“They shoot horses don’t they?”
I will never forget what my mom said to me more than 25 years ago when my grandmother was suffering from the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and she feared she would one day confront the same uncertain fate.
“Oh mom, stop it. It’s not going to happen to you,” I reassured her, but in the back of my mind, I secretly feared that my mom would face the same treacherous journey as my beloved grandmother.
And now here we are. 22 years after my grandmother passed away, my mother, who turns 80 this November, has slipped into the latter stages of dementia. The part where you can no longer perform basic tasks and your short term memory is gone completely. While she continues to deteriorate at what seems like a rapid pace, what I miss the most about my mom are our conversations.
Whenever I was feeling down in the dumps or had great news to share, Mom was the first person I would call. When my kids were born, she was by my side helping out whenever she could. Mom and Dad even moved to an apartment that was about 20 minutes away just so they could be on hand whenever we needed them and when my kids were babies, I needed them a lot.
But now here we are.
When I first started blogging, I shared the milestones and funny stories my kids were experiencing during their young lives. From first steps, to first words, to performances, to the things they did that made us laugh out loud or burst with pride, sharing the stories of my children was truly cathartic for me. If I was able to make a reader laugh out loud with those toddler tales and make them feel like they weren’t alone, then I knew I had found my passion as a writer.
After a few years, my kids stepped in to inform me they didn’t want me sharing their stories anymore so my blog kind of faded away a bit as I focused on supporting them behind the scenes and celebrating their achievements on Facebook.
Today, I’m at a much different place in my life. I’m now the parent of young adults. My daughter is a college graduate and my son is 19 and I find myself dealing much more with health issues that are confronting my parents and in-laws than for my kids, who know exactly what to do if they need to visit urgent care.
The sad part about aging – especially when you have a parent who is losing their memory – is that all those milestones that you captured with your kids literally start happening in reverse. I first started noticing that my mom was forgetting things when we would connect on the phone and she began losing her words. When my dad was in the hospital for a heart procedure, she couldn’t think of the name for “nurse” or “doctor” and kept calling them “the person.” As her daughter, I picked up on these subtle memory slips quickly and urged her to visit a neurologist. It took several months and when she did, she decided to go without my dad (she didn’t want him to worry about her) and the doctor broke the news with the worst bedside manner you could ever imagine. She actually told her point blank she had Alzheimer’s disease and that she only had a few years left before she wouldn’t be able to care for herself.
My mom left the office completely devastated and I was crushed because the last thing I wanted was for her to receive this news without the support of her family. We quickly found another doctor who was much more reassuring and attempted to ease her fears of the unknown. At the time, she was suffering from mild cognitive impairment and while she would forget a few words and talk about how she “wrote everything down in her book,” she was still driving, handling the finances, cooking, cleaning and reading. I silently prayed that if this was the worst of it, she’d be okay.
But it wasn’t.
Mom’s diagnosis was nearly five years ago and over the last month, she slipped into the latter half of her journey. To say it’s scary to imagine what she’s about to face is an understatement. You see, when my grandmother faced the same dismal prognosis, my mom wouldn’t even let me see her. She told me she didn’t want me to remember her that way so she told me not to worry and handled everything just like she always did. Today, my mom is in Florida with my dad so I can’t visit her all the time and feel as if we are on a race against the clock before she starts forgetting our names and faces. I typically do FaceTime calls with her and our conversations these days consists of her telling me how much she loves me and only wants the best for me. I truly believe that’s her brain fighting back against this insidious disease. You’re not going to keep me from telling the people I treasure most in this life how much I love them. My mom is a fighter and sadly, this battle is going to get the best of her. But in the meantime, I’m going to share her journey and the memories we have made along the way.
So welcome to Role Mommy 3.0…The Panini Generation. I hope my stories are cathartic for you too if you are going through a similar experience and be rest assured that no matter what you are facing, you are not alone.