I’d like to start off by saying that the purpose of this post is not to gain attention, sympathy, or some combination of the two. My intention is not to fish around for words of comfort and encouragement. I don’t want people to say that they feel sorry for me because I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself. I don’t want people to tell me that it’s going to be ok because I know that’s not the truth. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m sitting around my house all day crying and feeling sorry for myself. I am not a sad and hopeless person. And, I most certainly am not WEAK. If anything, this experience has made me stronger. So, please don’t offer me words of comfort and encouragement. That is not what I want you to take away from this post. My sole purpose here is to tell my story. To make you aware. If you take anything away from this post, let it be Awareness.
As much as I’d like to think that my Mom is the same as when I left her in August, she simply is not. Other people who talk to or see her regularly might disagree, but, to me, she is different. With me being over 900 miles away from my Mom for the time being, I rely heavily on our phone conversations to keep in touch with her. As I’ve stated before, I try to call my Mom every two or three days. Our conversations vary in length, but they are about thirty minutes long on average. As time goes on, I’m finding it harder and harder to have a conversation with my Mom. She is becoming a stranger to me. I often feel as though I have nothing to talk to her about. I struggle to come up with things to discuss, but I’m at a loss. Making it all the more difficult is this horrible disease that is clouding her mind and stealing it away from all of us. I cannot ask my Mom what she’s been up to or what she did over the weekend. She doesn’t know. I often ask her questions to which she responds with silence. She is utterly lost and confused. She is unable to answer me. I don’t know if it’s that she doesn’t understand the question, doesn’t know the answer, or both. A simple question like, “What did you do today?” is often followed by a long pause. I usually end up trying to guess what she did and she either agrees or disagrees. There’s no way of ever knowing what she actually did, unless I ask my Dad. Having nothing new to discuss on my end, our conversations always end up sounding like a broken record. My Mom asks me the same few questions repeatedly and tells me the same few things over and over again. It reminds me of making small talk with someone in line at the grocery store. It feels like we don’t even know each other. Like we are strangers.
In many ways, we ARE strangers. My Mom has no idea what state I’m in. When I say Alabama, she feigns recollection, but I honestly doubt that she has a clue. She’ll ask me what I’m doing and I tell her that I’m just hanging around the house. She’ll ask me what house and where it is. She always asks me when I’m coming home to Delaware, which is like a knife in my heart every single time. She always asks me about my husband, Steve, and my dogs, Oakley and Lucy. Although she always remembers to ask how they are, she doesn’t always remember their names. Or, she remembers the name Steve Dykovitz, but she forgets how I’m related to him or that he is my husband. Most of the time, she doesn’t even remember my last name. Oddly enough, she seems to remember Lucy’s name the best and Lucy has only been in the family for a few months. She always says, “Lucy! I just love that name. Like the show ‘I Love Lucy.’” Now, how the hell can she remember that that was a TV show, but she can’t remember where I am or why I’m here? It makes no fucking sense. She doesn’t understand the concept that we are living in Alabama while Steve goes to flight school. She only sometimes remembers that that’s the whole reason we are here. She always asks me what Steve is doing. She dreads him going into the military, but she doesn’t understand that he’s already in the military. Yet, she is the most patriotic person I know and probably one of the proudest of Steve. She also forgets that he is a police officer back at home and that I used to be one, as well. She always asks me how I became a police officer and what kind of training I needed. She forgets that I lived with her during the police academy and that she attended my graduation. She forgets that I went to college. How fucking sad is it to lose all of those memories? Memories of your children’s accomplishments. Memories of what the hell it is that they’re doing now. Memories of your loved one’s names and where they live. Memories of a question that you asked at least 57 times and will continue to ask because you forgot that you already asked it those 57 times. My Mom doesn’t know a thing about me or my life. She doesn’t remember my past and she forgets my present. Or, she just doesn’t understand it.
My Mom doesn’t understand the whole military life and living on a military base. She always asks me how I was able to call home and how much it costs, as if she thinks I’m in prison or something. She also always asks me if I’m allowed to do things, like have visitors. I guess I can’t fault her too much for not understanding since she hasn’t had much experience with the military life, but, still, most people would understand. She often asks me if I’ve seen Steve lately. It’s like she doesn’t know that we live together and I see him every single day, if only for a short time. Although she is very proud of Steve, she has no clue what he’s doing. She is just simply unable to understand.
Aside from not remembering most things, my Mom is becoming increasingly confused and disoriented. She doesn’t know where she is, where I am, or the relation between those two locations. Often times when I call my Mom, she can’t tell me where she is. She’ll say she’s at her house, but she’s actually at my aunt’s house. Or vice versa. I’ll ask her if my Dad is home and she’ll say that he is, but he’s actually at work. Or, she’ll say that he’s at work, but he’s actually in the other room. Last week, I called my Mom and she asked me, “How are your Mom and Dad?” Then, she quickly caught herself and tried to make a joke out of it. Today, I called my Mom and she said that she was watching TV with my sister, who I knew would’ve been at work at the time. Then, I heard her asking, “Who’s here? Who’s here?” It turns out that my Aunt Diane and Nan were actually the ones at the house with her. Most of the time she has no idea where she is or who she’s with. In addition, she can’t seem to distinguish between talking to someone on the phone and seeing them in person. On a few occasions, when I have called her, she asked me, “When did you get here?” or “How did you get here?” It was as if she thought I was standing right in front of her instead of being on the other end of the phone. I explain to her that I’m not there, but that I’m on the phone with her. Then, we go through the whole ordeal of me explaining that I’m at my house in Alabama because we are living down here while Steve goes to flight school. She often mentions having seen people who I know she only talked to on the phone. Or, she’ll say that someone called her when they really came to her house or she saw them somewhere. She forgets people, places, things, facts, concepts, and the relationship between it all.
Needless to say, it is becoming increasingly, extremely difficult to have a conversation on the phone with her. I’d love to see her more often, but, in between visits, the phone is all we have and it’s becoming nothing at all. My Mom is becoming a stranger to me. Although she still knows who I am, she doesn’t know anything about me. And, I often feel like I don’t know anything about her either. Obviously, I love my Mom very much, which makes this hard to say, but, sometimes, when I look into her eyes, I feel nothing. Her eyes look through me or past me, but not at me. I don’t know her anymore. I know that this is all part of her disease and I knew that this would happen, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I miss my Mom every day. And, not just in the sense that we are apart from each other. I miss my Mom when I’m sitting right next to her and looking into her distant eyes. She’s in there, somewhere, but she’s buried deep beneath the surface and sometimes the Alzheimer’s is all I can see. When I look at her, sometimes a stranger is all I see. When I talk to her, I barely recognize her voice. Where the fuck did my Mom go? She’s not dead, but it feels like she died long ago. Her body is still alive, but her mind is not. Her mind has been stolen, stripped away, and replaced with the mind of stranger. A stranger who is more like a confused, disoriented, and scared little girl than anyone’s wife or mother. I am my own mother now. I might feel like I don’t know my own Mom anymore, but there are a few things that I do know. I know that if she were actually a stranger that I met on the street, I would like her immediately. She is friendly, warm, kind-hearted, and sweeter than pie. I know that I would literally take a bullet for her or jump out in front of a moving train to protect her. I know that I would fight the world just to make it a better place for her. I know that the mother who raised me is somewhere inside of this stranger who has replaced her. And, for her, I have more love than she will ever know.
If you’re reading this, do me a favor. Hug your mom, if you’re with her, or tell her that you love her, if you’re not. You never know when she will be taken from you.