Dec 17, 2014

The Best Christmas Present Ever! For My Mom with Alzheimer’s

By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Christmas Snow

Only with the clarity of vision that 20/20 hindsight affords, can I “see” that my mother had memory problems and uncharacteristic behaviors, later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, seven years before her passing.

It was 2004, Mom’s personal year from hell, her second actually. The first was in 1951 when her twenty-month-old son was killed in a tragic car accident. Mom had buried her husband of 58 years (my dad) in April 2004 and on December 30, 2004 her remaining son, my older brother Jerry, passed away from cancer.

My husband and I were at Jerry’s side, his hand caressed between both of mine, when he took his last breath. Ugh! I dreaded notifying my mother. Actually I had pre-arranged with my mother’s best friend Shirley that I would call her when the time came and she in turn would tell my mom in person.

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Dementia Disguised as Grief

When Shirley and I spoke again a few days later, she descried my mother’s emotional demeanor as flat! I remember scrunching my face at Shirley’s description; how could a mother have a “flat” affect upon learning her son had died?

At the time, I attributed Mom’s disconnection to protective shock, when in fact it was the beginning of her dementia. Mom had teared up about David for decades after his death, but to Dad’s and Jerry’s passing she had been reserved.

I know now Mom was not processing the losses.
I know now Mom was emotionally detached.
I know now that Mom had Alzheimer’s.

Just before Christmas, 2004, Jerry conceded defeat. Cancer’s invading marauder cells had finally won despite his valiant efforts to fight back undergoing months of brutal chemo!

Mom and I lived two hours apart in Michigan while Jerry was in hospice in Georgia. Somehow, someway, I had to get my mother to Atlanta to see her son before his window of lucidity closed forever.

My thoughtful daughter’s passing remark about flying to Atlanta on Christmas Day launched the perfect plan. Normally I’m a control freak, but strangely on that Christmas Day 2004, there were so many overwhelming variables, I literally just “let go.”

Despite Dementia, Mom Loved Her Present!

First I needed the outbound flight to leave on time.

From I Will Never Forget, Chapter 24 - Angel Antics:
“I didn’t care if our return flight was diverted to the North Pole, but it was crucial that my mom could see her dying son one last time.”

Only a serendipitous gate change delayed the fight 30 minutes.

Second, I needed a compassionate cab driver.

“The next cab in line was a minivan, and the driver was Pakistani or Indian, perhaps. I handed him a prepared card with the name of the hospice facility and address.”

He never said a word, but clearly he overheard his lady passengers discussing the nature of their visit and the name of an end-of-life hospice facility would have spoken volumes. When we arrived he gave me his cell phone number.

“Call me when you’re ready to leave, and I’ll come back.”

Then I prayed Jerry would actually be able to engage with Mom.

“Jerry was alert, funny, lucid, sitting up in bed, and chatty…His eyes were bright and clear.”

Mom did great! Jerry did great! And I was so relieved. Eventually we said our goodbyes and bear hugged Jerry.

“It had been the best, most wonderful Christmas present Jerry and I had ever given our mom!”

Joining Her Boys

My mother didn’t talk about Jerry’s passing very often, nor did she cry much. At the time I was grateful she didn't collapse into a puddle of tears as I would have done the same but I was oblivious to the reason. Mom’s very essence was steadily slipping away from Alzheimer’s.

My mother died in July 2011. She “joined her boys, David, Wayne and Jerry” leaving me an orphan but I’m okay knowing she doesn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s any longer.

“Help Me Help Others. Buy a Book!” Elaine donates a portion of the sales of I Will Never Forget to support Alzheimer’s research.

Elaine C Pereira, is the Award Winning author of the Best Selling memoir, I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia.

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