By Tammy Darling
October 6, 2010—the day will forever be etched in my mind. That day my world came to a standstill as my mother received the news that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
My all-consuming thought was: how do I move on from here?
The questions piled up faster than cars in a dense fog. How do I continue to relate to my mother on a normal level? How do I maintain a semblance of joy when all I really want to do is cry? How do I encourage her to remain positive when she believes she has nothing to look forward to for the rest of her life?
While that was the day of my mother’s official Alzheimer’s diagnosis—the day the real grieving began—the signs were there before: her frequent repeating of stories and questions; her look of confusion when trying to remember something that happened recently. Before the diagnosis it was easier to overlook, easier to deny the reality that was before me: my mother is dying.
I’m grieving the death of someone who hasn’t yet died—physically anyway. My mom’s mind is dying a slow but steady death. Her body will eventually catch up. Little by little I’m losing my mom. And so I’m in the process of saying a long goodbye.
Grief knows no boundaries, leaves no one untouched. Like a gentle rain on a cloud-filled day, drops of grief fall, seemingly without end. Today is one of those days. I know that one day my mother will be restored in Heaven with the God she loves. But today I cannot think of that, for I can only see what was and what is.
While Alzheimer’s can diminish short-term memory, long-term memories often remain well into the later stages. I’m tapping into those long-term memories for enjoyable conversations that will create memories of my own.
Since her diagnosis, Mom has become increasingly paranoid, especially concerning money. I’m learning to take hurtful or irrational remarks and actions in stride. I cannot allow myself to take them personally; they’re emerging from a deteriorating mind.
Routine is essential. No matter the stage of Alzheimer’s, familiarity and security are crucial, and routine provides that. I’ve noticed that my mom becomes more forgetful and confused if her routine is altered.
Keeping things simple helps. Mom tends to cling to the last thing she hears, so I arrange my words so that the most important information comes last. If she needs a ride, I’ll simply say, “I’ll pick you up today at 2:00.” The “today at 2:00” is what sticks with her.
I once read that it’s important to consider what it must be like for a person who has Alzheimer’s disease, then minister to him or her as you would want others to minister to you if you had the disease. This is what I’m trying to do.
It Isn’t Easy
When all color is gone from your life, when shades of gray inevitably turn to tears, it’s hard to go on, hard to live. But I’m learning to keep moving in the face of Alzheimer’s. Fresh tears fall, but these tears are sorrow mixed with gratefulness, love, and even a measure of joy.
As my mother’s life continues to leak away, my grief ebbs and flows like the rising and falling of the tide. There are good days and not so good days; there is laughter and there are tears: there is joy and sorrow.
As surely as the sun rises, it will also set.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.