People talk about the devastation when they lose a parent. How about when you've lost them before they ever die? My mother has advanced Alzheimer's. She has been battling this horrific disease for over 7 years. It's a battle that she is rapidly losing.
Last week I saw her for the first time in 4 months. I live in NC. She lives in Pa. It's a choice I had to make when we decided to move here over two years ago. Not an easy one. In June, she and I sat in the solarium of her nursing home to eat lunch. She always loved Subway hoagies. We talked for over an hour. Mind you, it was not a 'normal' conversation. She repeated herself frequently and would lose her train of thought. But it was nice. Little did I know it would be our last real conversation.
A week ago, I saw her again. It's taken me that long to get my emotions under control. I couldn't wait to see her. I missed her. But then, I've missed my Mom for over 7 years. Because what this treacherous condition has left behind is no longer my mother. At the same time, I was dreading it. She had started a rapid decline several weeks ago, no longer speaking much and only able to eat pureed food. I drove across the Pennsylvania Turnpike Saturday morning telling myself I was prepared for this. Fooling myself really. There's no way to prepare for this.
Lately, she has been forgetting me. She might get the name but not the relationship. Or there would be recognition in her eyes. She knew me. She just wasn't sure how. Not this time. This time there was nothing left behind her eyes. No facial expressions. Very few words. She looked like my Mom, but that was it.
I was told by staff that she has good days and bad. On good days, she would feed herself. I handed her the spoon. She held it for several minutes, just staring at it. This was not a good day. So, I fed my mother, like I had my children when they were young. Except that babies interact with you. They smile and laugh. Sometimes they bat at the spoon, or blow bubbles and spit. My Mom just sat there. She opened her mouth when the spoon approached it. Then she swallowed. As my heart shattered into hundreds of jagged little pieces.
My mother was the kindest person and the best person I have ever known. She had nothing but would give you what she had if you needed it. My mother worked 3 jobs at times just to provide my brothers and I with a roof over our heads. She was a single Mom. She was honest to a fault.
She never went to college, but she could do math in her head that I can't do with a calculator. She always told me that I could do whatever I put my mind to. And she was right.
It bothers me that her caretakers don't know these things about her. Or that my children don't have any memories of her. It kills me that I spend my professional life helping other people's family members but can't do anything for my own mother.
One day soon, I'm going to lose my mother for good. But the sad fact remains. She's already gone.