Last Christmas, I thought my mom was about to die. She had a bad cold and hadn’t been feeling well for several days. She had a cough and constantly needed to blow her nose. She was tired and weak. All she wanted to do was sleep. She could barely sit up. She would sit there in her chair, leaning forward and heavily to the right. She looked like she was going to just fall over, out of the chair and onto the floor. She had no appetite and would only drink the broth from her chicken noodle soup. She peed herself a few times, something that she had never done before. Her skin looked pale and dull, like it had been completely drained of any life that was left in it. She was more agitated and confused than normal. I remember thinking to myself, “Ok, this is it. I should start preparing myself for the end.” Truthfully, after having the worst Thanksgiving and the worst Christmas that I can remember, I also thought to myself that maybe the end wouldn’t be so bad.
Fast forward a little over six months and we’re still here. Living and shit. I almost can’t believe it. Six months ago, I wondered if my mom would make it to her 70th birthday, which was at the end of January. I wondered if she would make it to Easter or Mother’s Day. I wondered if she would be here when her second granddaughter is born later this summer. I wondered if she would be here to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary with my dad in August. I honestly did not think that she would live to see any of these things. And now, I’m fairly confident that she will. Notice how I said “fairly” confident. Because with Alzheimer’s, you just never know.
You see, my mom had a bad cold and it made everything so much worse, but then she got better. Her cold went away. She stopped coughing and blowing her nose constantly. She was able to sit up straight again. She started eating more. She hasn’t peed herself again (that I know of). Somehow, her body was able to fight just enough to get rid of that cold and then she was back to normal, her normal. The cold had made it seem like she was falling apart. It made all of her symptoms so much worse and it was as if she had rapidly declined overnight. But once it went away, she reached her plateau again. The same place we’ve been for a while now. And there’s no telling how long we’ll be here.
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s eight years ago this month. Eight years. She has declined so much in those eight years. I don’t think I ever thought things would move so fast and yet, so slow. Things get bad and then they get worse and then they get even worse. I think that maybe the end is near, or at least we’re approaching it more quickly than before, but then suddenly, we’re standing still again. Nothing happens. Nothing changes. Nothing gets worse. Not for a while. It’s as if we’re stuck. Stuck in the mud and we can’t get out. Just when I think we’ll be there forever, we’re able to break free and things start moving again. I never know how long it will be until we’re stuck in the mud again and there’s never any way of knowing how long we’ll be there. This is the torturous game that Alzheimer’s plays. It makes eight years feel like a lifetime.
The last eight years really does feel like a lifetime. The only way I can remember anything that has happened is by looking at pictures. Pictures and those damn Facebook memories that I love to hate. They get me every time. A memory will pop up from a year or two ago and I can’t believe how much has changed in so little time. The days all seem to blend together and I can’t tell the difference from one day to the next, but looking back to one year ago, the changes are astounding. Looking back two, three, four, or more years ago, my mom is unrecognizable. My life is unrecognizable. So much has changed, yet in the moment, it feels as if nothing ever changes.
I’ve read that on average a person lives 8-10 years after receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Here we are at the end of year 8, about to enter year 9, and I have no freaking clue what the future holds. The last two Thanksgivings were the last Thanksgiving. The last two Christmases were the last Christmas. The last two birthdays were the last birthday. I never know when the last time will be the last time. As much as I try to prepare for the future, I know that it’s pointless. There’s no way of knowing anything. This disease forces you to live in the moment. No amount of worry can affect the future. You have to live for right now and that’s all you can do. Otherwise, you will just waste a lot of time preparing for something that might never happen. Preparing for a day that might never come.
Eight years and counting. Who knows how much longer we have left. Who knows how many more times we will get stuck in the mud only to be freed once again. There’s no way of knowing what the future holds. I won’t even try to guess. There’s no point in planning for a tomorrow that may never come. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to anyone. We only have today. We only have right now. Eight years ago, I never thought we’d be here. I never thought it would go this fast, but I never thought it would take this long. That’s the thing about Alzheimer’s. It has the ability to both speed up time and slow it down. The years pass by and yet, the clock stands still.