Since this is only my second post, I figured that I would start by giving you all some background on my mom’s Alzheimer’s. My mom, Jerie, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in July of 2010. She was only 62 years old at the time. I was only 25. I actually got engaged to my now husband, Steve, in the very same month. At 25 years old, I was in no way prepared for my mom to receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I mean, Alzheimer’s is something that only OLD people get, right? Surely, my mom was not old enough to have Alzheimer’s. I would have expected my grandmother, Nan, to have Alzheimer’s before my mom. But, Nan is still sharp as a tack and sassy as ever at age 88. My mom, however, started to lose her memory and her ability to complete everyday tasks well before she received an official diagnosis.
My sister, Melissa, and I were the first to notice a change in Mom. At first, it was small things. Mom drank iced tea probably every single day of her life and always took it with Sweet and Low and lemon. Suddenly, she had no idea how to fix her tea in restaurants. I remember her staring at it like she had never order iced tea in her life. One time, she put salt in the glass instead of her usual Sweet and Low. We also noticed that she had trouble remembering information that you had told her. She would repeatedly ask the same question, sometimes only five minutes after asking it the first time. She sometimes got people, places, and things confused. I remember one day when she called me to tell me that she had been rear-ended on her way home from the grocery store. At the time, my mom had lived in the same neighborhood for probably 20 years. She always went to Giant for her groceries and took the same route each time. She told me that she became disoriented and missed the turn into her development. When she realized what she had done, she tried to quickly brake and make the turn, but she got rear-ended instead. That was it for me. Something had to be done. My sister and I pushed our parents to see a doctor. My mom was initially told that she had anxiety and nothing else. To make a long story short, Melissa and I insisted on a second opinion and my mom received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
The diagnosis was really only confirmation of something that I already knew deep down. However, hearing those words was like a punch in the gut. I was a police officer at the time and was on day work when I got the news. I left work early and called out sick the next day. I was at a loss as to what to do next. I did not even tell anyone except for my husband and my best friend at the time. I had a wedding to plan. I needed my mom. I remembered how involved she was in planning Melissa’s wedding. This diagnosis left a definitive mark on our lives. I would now think of things in terms of Before and After. Before my mom got Alzheimer’s, she could shower, dress, and take care of herself. She drove herself wherever she needed to go. She made her own appointments, filled her own prescriptions, and ordered for herself in restaurants. She knew where I lived, what I did for a living, and when my birthday was. After she got Alzheimer’s, she needs help doing almost everything: taking a shower, getting dressed, eating, using the bathroom, and finding her way around her own house where she’s lived for almost 25 years. She cannot drive anymore and often requires A LOT of help even getting into a car. She is incapable of ordering for herself in a restaurant and is unsure of how to eat the food in front of her. She struggles with reading and writing, even signing her own name. She does not know my birthday and she forgot it last year. She does not know where I live or why I’m here. And, she forgets that I was a police officer for over five years. Sometimes, she even forgets my husband’s name. She is starting to forget who people are and how they are related to her, especially if she has not seen them in a long time. One day, she will forget me, too.
Alzheimer’s is like a death. My mom, the woman who raised me, is GONE. She is never coming back. She is never going to get better. It’s like my mom died, but I am forced to see her every day. And, she is not the woman who left me. There are times when she feels like a complete stranger to me. And, there are times when she looks at me as if I am a complete stranger to her. But, she is my mom and I love her more than words can express. And so, if this is the beginning of the end, I will be there to hold her hand through it all because I know she would do the same for me.