Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Vey

About once a month we drive three and a half hours to visit my mom. She's never there. It's like going to a museum and finding your favorite galleries roped off. The traveling exhibit has moved on.

Tightly in the grip of Alzheimer's, she still recognizes her family, mostly. The relationships aren't always clear; some days I'm her grandson, her nephew (she has no nephews) maybe her husband (which is weird). Although it's obvious she still enjoys the visits -- she lights up when we arrive -- her ability to express it, or to participate in any meaningful way diminishes steadily. This time, it seems the slope has become suddenly steeper.

I can still make her laugh. Last time, as was frequently the case, I got her laughing so hard and long there were tears streaming down her cheeks. It feels like it must be good for her. This time it's harder. She smiles in that look of not wanting to let on she doesn't get it, stares as if trying to dig something out with her eyes.

My brother lives further away and can't visit as often. When he does, he says it makes him feel good to know he still has a mother. My reaction is mostly the opposite: I feel sad that she's no longer available for the conversations, the stories, the commentary. Like my dad, she was a brilliant person, engaged, interested in many things. A reader, politically involved, opinionated, complicated. That's all gone. As will be our visit, a few moments after we leave; next time we talk on the phone -- if someone will get it for her and make sure she doesn't let it drift away from her ear -- she'll ask when she'll see me, won't remember we were just there, the chili egg-puff my wife made that she gobbled up happily, the visit from her grandson and his wonderful lug of a dog, about which she always used to ask as if he were mine, but no longer ever does.


  1. sorry to hear about your mother's situation, sid. in the last year i have had to lean on my mother for emotional support more than ever, and it is hard to imagine having to be her support someday.

    thank goodness for good moms,

  2. Sid, I'm so sorry for what you and your family is dealing with. My mother hadn't known any of us for years, and finally passed on Wednesday. I spent yesterday afternoon at the funeral home making arrangements.

    Alzheimer's sucks.

  3. I'm told that my paternal grandmother was afraid of growing senile - as I guess they called it back then. Her mother and her mother before her both lost it long before they died to the point that they could not recognise husband or children. In a sense, perhaps, it was a blessing that cancer took her, but I'd still have liked to have firmer memories of her (that, though, is likely as much my own fault for never paying attention to anything and sorta living in my own little world).

    It's not always good to grow very old. I sincerely hope that I'll die before I lose it. I have only my head and even that is not much to begin with.

    I'm sorry. I made this about me again.

  4. Hello Sid,

    I am so very saddened to read your post today.

    My best woman friend, Elinor, who lives in the Miami area, dealt with Alzheimer's contracted by her husband eleven years ago.

    Arnie Miller was Ellie's second husband. He helped her raise her two daughters. He was a delightful man who had a long career as a high school teacher.

    We saw him slip away further and further on our yearly visits to Florida. Elinor kept him at home until a final accident to his knee put him in the hospital.

    Ellie called me in early February soon after we returned from our trip to Palm Springs. Mercifully, Arnie passed away on January 5, 2009. He was 73 years old.

    It sounds as if you and your mother had a rich and loving history together, and that you'll remember it as long as you live.

    I hope your mother is soon relieved of the mental, physical and behavioral fugues that are associated with the end stage of this disease. There is no cure and no remission.

    I once assisted at a Chanukah party at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston, where my daughter worked as an activities assistant.

    After seeing the patients there, I found it somewhat comforting to conjecture that losing one's mind in this way may be as if descending into the oblivion of life as a baby and finally before birth.



  5. Sid, I have to disagree, and strongly, with Ellen. My mother passed away at 57 13 years ago and I would give ANYTHING to just have her here to touch, see, hear her voice, no matter if she remembers me or not.! Ellen how awful that you would say "
    I hope your mother is soon relieved of the mental, physical and behavioral fugues that are associated with the end stage of this disease". I am surprised at you. Sid I say keep visiting her, hugging her, loving her, even if it is for selfish reasons, once she is gone physically, she slips away fast and all that is left is a ghost. (Sorry I ranted a bit)

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  7. Gia's Spot, your chilling implications about my comments are quite deluded. I said nothing about not visiting a dying mother, or doing anything to hasten her death, which is what you are implying. However, you were an adversary on another website, so I won't take it too personally.

    I lost my mother in 1991 and I, too, would give anything to talk with her or see her. Yesterday, in her memory, I wore one of the only things she had of any value -- a letter "E" on a gold chain. Her name was "Estelle."

    I had a fight with my mother on the telephone the night before she died, and I will always feel badly about that. I was in a hospital in Boston dealing with chronic pain. It was quick death, I am told. She was 71 and had atherosclerosis. She was found sitting up in her small Florida apartment with a glass of water on the kitchen table. She lived 2,500 miles away, while I had moved to Boston in 1972.

    My husband and I flew to Florida the next day to deal with the situation. It was very hard as I am her only child and my father preceded her in death in 1988.



  8. Sid, how wonderful your mother knows you are her family & that she is so loved. You two must have had a great relationship to still be able to make her laugh. Do you tape videos of these times or past times to help you remember them?

    My mother loved to laugh & enjoyed a good joke. She was also very pragmatic about death being another part of life & so is letting go. Easier said than done, of course!


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