Over 5% of Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This is her story.
Alzheimer’s is one crazy bitch, just like my mom.
Don’t worry; I’m not an evil daughter, I just decided to take the more, shall we say, “optimistic” approach to my mom’s disease than some people would. Also, I have a very warped sense of humor, which has helped me get through quite a bit throughout my 40 years on this planet.
I’ve already been through my dad’s stroke in my 20’s, Mom’s stroke right after, followed by the death of my first husband when I was 27, my dad’s death when I was 28, my mom’s slow decline into Alzheimer’s Disease, and so much more.
Humor has been my savior and my go-to tool for as long as I can remember. So, please keep that in mind as you read what I’m sharing. Because believe me, my heart breaks into thousands of tiny shards of broken glass when I really allow myself to think of the shell of a person my mom has become.
I miss my mom terribly.
It pains me to talk to her now; our weekly phone calls have drifted into bi-weekly and crossed over into monthly conversations, simply and selfishly because it hurts me to hear her so confused. There is nothing more that I miss than being able to talk to her – really have a normal conversation with her – one that I know she was comprehending what I am saying to her.
Even when I was at war with her in my teen years, I’d take that over what I have with her now. I wish I could have those times back, but I can’t, so instead of being hurt and mortified by mom’s words and actions, I try to find humor instead. Although there are times I hang up the phone and just allow myself to cry for her, for me, for us.
I have decided to blog various stories about mom that have made me chuckle over the years. It’s okay to laugh, I do.
I should have known Mom was drifting toward Alzheimer’s when we went out to eat one night. While the cashier was ringing up our check, mom grabbed a peppermint from the large bowl of candy on the counter. She must have really loved those peppermints because she grabbed another one and shoved it quickly into her mouth while the cashier handed me my change.
I unzipped my pocketbook and Mom unzipped hers. I put my wallet back in to my pocketbook; Mom dumped the whole bowl of candy into her pocketbook and walked out the door.
I was mortified! I asked the cashier “How much for candy?” She just looked at me, shocked, and said “Don’t worry about.“
One day I was lounging around, soaking up the sun, half watching my children swim in our pool and half daydreaming. The phone rang, bringing me out of my semi-comatose state.
“Hello,” I mumbled into the mouthpiece.
“Ma’am,” a Southern gentleman drawled, “is your mom named OCB?”
“Yes, who’s this?” I asked, my suspicion aroused. Who the hell was this guy asking about my mom? How did he get my unlisted number?
**Side note: even in the depths of her Alzheimer’s, she’s never forgotten my home phone number.**
“I’m Clyde, from the Pottery Mart? Over here on Airline Lane? You know it?” he asked.
I could see the big red building clearly forming within my brain. It was located in the town where my mom lived, about fifteen minutes away. They had a large statue of a rearing horse on top of their sign and I often wondered how they had gotten it up there. “Yes, I know it. What’s going on? Is my mom alright?” My suspicion had now turned to concern.
“I reckon ma’am. We don’t want to call the police…”
Police! What the hell is this guy talking about?
“…but it seems your mom has gotten into someone’s car, and she won’t get out. The owner of the car has been real nice and all, but your mom insists it’s her car, but it clearly ain’t; her keys just won’t fit into the ignition. She told us to call you. Can you come down? She seems pretty scared and, well, pretty mad.”
I was dressed and out the door with the kids in record time. On the drive over, never once did it occur to me that my mom had Alzheimer’s. I figured she was merely having an ‘off day,’ which happened from time to time since her stroke several years prior.
I arrived to find my mom sitting in a white vehicle (hers was red), with a gentleman standing alongside and another gentleman sitting on the ground looking a wee bit pissed. I thanked both men profusely, apologized countless times, and sent several thankful prayers up to God that they didn’t call the police or the EMT’s. I was even thankful that we lived in the South at the time and not New York. I managed to talk my mom out of the man’s car (I don’t recall what I told her), and I drove her home. My friend drove her car, and that was the last time my mom ever drove her car, or any other vehicle, at least that I know of, anyway.
This event led me to take her to the doctor for a full work up and her first official diagnosis of Stage One Alzheimer Disease.
Now that I’ve brought you full circle, this fun phone call I had with Mom the other day prompted me to write this novella in the first place:
After going round and round with Mom about my weather on the east coast versus her weather in the central United States, and having that same conversation several times, she asked how things were with my family. She always remembers my boys’ names, but has trouble remembering Peanut’s name because she came along further into Mom’s illness. We talked about the kids for a few minutes, then I shared with her that I bought myself a car.
Out of the blue, Mom remarked, “A car? It must be nice to have a car to drive wherever you want. I wouldn’t know since you took mine away. You know you did. I remember. It was red and I loved it and I shopped in it and I went to the VFW in it. I danced at the VFW on Saturday night. You took it away. Why did you take my car? I went to the craft store in it. I used to go…”
I could sense she was building up steam so I cut her off at the pass and said, “As a matter of fact, I do remember that car, Mom. I gave it to my brother. Aren’t you going to see him at lunch today? You should ask him what he did with it!” I snickered into the phone. I could see my brother now, sitting across the table from my mom and getting blindsided by this conversation. It would be a classic! He gave that car to his son almost ten years ago; who knows how long it’s been out of the family now.
“Really?” Mom replied, “He’s coming up here for lunch. I’m going to ask him about my car!”
It’s so nice that you have these happy memories of your mother after Alzheimer’s had started to show its effects. It’s a nightmare of a disease.
I cope by using humor as well. It’s the only way it works! I loved this post and I’m so sorry about the ALZ. It’s awful.
I’m so glad your sense of humor is intact. I’ve never delt with Alzheimer’s but I know that having a parent who isn’t fully cognizant is deeply unsettling & lonely. Keeping your sense of humor is such an important way to cope.