and the poem had me crying out loud, at work. I am so glad you were able to share this with us!
    Love-Devan

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  13. This one brought tears. My Grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I never really understood the disease until I had to watch her go from the most amazing vibrant woman to a very quiet, frail shell. I regret so much never taking my son to meet his Great Grandmother. During that time she never had "good days" anymore. He was 7 months old when she passed. I wished that he could have known the woman she was before the disease took her but, he will know her through me and the letters that she wrote. I miss her dearly every day. Thanks so much for writing this and your words about miss Ethel give me hope that perhaps my Grandmother too was tending to her roses.

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  14. This gave me tears. I also worked in a home for the elderly when I was younger & saw this daily. I also lived with my PopPop. I used to go visit him in the home & bring him the stew he taught me how to make - he'd tell me it tasted just like his own & how much he appreciated the visit & then would point out his beautiful grand daughter "Jenny" in a picture of me when I was about 12. He never knew who I was - ever. It's such a sad disease. Not sure who it's most sad for - the person living it, or the people living it with them :( Great post as usual <3 Smoochies!

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  15. Absolutely beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing.

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  16. I don't want to let myself go to the ugly cry. This almost did for me. My grandmother had dementia. I hope it doesn't strike me or my mom. I fear it. Thank you for your beautiful words. Love you DG!

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