I was speaking to a friend recently about her mother’s Alzheimer Disease and how lucid moments were quickly becoming cherished. My mind went back a few years, to when my own mother suffered with the same disease. It brought back a memory of a day shortly before this disease claimed Mom’s life.
“That was my little girl,” I heard my mother telling another resident at the special care home as I walked down the hallway toward the elevator after visiting with her. I had left her in the common area so she could watch television with the others before going to bed. Her comment made me smile for a number of reasons. First, “little” is not a good description of me, and secondly, I have not been a little girl for a few decades. But more importantly, I had spent our visit thinking she did not know who I was and that her Alzheimer’s had robbed her of that memory that particular day. Most days she still remembered her children, but that evening she seemed to be searching when she looked at my face for a memory and for recognition. Another reason her comment surprised me so much is that she was a point where she rarely formed complete sentences. Alzheimer’s had made it almost impossible for her to find the right words for what she is trying to say, so it had been a very long time since I had heard her complete a sentence using all the correct words. She spoke those words in a strong voice which drifted down the hallway to me, reminiscent of the past when her voice carried her words across the classrooms she taught and indeed down the hallways of the school. I had not heard that strength in her voice for a long time as the disease had weakened her body and her voice.
I could hear Mom continue to speak and I started to slow down to hear what else she was telling the other residents. Then, on second thought, I decided not to; I decided that I didn’t want to hear any more. I knew that, sadly, what would follow likely would not make a lot of sense, as her lucid moments were becoming fewer all the time. I remember how good it felt to hear her identify me and to complete her sentence in one connecting thought once again, almost like she didn’t have that terrible disease for at least a moment. I didn’t want to ruin it. I wanted to take her perfect memory, however fleeting, and her perfect sentence home with me to cherish that evening and to pretend for just a little while that everything was the way it used to be.
It was heartbreaking to see what had become of Mom’s memory, the holes and gaps that became a part of her life. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, we learned new things about this unrelenting disease and its effect on its victims and their families. It seemed that we were always taking a new step in this battle that no family ever wins. Her disease had progressed to the point where she needed constant care and resided behind closed and locked doors for her own safety. But every once in a while, her old personality came through and reminded us that she was still there, behind the fog and the confusion. Those are the moments we hang on to, even if, or especially when, it means being called her little girl.