The front door of my childhood home in Memphis was the turning point. My parents had been having a hard time; my dad was complaining about Mom’s forgetfulness and Mom was distraught about Dad's nagging. As the confusion and concern deepened around my mother’s decreasing memory and increasingly odd behavior, my brother Dan and I decided we needed to do something to cheer up my parents. He lived in Chicago and I lived in Kansas City—we decided to fly to Memphis and surprise my mother for mother’s day. We talked to my father –we wanted to dress up as presents. Dad was to be home when we arrived, to let us in the house, then bring Mom into the living room for her surprise.
Dan and I met at the Memphis airport. We drove to Walgreen’s and bought shining wrapping paper, tape and bows. We parked down the street from our house and stood on the sidewalk, wrapping each other all around in paper and topping us off with bows. Then we hobbled up to our house and tapped on the door. Dad’s car was in the driveway but he didn’t answer.
We tapped louder. We knocked. We rang the bell. Meanwhile, it was quite hot in Memphis and we were sweating under our gala wrappings. Finally, we heard footsteps and my mother’s wavering voice, “Who is it?”
“It’s Debbie and Dan,” we said.
“Who?” Mom sounded suspicious.
We imagined her peering out the keyhole and seeing these two shining beings; perhaps we looked like creatures from outer space.
I took the bow off my head and said, “Mom, it’s your daughter and son. It’s OK to let us in.”
“I can’t,” Mom said.
“It’s all right,” I encouraged. “Where’s Dad?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said, sounding very lost. “Who are you?”
“Debbie and Dan, your son and daughter,” Dan said.
We heard fumbling with the door.
“I can’t get the lock open,” Mom said.
Dan and I looked at each other. Our mother could not open the door to the house where she had lived for 40 some years. That was a moment of realization—a moment of admitting this condition was more enduring and more serious that I had been willing to take in.
That door, which had always opened to my mother and my father, now opened me up to my journey to the land of dementia. Suddenly, I seemed to have a new set of parents--the father was suddenly emotional and turning to me for advice and a mother who was constantly forgetful and looking at me with sweet scared eyes wondering what she should do next.
Eventually my parents sold their house and moved into a retirement community near me in Kansas City. My journey with my mother through her Alzheimer’s led us from that community to assisted living, to a psych ward, to an Alzheimer’s unit and then finally into a long-term care facility. During that multi-year journey I focused on finding gifts and blessings in the caregivers experience and I concentrated on staying connected with my mother throughout the stages of Alzheimer’s.
In this blog I hope to share with you some of the many bits of wisdom I learned during that journey. I also hope to highlight the creative aspects of the caregiver’s journey. And I hope to learn from you. What are your gifts and blessings and how has the being part of someone’s journey through Alzheimer’s informed your life?