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Alzheimer’s Disease

This is my favorite picture of my Mom – she was around 14.

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She would have been 82 in February.  She’s been gone for over 4 years.

I still find myself wanting to pick up the phone to tell her something or to ask for her advice.  I still miss her just as much as I did 4 years ago.  The pain of losing someone never REALLY goes away – you just get use to them not being around.

The day she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is forever etched in my mind.

She was 76 and had started to repeat herself quite a bit.  There were a few occasions that I would be on the phone with her and she would simply go silent.

Then one day my father found her lying on the kitchen floor.  She couldn’t get up and cried out in pain when he tried to help her.  We ended up taking her to the hospital where they couldn’t find anything wrong.  This scenario repeated itself several times – her seemingly falling and then having to be transported to the hospital. The day she was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she went in on a stretcher, screaming at the male nurse that if he touched her she would call the police.

She didn’t know where she was.  That became the norm for the remainder of her life.

We ended up moving her to a nursing home because she became increadibly weak and needed around the clock care.  The day we dropped her off, I remember wanting to climb in the bed with her. It was horrible leaving her there.  I wonder if she knew it broke my heart.

She was in the nursing home for a total of 16 months.  For the first 12 months, I only missed two days of visiting her.  One of the days, she ended up with an intestinal blockage.  When I got there, her belly was distended and I had to argue with a nurse to get her to call the doctor, who promptly had my mother transported to the hospital.  I felt horrible.

We were fortunate that until the day she left us, she knew all of us.  Alzheimer’s left her disoriented – she never fully understood that she was in a nursing home.  She thought my father had added on to the house and brought in nurses to take care of her.  It took her strength – she eventually was too weak to get out of bed.  She saw things floating in the air, snakes coming in the windows and cats wandering around her room.  But she remembered her husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  That was the one blessing out of all of it.

Four years ago, a week before she passed away, I took my 4 children and my grandson to the nursing home to celebrate my mom’s 78th birthday.  She couldn’t get out of the bed but sat up, talked with us, had some cake and knew each one of us.  We laughed, cried and reminisced.  She seemed so alert that day.

Ten days later I received the call that the end was near and I needed to come.  I got to the nursing home and two of my sisters were already there.  They told me that my mom had been mumbling for hours and the only audible thing they could understand was my name.  When I kissed her and talked to her, she settled down.  Throughout the day other family members came to say goodbye.

She passed away peacefully several hours later, after everyone decided to head out to get some rest.  I should have known that she would wait for us to leave.  She spent her life protecting us right until the very end.

So, everyday I try to celebrate her life.  She was a gift to us all.  She loved her family beyond measure and I believe, because of that strength, never succumbed fully to the disease that took her from us.

I love and miss you Mom.