She was 62, a proud attractive fit woman devastated at the graveside, my father had died and she could not believe it. The two years that followed saw her seeped in what we were assured was depression. She grew thin, lost interest in her appearance and housekeeping, had muddled times and seemed afraid. Following one of numerous visits to the doctor she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
My sister and I were not shocked, as we had feared and expected the diagnosis. Hearing it spoken was still devastating. Our wonderful mother, who in recent years had become our best friend, always ready for a bit of fun, had been sentenced to Alzheimer’s.
Life changed slowly for the next two years. Each day dawned expecting the unexpected – a cooker left on with an empty saucepan, doors left open when she left the house, money burned in the electric fire, items missing – never found, taps left on. There were plenty of times through when she was as she always was.
Eventually it became apparent; it was no longer safe for her to live alone.
Her daily visits to mass made my sister frantic wondering if today she would forget the way home. She couldn’t manage alone but still she was not in need of nursing care. It was decided she would live with our family.
Those first five years were tough. Every newly forgotten thing was heartbreaking. Bit by bit our roles changed. What she had done for me as a child, unnaturally, I was now doing for her. She was fit and active, still capable but unpredictable.
She often seemed sad and lost, but never voiced any fears or made any reference to forgetting things. There were many battles, maybe trying to get her to bathe or change her clothes, or go to the toilet. She was reluctant to let go of anything as though she felt “change” and by keeping things, even her clothes, she felt safe.
At night I would lie and cry for her. Remembering when I had got mad and when the moment passed, feeling guilty because it wasn’t her but Alzheimer’s that was to blame. I felt guilt as friends and relatives would pass the door forgetting to stop and say hello. I wondered, if when she couldn’t find the right word or when she constantly searched for hom e, if it was like being lost in a dark tunnel with lots of channels all leading different ways, trying to find the right way out.
Many years have passed and mam is with me now for eleven years. In some ways life is easier for the two of us now, mam is calmer and more relaxed, she can no longer give out to me, though I wish she could. Other people see an old lady who cannot speak, eyes closed unaware of what is going on, but I remember.
Occasionally her lovely eyes will open and there’s a twinkle of a smile – I think she knows its me and I’ve got all the memories Mam – for both of us – love you always. Many tears shed writing it.
A.D. – Co. Galway