Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I guess I should start from the beginning.  My parents were older when I was born--Mom was 39 and Dad was 44.  I never really noticed that until I was in 6th grade when my dad started having heart problems.  He passed away when I was 21 and he was 66 (actually the day after his birthday).  I stayed at home while I went to college and just never really made a clean break after my dad died.  I lived next door once I finally moved out in my early twenties.  Mom and I had the usual mother daughter issues, but we got along well most of the time.  About 7 or 8 years ago, I started noticing she was having some memory issues.  At first I thought it was what normally happens when someone gets into their 70's but it started to worry me one day after we had a really weird phone conversation.

One Saturday, she called me and said "would you come over to my house for a few minutes?"  Of course I said I would and walked across the yard to her house.  She met me at the door and let me in and we sat down.  This would be the strangest conversation of my life to this point.  She said she was sitting there looking at the pictures in her house and thought to herself didn't I have a daughter?  So she looked me up in the phone book and called me.  That was the first of many times she asked me why I lived so close and she never saw me.  And the equal number of times that I explained I was just there the day before and talked to her on the phone the previous night.  I called her doctor.  He did a number of tests and declared her normal for her age.  He said she was okay, so I assumed he was right.  I should have known it was the beginning of all the craziness.  What was I thinking?

Monday, February 13, 2012

This is my first attempt at a blog, so cut me some slack.  My purpose in writing this is to hopefully help someone (maybe just one) who is dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia.  My mom passed away last April after spending the last 5 years of her life in an Alzheimer's nursing unit.  It was a weird thing because as my remaining living parent, I expected to be very sad and maybe depressed.  But she had Alzheimer's disease, so she had slowly left me over the last few years already.  Maybe this blog would have been more powerful if I could have written it while she was alive, but I just couldn't do it.  So I'll recount some of the things that happened to us over the years due to the disease.

My goal with this blog is to let you know that you can handle it.  I've had some friends say to me "how did you get through that" and the answer is I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and realizing that I was powerless to change anything.  That sounds like I felt defeated, but it was really the opposite.  Since there was nothing within my control, I had to just do what needed to be done then set the situation aside.  I learned to compartmentalize my life so I wasn't thinking about her all day every day.  My falling apart wasn't going to help anything.

It's different for everyone because some people manage to keep their parent or spouse at home.  I tried, but I couldn't do it and keep my job (I'm single and an only child).  I also knew she would not want me taking care of her because she told me so repeatedly.  I put my mom in a nursing home with an Alzheimer's unit who took great care of her.  Not everyone has that luxury.  Not everyone has had that conversation before everything comes crashing down.  My mom had everything ready for me--living will, power of attorney, and long term care insurance.  Even with all that and having a friend or two who was going through it, I still felt like I was doing everything wrong.  I've come to understand that we're all doing the best we can at the time.  There's shouldn't be any judgment in that, even judging myself for what I did or didn't do.