I Blog For Books

16 July 2012

Saturday, We Searched for Seashells

No matter what you may have read, no matter what you have learned in a classroom, no matter what you think you know - the creeping dissolution that is Alzheimer's is extremely difficult to deal with. When the disease affects someone you love, it becomes a frightening abyss on whose edge you teeter, often without a safety net. There are good days, sometimes there are good moments. There are not-so-good days, and terrifying moments. When your loved one denies that anything is wrong, it can feel as if you are swimming upstream in molasses weighed down by fear.

I suspected something was wrong shortly after the accident in the fall of 2010 - the one where she apparently pulled into the path of an oncoming vehicle while attempting to cross the circle one morning. I began to notice memory lapses, minor things at first: forgetting a word when telling a story or asking a question. Minor confusion and slight forgetfulness were attributed to the accident, the painful and slow-to-heal break of her collarbone and the fact that she was off work for over four months. Once she was back to work, everything was fine! It wasn't, but that was the delusion that we allowed ourselves.

2011 was a difficult year for her, in many ways. Her great-granddaughter went back to NY. In early August, a difference of opinion caused her to leave the job that she had held for more than fourteen years. Why did she leave? We don't really know - it's doubtful that we ever will know the real reason. Her story? 'They' stated that she had to learn to mix paint and she didn't want to. An ultimatum was issued and she refused ... deciding instead that it was time to quit ... and she walked out the door. While on a short trip home for the family reunion in September 2011, my husband and I asked her to come to Louisiana and visit for a while. It was then that I realized just how much she had truly changed.

My extremely and almost fiercely independent mother had suddenly become dependent. She lived with us for almost 6 months -- and not once during that time did she drive herself anywhere. If Rob or I didn't take her, she stayed at our house, venturing outside only to walk Max or to get the mail. If we didn't turn the tv on and find something that she wanted to watch, she would leave it off, sitting in silence for hours working puzzles, reading, or talking to the dog. She did not cook meals, she used the microwave or snacked. She almost obsessively washed the dishes, not wanting even a single piece of silverware to sit in the sink. When we arrived home from work, we got a complete report on how many times she had to clean up after the dog. I changed my habits, making certain that I cooked before going to work so I could fix her a plate to make sure that she ate. On my days off, we went around town, to make sure that she got out of the house. After we returned from NY in early March, she started saying that she wanted to go home because she had stuff to do. I fretted, stressed, worried, delayed ... and finally gave in. 

I took her home in April. She drives her own car around town, visits friends, goes to church. She makes noises about traveling to visit family members (my sister in Kentucky, her sister in North Carolina), but thankfully has not done so. She sits in her recliner, working puzzles and watching tv. I don't think that she's slept in her bed in months, instead dozing off or sleeping in the recliner. She putters around the house, finding places to put the latest sale item that she just had to buy. She talks animatedly and frequently ... about the past. She did not recognize her own sister, and we wonder how many other people she no longer recognizes. She gets angry if you correct her when she makes a mistake, and will drop or change the subject, refusing to talk about the error.

This weekend, my sister and I both came home. My daughter and grandbabies were down for a visit, and she wanted to go see mama before heading back to NY. It was stressful, infuriating, and scary. Cheryl and I had decided that we were going to take a day trip to the beach. She hadn't been in years, and my youngest niece had never been, so to PC Beach we headed. We talked mama into going with us, and she dressed in her shirt, jeans, socks and shoes. She fussed most of the way down there, stating that she hadn't lost anything at the beach and that she should have stayed at home. She told us how they used to bring their own drinking water when visiting Uncle Delmas and Aunt Fronie, because they lived in Panama and their water was awful. And that you shouldn't make tea from that water because it would taste so very bad. She fussed about the smell, the wind, the water, and the sand. When I walked toward the pier to take pictures, she followed. When I bent over to pick up a shell, she asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was collecting shells, and showed her the tiny but perfect one that I had found. 

Suddenly, she had a purpose! Whenever she saw me pick up a shell, she would look intensely at the surrounding sand to make sure that she could find some too. She got excited when they were different colors. She blew the sand off every single shell that she picked up. And for a few minutes, she forgot that she didn't want to be at the beach. She was happy helping me pick up shells. 

Every day is progressively more difficult. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like for her ... the confusion, the struggle. God, please give us the strength to help her through this. The task ahead of us is not an easy one, and we are going to need all the help you can give us.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother', which is the first commandment with a promise, 'so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."~Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV

1 comment:

  1. My grandmother has similar issues. It's not quite Alzheimer's for her, but a sort of deluded dementia. She is stuck in November, wears heavy sweaters even in the middle of July in Mobile. She is always on the verge of moving somewhere, mostly back to Boston (which is where she grew up), although my parents have no plans for her to move, ever again. She is perpetually packing. She loses her keys, her dentures, refuses to buy toilet paper and gets angry when the nursing home provides her with toilet paper when they clean her apartment (we have no idea what she would do if she ran out, and frankly, we don't want to know). She complains incessantly, almost burned her apartment down cooking a sandwich in her oven and has even started seeing hallucinations of bugs -- ants -- crawling around her apartment. Fortunately, my mother lives five minutes away, so driving over to solve the next crisis or visiting or taking her out to Walmart isn't a problem, although for my mom, it's exhausting, dealing with the questions and the crankiness and the "Oh my, there are so many THINGS in this store. How do you find anything?" I know intimately how difficult it is to deal with aging parents because it's all my mother talks about. Parents regress into children. The rest of us try to be supportive, but when it's YOUR mom, it's different. Know that you and Honey are in my thoughts.

    With love,