I got home from Mom’s today and received a phone call from a friend whose loved one is showing signs of dementia and who is seeing a neurologist next week. And I remembered the concern and confusion when we first began seeing Mom’s personality changing.
She was still working, but was having continual conflict with a co-worker, which was unheard of for Mom. Then she started misplacing things. Every day. She would get so upset, and would search for hours for the lost item, and often it would finally be found in plain sight. She accused family members of taking her things or hiding them.
She started struggling with sewing projects, a thing she was so gifted in. She pretty much stopped cooking, but would get upset when Dad would step in and cook himself. He was taking her job, she said. Her bathing and grooming habits changed. And she would get mad so easily, especially at Dad and I. We were “interfering” with her life as we tried to help her.
Because of Dad’s vision loss, he could no longer drive. And Mom was sometimes confused even in familiar areas. So Dad tried to always go with her when she left the house, because he could still help her navigate. Then one day she was making a left-hand turn and Dad noticed an oncoming car had to brake hard to stop. Dad told her she should have yielded. Mom answered, “Well, I had my turn signal on!”
That’s when we became very concerned. Dad didn’t want to ride with Mom anymore, and we didn’t want her out alone. Dad would call me whenever Mom said she was planning to go out, and I would show up planning to go the same place and saying I might as well drive her.
It was such a hard time. Such a scary time. We didn’t have a name for it yet, but we knew something was wrong. Mom’s doctor had referred her to a neurologist a year or two earlier, but she had refused to go.We had tried to live in an uneasy denial, but now we got another referral and made the neurologist appointment happen. It was time to deal with the truth.
The neurologist asked questions. He looked at the MRI the family doctor had already ordered. And then, with a gentle professionalism, he said, “Your mom has Alzheimer’s. In a couple of years she’ll need a lot more help. She can’t drive anymore. Let me get you some information.”
He quickly left the room and I was relieved because I was choking back tears and struggling to comprehend the truth even though it was already so evident.
Mom was angry. “He can’t tell me I can’t drive! I can still drive.” But I was so thankful that it was an official doctor’s order. Now we could “blame the doctor” when we told her she couldn’t drive.
When the neurologist came back in, he asked if we had questions. I said, “I read that Alzheimer’s couldn’t be officially diagnosed without a brain autopsy.”
“That’s true,” he answered. “But with everything I see here I’m 95% certain she has it.” I remember nodding in agreement. I was 95% sure too. And my heart ached.
The next morning Mom called me. I wondered if she would remember the diagnosis. But she brought it up. She said, “I have Alzheimer’s, Cheryl. I hope you never get Alzheimer’s.”
And that was such a picture of my dear mama. Concerned about her children instead of herself.
And that’s the only time she ever talked about her diagnosis with me. I wonder how long she remembered it. I wonder when that knowledge slipped away for the last time. I wonder when exactly she forgot she had children.
And thinking of this all now brings me to tears. Alzheimer’s does that. I open my Bible and notice a verse I’d previously underlined in Psalm 35. It says, “I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.” God understands. He knows there is a special kind of mourning for one’s mother.
And then I remember Psalm 34:18 (NKJV), a verse I underlined earlier today. “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart.”
And I know that He is. Our hearts are mourning and broken. But Jesus understands and He is always near. He never stops knowing us. He never stops loving us. His angels encamp around us, His mercy surrounds us, His faithfulness shields us.
He is so good. His grace is sufficient. And I am so thankful.