In 2013 my mother spent a few days in the hospital. Initially she went there because she had food poisoning, but within 24 hours the doctors and nurses knew that something else was going on. This web site is an honest reflection of my life, because I cannot help anyone or myself, unless I am unflinchingly honest with myself.
My mother and I have not ever had a close relationship. In my adult life I’ve generally spoken to my mom about six times a year. We’ve not lived in the same state most of the time, so I only talked to her on the phone. When my kids were little I did drive to see her for holidays, but other than that, we only spoke on the phone. I went as long as one entire year and didn’t speak to her at all. She is a hard woman to know, she is harsh with her words, and when you piss her off, she ignores you and for me it was actually easier to be ignored. It took the pressure of my conversations with her because I didn’t have to talk to her at all.
My mom had a brain hemorrhage in 2009 and I went to visit her and stayed with her in the hospital. She was cracking jokes in the neuro-Intensive Care Unit. My mom spent time recovering after her hospital stay and so I wrote off her increasing oddness to her illness. I thought she was just getting more quirky in her older age. My mom was always a bit crazy, she marched to the beat of her own drummer, as they say. She was eccentric and as she got older she got more eccentric.
In the years preceding her diagnosis of dementia in 2013, my mom forgot where she parked her car in the mall parking lot and security would drive her around until she found it. She was stopped by a police officer because she was driving around the block over and over again. She told him she was lost trying to find the library, I place she’d been many times. If I told my mom a story about something that happened, she would tell it back to me (incredibly embellished) the next day like it happened to someone else. When I said, “yea, I told you this yesterday” she would reply “No you didn’t. I heard this from so and so.”
And that was that. I found it easier to just listen to the story than to argue, but I didn’t put it all together.
So when my mom ended up in the hospital in the fall of 2013 and the social worker called my sister to say my mom had had a “mental health status change” I wasn’t surprised, but I realized that I had not been paying any attention to my mom’s quirkiness as anything other than normal. It was not.
My mom was initially diagnosed with dementia. The hospital would not release her unless she went to live with my sister. That lasted a few days and my mom left there and went back to her house. So I took the lead and moved my mom here to Oregon to live. She lived with my aunt and uncle who were retired, until I could get her in to an assisted living facility. It was not ever a notion that my mom would live with me. I could not do it and she wouldn’t’ want it.
By this time, my sister and I had discovered the depth of my mom’s financial crises, her mounting credit card debt to department stores and her severely overdrawn bank account due to auto-debits for services she was not using. My mom had spent all her money, the inheritance from her mother’s estate, and at some point closed out her 401K and spent all that money, too. It was bad. It took some phone calls and digging into our pockets for my sister and I to get a handle on my mom’s finances, but we did. She is now part of a medicare, state-funded program that provides my mom’s housing, medical and living assistance. She doesn’t have a penny to her name.
In a little ray of sunshine, the medical doctors who care for my mom did adjust her diagnosis last year to Alzheimer’s caused by Traumatic Brain Injury. My mom suffered a few severe falls and she was hit by a car in 2003. She’s had a number of concussions in her adult life and her brain hemorrhage in 2009 kicked off her deterioration. At least with this diagnosis, my sister and I know that the Alzheimer’s my mother has is not genetic.
It was a slow realization, but I know that the woman I knew as my mom is gone. I can talk to her now and tell her things, listen to her and laugh with her but as soon as the she hangs up the phone she’s either forgotten I called her or refashioned our conversation into another story entirely. I often hear her tall-tale told back to me when my aunts call and ask “Your mom told me that you are doing so and so?”
I know I will never be able to sit on the couch and talk with my mom for hours (because I get too frustrated and she gets too tired), I will never take her to Ireland to see her family there, and someday I will call her and she won’t even know who I am.
There are mountains of resources out there for Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I also highly recommend attending some Alzheimer’s caretaker support group in your area. Meet people going through the same things you are. And even if your family member does not live with you, like my my mom does not live with me, you can still attend the support groups. There is not amount of preparation you can do and in that moment when your loved one does not know who you are, you are shocked, lost and so sad. Having others to talk to who have felt that same feeling is a blessing.