The inevitable happened. I just wasn’t ready for it – yet.
This summer of 2017 seems rampant with the unexpected.
A visit with my mother in assisted living and BAM – another unavoidable side effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.
She no longer knew me.
“Hi, kiddo,” her greeting for everyone who enters her room.
As we started talking, I knew the connection had failed. I was being addressed in third person.
“My oldest daughter lives in Saint Louis,” she said. “She works there. I forget what she does.”
“I’m a writer, Mom. And it’s Kansas City – not Saint Louis.”
No response. No affirmation. Just a tilt of her head and a puzzled look. “Who are you married to now?”
Now? As if I’ve been married several times with a revolving door for relationships. Who am I in her plaque-infested brain? Okay. I can play this game. Mom will forget this conversation five seconds after I leave.
“Who are you married to now?”
“Colin Firth.” Might as well make it good.
“Oh. Does he treat you right?”
“Yes. He’s the best.”
“Does he know how to use the litter box?” Somehow Mom switched from Colin to cats.
“Uhm – yes. He’s British and they’re trained to properly use the litter box.”
Before we could continue this ridiculous conversation, Mom was called to the dining room for supper. I decided to sit at her table, even if she didn’t know me.
She introduced me to the rest of the residents, “This is my company.”
Company – a safe term. No connection. No relationship.
A sweet lady on my left asked, “Do you play piano? Could you play my favorite song?”
I wondered if she asked everyone that question or did she somehow assume that I knew how to play. She adjusted her walker and I followed her to the piano. “Please play ‘There’s Something About That Name’,” she said with a slight catch in her throat.
Give this lady some joy and play her favorite song. Maybe it will help erase the fact that my mother is unaware of who I am, carefully spooning into her chili and cornbread mixture.
So I started playing the song, then joined in a decent duet, singing with my new friend. We segued into “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace.”
From the other side of the room, I watched Mom rest her chin on her hands, her face a beatific spread of happiness – enjoying the music. Did she suddenly remember all the years of piano lessons, as she sacrificed time and money so I could learn what she had always longed to do?
I wanted to memorize her face, to never forget the contentment reflected there – not certain I would ever see it again.
Thank you, Mom, for making piano lessons possible for me. I’m giving joy to this unknown woman beside me, but I’m playing for you, Mom – the daughter you no longer know.
The mini-concert ended and I returned to Mom’s table. Another woman asked her, “Is this your daughter?”
Mom just shrugged.
We walked back to her room, and I kissed her goodbye. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Okay,” she said, already punching the TV remote, oblivious as to what “soon” means. It will be months before I make the trip back to Oklahoma from Kansas City.
Not Saint Louis. Not so soon.
And when I return, will a blip of memory reappear? Or is the knowledge of who I am gone forever?
Have I mentioned how much I hate Alzheimer’s?
©2017 RJ Thesman, Author and Writing Coach
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