I’ll never forget the first time my mom looked at me and didn’t know who I was. The mall was ridiculously crowded that day, the way it usually is around Christmas time. We navigated our way through the food court and my mom saved us a table in front of Saladworks. I could see her sitting there as I stood in line, waiting impatiently and feeling annoyed by all of the people.
Finally, I got our salads and drinks and walked back to where my mom had been sitting. As I approached the table and began putting my stuff down, she looked up at me and politely said, “I’m sorry, but someone is sitting here.” I just stared back at her, completely stunned by what she had just said. I replied, “Yeah, I know. I’m sitting here.” She looked confused and laughed nervously for a second. She said again, “Oh, I’m sorry. Someone is sitting here.”
My heart began to race as I quickly tried to process what was happening here. The chatter and buzz all around me continued on as if nothing was wrong, but for me, the whole world had stopped moving. Everything stood still. I was frozen in place, solely focused on this one woman sitting in front of me. Eventually, I was able to formulate a response. I said, “Yeah, Mom, I know. I’m sitting here. Mom, it’s me. Lauren.”
My mom looked even more confused and her cheeks became red with embarrassment. She quickly realized her mistake and tried to play it off as she continued laughing nervously. But I knew that she knew what had just happened. I knew that she also felt the significance of that moment. I introduced myself to my mom that day. It may have been the first time, but it definitely wasn’t the last. There were many more “first times” in the years that followed.
There was the first time she forgot how to get dressed. The first time she got lost in her own house and had to call me for help. The first time I helped her use the bathroom because she had completely forgotten what to do. There was the first time she forgot how to answer the phone and held it up to her ear upside down. The first time I said, “I love you,” and she didn’t say it back. The first time she got mad at me and yelled at me to get out of her house. There was the first time I helped her up after she had fallen down. The first time I pushed her in a wheelchair. The first time I fed her with a spoon.
That day at the mall was just the beginning of a long, heartbreaking journey. I lost so much more of my mom as the years went on. The thing about Alzheimer’s is that you lose so much of the person along the way that by the end, you are practically begging for them to die. But at the same time, you dread the thought of it. For years and years, you are mourning for someone who is still alive. It consumes every part of you, so much so that you begin to think you must be depressed. You are sad for no reason at all. The most random things make you cry. There are days when you wake up and feel like there’s no point in even getting out of bed. What’s the point of doing anything when your loved one is suffering so much and there’s nothing you can do about it? How can you possibly move on and continue to live your own life while your mom is slowly dying? It sounds like depression. It feels like depression. I’m sure it even looks like depression to others. It’s not. It’s grief.
People don’t understand that there is no closure with grief, whether you are grieving the living or the dead. Grief doesn’t just end or go away. It comes in waves, as they say. Eventually the waves might be farther apart or smaller at times, but they never stop coming. Grief hits you at the most random times. It comes when you least expect it. I can’t tell you the toll it has taken on me over the last eight and a half years since my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I am not who I used to be. I am different now. I am sad. My heart and my soul are heavy.
But, no one wants to hear that. Everyone wants to hear that my mom is doing well, that I’m doing well. People don’t want to hear about all of the things my mom can no longer do. They don’t want to listen to me talk about how much I miss her. They don’t really want me to talk about her at all. A lot of people never even ask me about her anymore. It’s as if she’s already dead. Dead and gone and totally forgotten about. If someone does ask about her, I feel as though there is a time limit for how long I’m allowed to talk about her. Or a limit as to how much I can share. People eventually stop listening. It’s too hard. They stop liking or commenting on my Facebook posts about her, especially the sad ones. It’s too hard for them to read about my harsh reality.
My grief for my mom is soul-crushing. It’s life-altering. It’s never-ending. I’m sorry that my grief makes you uncomfortable, but how the hell do you think I feel? After all, this is my grief. Not yours. I can’t keep all of the things I’ve said here bottled up inside. I can’t bury my emotions deep within myself and pretend that they’re not there. I need to talk about my grief. I need to talk about my mom. I need to share my sadness and my pain. I need to talk about how much I miss her. About how much I wish I could do the things with her that you do with your mom. Not to make you feel bad or guilty, but to make me feel better. To validate my feelings and to acknowledge how much this sucks. It absolutely freaking sucks. I’m sorry that my grief makes you uncomfortable, but I won’t let that stop me from talking about it. I will continue to share my pain in an attempt to lessen it. I will continue to post about it on my blog and social media to let others know they are not alone.
I’m sorry that my grief makes you uncomfortable, but please don’t give up on me. Please don’t abandon me. You can turn a blind eye to my grief. You can walk away from it. I can’t. I’m living it. And I need support now more than ever.