By now, you already have a background on my mom and how her Alzheimer’s has negatively affected my life. However, I think it’s important to try to find something positive that comes out of a negative situation. I wouldn’t call it optimism; it’s just survival. One positive thing that has come from my mom’s Alzheimer’s is that it has taught me a lot. Dealing with her illness has made me a better person. Or, it has at least made me want to be a better person. For example, I am an incredibly, extremely, ridiculously impatient person. I don’t like to wait more than thirty seconds for anything. I hate waiting in line for the bathroom, at the grocery store, or for the person in front of me to pick a movie from the Redbox. I cannot stand sitting in traffic or at a red light. I damn near have a major coronary event when stuck behind a slow driver. I will not even briefly consider going anywhere within a ten mile radius of the mall anytime after Thanksgiving and before the end of January. Fair skin and freckles are not the only things I inherited from my Irish-as-all-hell McCafferty relatives. I am the first to admit that I have the definition of a good old Irish temper. That brings me to my first Alzheimer-related lesson: patience is a virtue.
Having a parent with Alzheimer’s brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” My mom moves about as fast as a turtle crawling through peanut butter. And, I’m not just talking about physical movement. It takes her a while to mentally process things, as well. Sometimes when you ask her a question, she will just stare at you blankly. I often find myself repeating the question a few times and making sure to speak very slowly, while annunciating each word carefully. Once she finally gets what I’m saying, it takes her just as long to form a response. She says “umm” a lot and stammers to find the right words to express her thoughts. I often joke that if I want to know what she did today or what she had for lunch, I should just ask my dad because she has to ask him first anyway. Me: “So, Mom, what did you do today?” Mom: “I don’t know. Jack? JACK?! What did we do today?” Try having a thirty minute conversation like that. Ahhh! Worse than the mental aspect is the physical. She takes forever to walk anywhere, get dressed, use the bathroom, get in the car, etc. Part of Alzheimer’s is also losing your depth perception. So, my mom cannot seem to see where she is going. She always thinks she’s walking up a hill or over a curb. I hold her hand or arm to guide her, but she is always hesitant and feels like she is trying to pull away from me. I’d like to put her in some skates so I can just wheel her along. It can be ridiculously frustrating. I’ll share an example.
Even though I’m not sure she fully knows what it is, my mom always wants to go to the Philadelphia Flower Show. My dad used to take her every year, so one year I decided to take her myself to give him a break. I knew it would be difficult because I hate driving or parking in Philadelphia and I hate crowds. We get to Philadelphia and end up parking about three blocks away. It probably took about twenty minutes to walk three blocks. My mom was walking like she was trying to quietly tiptoe over broken glass while barefoot. And, I’m cringing the whole time as people bump into her and cars fly by. We finally get to the flower show and I have to pee. So, I have to take my mom into the bathroom with me and, of course, there is a line. I’ll spare you the details of our time in the bathroom because I actually want you to keep reading. Once we are done with that ordeal, we walk around the flower show to look at the displays. And by walk around, I mean I hold her hand so tightly that I’m sure it’s turning purple, as I navigate her through the crowds of people who act like they’ve never seen a freaking flower before. Long story short, we buy matching t-shirts, chicken Caesar wraps for lunch, and then make our way back to the car to drive home. Once we’re in the car, I ask my mom if she had a good time. She said that she did, but she asked what happened to all of the flowers that were supposed to be there. Fuck me, right? At least she had a good time.
There are times, like the day at the flower show, that I become so overwhelmingly frustrated and impatient with my mom that I just want to scream and yell at her. I mean, she’s only 66-years-old. It’s not like she’s 96. Why is she so damn slow? Then, in a moment of calmness and clarity, I realize that the very things I’ve become so frustrated with are things that she has no control over. I tell myself, “She has freaking Alzheimer’s. Why are you being such a bitch to her? Stop snapping at her! She can’t help it.” I try my best to be calm and patient with her, but it seems impossible at times. I’m not asking her to do much. I’m simply asking her to complete tasks that she’s done on a daily basis for her whole entire life. But, that was before, and this is after. My mom is different now and she needs more time to do things. Time that I can surely afford to give her. At the end of our time out together, I tend to beat myself up for being impatient and snapping at her. I hate myself for being so rude to her and think that I ruined our time together. But, no matter how rude I’ve been, she always has a smile on her face and tells everyone that she had a great time out with her daughter, Lauren. That always makes me feel so much better. I tell myself that there will always be a next time and I promise myself to be more patient when it comes. So, although I am very far from being a patient person, my mom has taught me the importance of patience and that it truly is a virtue. She has taught me that one of my biggest flaws is that I am impatient. And, at the end of the day, she makes me want to be a better person.