Alzheimer's Daughter

The Story

Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.

Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.

I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.

I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.

Friday, September 21, 2012

World Alzheimer's Day

If one speaks honestly about Alzheimer’s disease and its ravages, the details aren’t pretty. Alzheimer’s changes personalities. During times of conflict, Mom and Dad drew inward, to protect each other from what they perceived as any assault. Mom fought to protect the man she’d loved all of her adult life––to defend his independence and dignity. Dad protected Mom––love-struck by his bride until her last breath.
In the midst of difficult times, I often envisioned Alzheimer’s as a silent monster looming behind Mom and Dad, inching closer and closer, threatening to over take them. Ibby and Ed saw only each other. They never acknowledged nor succumbed to the disease. They rose above it, protected by the armor of their love and faith in God. Ann and I ran frantically ahead pulling them, or behind pushing them––always trying to shield them from the invisible beast.
At times they thought their own daughters were the enemy––unable to understand Ann and I were their allies, and our hearts ached from the decisions we had to make to keep them safe.
Yes, there were conflicts, but I choose to remember Ed and Ibby as they were at their core––the people they were before the disease tried to rob them of themselves. They taught me to have faith in God, find joy in simple things, and count my blessings.
Nearly every day, I drive by my church and the cemetery where my parents lay buried. Attending church feels like going home to visit them. I sit in pews––still warm from them. I see Dad’s arm around Mom with her head leaned into the crook of his neck. I thank God for Ibby, a mother who lived her faith through small lessons, and for Ed, an honest, hard-working dad. They shared a simple life, a happy life; they had never needed more.

Thinking about the end of Mom and Dad’s lives, I realize I don’t want my life to end without lucidity. But, we don’t get to choose, do we?
If I end up with Alzheimer’s and my children have to make a decision for me to live in a place like the locked facility where my parents lived at the end of their lives, whom will I be? Will I be the person who’s moaning––the person who’s swearing? Will I be the person who loves everyone’s jewelry and takes it? Will I be the person who wanders and picks things up, but says I’m not stealing? Will I be the person who eats other people’s food––the person who paces? Or, will I be like Mom and Dad, retaining loveliness in the midst of the ugliness of Alzheimer’s disease––making a rose garden from a load of manure?
My sister and I have often said, “We will remember all of these things as long as we have memory.” Just in case I forget, these two sayings are written in script on my dining room walls surrounding the old dining table: “Live with an attitude of gratitude,” and “Every ordinary day is extraordinary.” Mom and Dad whisper these reminders to me as I read them each day. 

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