Tomorrow is my mother’s 84th birthday. And we’ll celebrate it over and over again because she won’t remember. I sent her flowers. Every time she sees them she will experience them again for the first time. She’ll receive phone calls from her two grandchildren and will be thrilled. She may remember their names. She’ll forget they called the minute she hangs up.
My mom is perfectly healthy. She even gained 5 pounds according to her last doctor’s visit. Which is good – that’s about 6% of her body weight. She eats well. She loves to jitterbug whenever she hears music – and even when she doesn’t. She wants to dance at my daughter’s wedding (every time we tell her there will be one next year). She sings my dad a lull-a-bye before they go to bed. Every now and then she speaks German, French or Italian. (My grandfather was German, she took French in high school and lived as a child in an Italian neighborhood). And she sometimes swears.
I’m not sure what she does all day when I’m not around. She doesn’t read or watch TV. She likes to look out the window of her condo at the birds and pond. She rearranges her drawers and discovers old jewelry that I thought we had given away. She stares and catnaps.
My mom has Alzheimer’s disease. It has progressed slowly, but everyday is the same. Or a little bit worse. She still knows me, but doesn’t remember my name. She doesn’t remember ever driving, having children, or where she used to work or go to school. Don’t ask her where she lives, what day or year it is, her phone number or what she had for breakfast.
She does remember her name, Trinette. And that she loves to sew, knit, and draw. (But don’t try to trim her fingernails – she still needs them for picking up pins, even though she doesn’t do those things anymore.) She enjoys being with people – anyone! She’s the life of the party at ElderHouse, the senior daycare center she goes to twice a week. She believes she works there, and in many ways she does. She’s one of the mobile clients who loves to talk and move around. So her job is to talk to each person, give them hugs and provide entertainment by singing and dancing. She’ll be the one who’ll hold the snake when the local nature center volunteer comes for entertainment. Or sing along with the weekly piano player. And she loves children. It’s hard to keep her hands off them, especially in the supermarket. Music. Touch. Dancing. The core of her being.
She loves my dad. She calls him her ‘sweetheart.’ He nods and shakes his head. He enjoys coming to our house for dinner too. It gives him someone to have a conversation with. Politics. Religion. Taxes. Medical bills. And a meal that isn’t cooked by him in the microwave. The still both love to drink wine.
My grandmother also had Alzheimer’s. She lived with my parents for awhile until they couldn’t care for her anymore. Once she moved to a nursing home she deteriorated pretty quickly. For about a year she simply “was.” She died when she was 86. Deja vu. And what’s in store for me?
Tomorrow is my mother’s 84th birthday. My daughter is getting married next year. I guess I’ll get a cake with candles. We’ll live one day at a time.