This is Alzheimer’s.
I guess out of respect for my mother’s privacy, in addition to my own reluctance to be super public about my private life, I haven’t really talked about Alzheimer’s.
Here’s a story.
My beloved cockatoo Bunny died a tragic death on friday. I’m devastated, and I’ve been mostly alone with my mom all weekend since then, as my sister has been enjoying (a well deserved) break out of town. I’ve been gutted with my grief and guilt and broken heart, missing my feathered joy engine with an intensity I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. The wound is so fresh and there is a gaping hole in my soul, and I want her back so desperately. I’ve been somewhere between weeping and sobbing virtually nonstop since the accident.
My mom is an emotional sponge. She always has been. With Alzheimer’s, FEELINGS and the RIGHT NOW are really all that exist for her, so she’s been totally immersed in my grief with me.
It’s been kind of the sweetest blessing, as she is still really capable of showing up with mostly-appropriate emotional responses, and even the right words sometimes. She’s given me the longest, sweetest, most mothering hugs she’s given me in years (she’s usually kind of reserved with physical affection.) Every now and then she surprises me with remembering that it’s my bird I’m sad about, and this is remarkable, as she always called Bunny “that dog,” or “that white thing,” or “the white.” The word bird hasn’t been in her vocabulary for a long time. She calls birds and planes and helicopters all “your fliers!”
All of saturday and sunday, she knew who I was. Dawn. Her daughter.
This is huge.
It varies by the day and even the hour, but there have been days and days that have passed where she’s said “I love you and you’re a wonderful person, but you can’t be my daughter, because I only had boys!” And then there are days or hours or minutes where she knows I’m her daughter, her daughter Dawn, without a doubt. But those are becoming more rare.
But all this weekend, I was her daughter.
It was comforting, my mother mothering me, instead of me mothering her, as I have been nearly full time for the past four and a half months. She would bring me water, and pat my arm, and rub my back when I sobbed. She would say shockingly insightful and appropriate things. She was fully present. She was my mom.
This morning, that changed. She could still feel my grief and sadness, but suddenly, after days of the most tender empathy, my sadness scared her. She kept trying to get me to help her phone “my daughter Dawn.” She didn’t believe I was Dawn. She kept dialing me and being upset when this anguished woman on the couch next to her answered, instead of her daugher Dawn. She was confused and afraid.
Though I’m usually ok with her not knowing me, this time I broke down sobbing, feeling the acute loss of my beloved pet and my beloved mom.
She held me in a hug while I cried, but as soon as she backed away, she looked me in the eye and told me “you need a doctor. Your’e not right. You’re scaring me.” When I tried to tell her I was just heartbroken about Bunny, she said “you aren’t who you think you are. There’s something wrong with you, and you’re scaring me.”
From there it went downhill. She kept asking me if I was going to kill her, and if I had a gun (this isn’t the first time I’ve heard these fears, but it’s rare, though always so disturbing, and she hasn’t said this in months.) She refused to take her pills because she was sure I was going to poison her. Fortunately this phase only lasted about an hour, and I finally convinced her to leave the house with me for a walk.
We drove down to Mud Bay and walked along the water in the sunshine. We smelled the briar roses and the salt water, picked up shells and barnacle-covered rocks, examined a dead crab, identified salal flowers and blackberry flowers and broad-leafed periwinkle flowers, and watched the water sparkle. Then went to a huge nursery, and walked the rows and rows of spring flowers and hanging baskets. My mom always loved flowers. Slowly, my mom came back.
By the time we had dinner, I was her daugher Dawn again. I still am.
This is Alzheimer’s. 💙