What We Lose
Alzheimer’s patients suffer terribly as their abilities and their world shrink. They are often confused or lack the ability to express themselves. They are frightened and throw tantrums, sometimes lashing out at the very people they love most.
In some ways it’s just as hard for family to watch and accept the disintegration of a loved one from Alzheimer’s as it is for the Alzheimer’s patient to tumble down that deep well of forgetfulness and confusion.
It’s often difficult to know whether Mom is in the present or the past at any given moment. Today she asked me if I remembered combing out her grandmother’s hair, placing me in the role of her sister. Then she asked me how I enjoyed living in London, and praised me on how lovely it was that I’d come to visit her. But she called me by my name.
I straddle the line of wanting desperately to tell her that I’m her daughter and going along with her reality.
Mom goes to a monthly poetry club where they read and analyze poems on a specific theme. She really enjoys it, and often, with her fabulous (authentic) British accent, she reads the poems aloud for the class. As Mom’s friend Carmel writes: “If one didn’t ‘know’ [about Mom’s Alzheimer’s], one wouldn’t realize that anything was out of sync.”
Those of us who “know,” know it very well. Yesterday was the worst it’s been, and I wasn’t even there to help or comfort them. When I finally spoke to my dad, the incident was over, lingering only in our consciousness—because Mom had forgotten all about it.
It often happens that Mom asks, “Where’s Jack?” Daddy pipes up and says, “I’m Jack. I’m your husband.”
“Don’t try to play tricks on me,” she shouts. “Where’s my husband Jack? He hasn’t come home and I’m worried about him.”
This was the situation when Mom walked into the living room and searched through her tattered phone book until she found Daddy’s cell phone number. When she called it, Daddy answered in the other room. He walked out with the phone to his ear and told her that he was Jack, her husband. Mom started crying and yelling abuse. She called three more times, becoming more and more hysterical the longer Daddy tried to convince her he was Jack, her husband. She turned her back to Daddy and, crying, refused to speak with him.
Eventually, Daddy calmed her down, and Mom lay down to rest. Just as she was falling asleep, understanding came flooding back. She got up to apologize for causing a scene.
This incident has reinforced the idea that we must accept Mom’s reality. We must become who she thinks we are. It is terribly painful to erase our own identity—our special, loving, full relationship with Mom. We do it, however, out of a different kind of love—the love not of a husband or daughter but of a parent comforting a small child to ease her difficulty in the world.
We want to ease her pain. But the personal loss is enormous.
This week I made a spicy ground beef dish. It gives you a little kick to remind you to live in the here and now.
My kids really like this dish. And so do their friends. We finished it all in one evening. Serve this dish over a bed of rice or wrap it in a tortilla. Add corn, carrots, or tomatoes. Garnish with parsley and avocado slices. The sky’s the limit.
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic crushed
1 onion chopped
2 lbs ground beef
2 medium zucchini diced
1 red pepper chopped
1 cup purple cabbage sliced
1 20-oz can kidney beans in chilli sauce
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, sauté onion and garlic until onion becomes translucent. Add ground beef and sauté until browned, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Add vegetables and spices and cook on high for 1 minute. Add beans. Cover and simmer on low heat until vegetables cook through, approximately 20 minutes.