Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen of Alzheimer's Daughter
With wind chills
well below freezing, I picked my sister up at the airport late on the evening
of December 21, 2008. We'd both just finished our last day of teaching before Christmas break, and Annette had flown immediately to Ohio. While driving to my house, we discussed how we should tell our
parents about their move tomorrow to The Lodge, a locked dementia unit. Annette and I knew no other course of action existed. I'd been told Ed and Ibby were too confused to remain at their assisted living facility at Lakeview Reserve. This move would be different than any other. There would be no opportunity for our parents to give input, argue or disagree. Our primary goal was to relocate them lovingly,
calmly, efficiently, and without upset. We decided we’d play it by ear the next
I felt sick and
threw up during the night. Ann tossed and turned. The wind howled, blizzard-like. The freezing torrent outside matched our internal
turmoil. We woke bleary-eyed, but resolute––knowing we had no choice but to do
what we dreaded.
By morning the
wind had died down slightly and was replaced by a heavy freezing rain. During
our drive to Lakeview Reserve, we lamented the regression in Ed and Ibby since
we moved them out of their home two years earlier. At that time they had the cognitive ability
of about fifth graders. They had basic, but rapidly dwindling understanding of
dates, time, and money. The four
of us had been able to discuss the move from their home, and although unhappy about the situation, Mom and Dad had
some ability to understand how their lives were changing.
Six months ago, at
the time we moved them from independent living to assisted living, they had
about as much understanding of life as my third grade students. They didn’t
have full cognizance of time, dates, or money, but they could speak and still
had limited control of their emotional reactions.
But now, six short
months later, the disease had reverted them to the mentality of about a first
grader. Annette and I were making this decision and completing this move for them,
just as a parent would make choices for the welfare of a six or seven year old
child. These eighty-eight year old first graders would not be able to control
their emotional reaction. We just hoped and prayed they could retain some of the happiness which had sustained them all of their lives, even as they approached life in a locked Alzheimer’s unit.
As Annette and I
arrived at Lakeview Reserve around 9:00 a.m. on the morning of December 22nd
we got out of my car and gulped some deep winter breaths. Our hearts drummed as
the elevator took us to their apartment on the second floor. We tapped on the
door. Mom answered and welcomed us in. It seemed odd that Mom and Dad were not
surprised to see my sister from Florida. I think they were already losing the
awareness of her geographic distance. Maybe in their confused minds, my sister
and I blended together and they couldn’t distinguish one of us from the
We faked happy
conversation, discussing the weather and the Christmas season, for about 30
Then Annette and I
made eye contact, stood, and rummaged through Mom and Dad’s closet for their
winter coats. We brought the coats to the couch where they were sitting, asked
them to stand, and started bundling them––saying only that we were taking them
to live somewhere where they’d receive more care. They did not speak, but
looked at us with puzzled questions on their faces, with the innocence of
children––lambs led to slaughter––no mention of non-compliance.
On that bitter
cold, sloppy morning, with wind chills hovering around freezing, Mom and Dad
huddled in their winter coats, as we loaded them along with their walkers into
my Jeep and drove them across town.
greeted them as we walked into The Lodge. Their new room was warm and cozy,
despite the ugly weather outside. We took their coats off and settled Dad into a plaid chair and Mom into a flowered chair, visiting with them for about
20 minutes. Mom commented, “This place reminds me of the farm.” I think the
small delicate print on the wallpaper must have conjured up thoughts from her
Aides came to walk
them to lunch and gave Ann and me a signal to leave, nodding, indicating,
“Don’t worry, everything will be all right.” We excused ourselves, assuring Mom
and Dad we’d return with their things soon, knowing we had much work to do back
at Lakeview Reserve.
Aides released us
through the locked doors and Annette and I held hands, leaning on each other, choking back tears as we escaped to freedom through the front doors, scurrying to my Jeep.
We returned to
Lakeview Reserve and began the whirlwind of completely dismantling Mom and
Dad’s two bedroom apartment in two days. Annette and I divided and conquered, she on one end of
the apartment, I on the other. We pitched, sorted, and bagged anything
salvageable. Annette had contacted Salvation Army about a week earlier and they’d
agreed to bring a truck on Christmas Eve day––in only two days.
A couple of times
each day we’d rush back to The Lodge to check on Mom and Dad, taking small
amounts of favorite, comfortable clothes, a few pairs of shoes, and basic
necessities to their new room at The Lodge. Now, at the end of our parents’
lives, their existence was reduced to a couple of armloads of clothes and
We’d ask the staff
how they were acclimating. Each time we arrived, for two straight days, we
found them sitting bundled in their winter coats. We had to keep asking them to
take their coats off. Aides told us Mom and Dad continued to put their coats
back on saying, “We don’t live here. We’re leaving soon.”
As we worked back
at Lakeview Reserve, we found some sacred treasures. One unbelievable find was
a beautifully handwritten note Mom had composed ten years earlier for her four
grandchildren, intending it to be given to them when they became adults. My
hands shook and I gasped as I silently read:
I felt it
necessary to write a letter of appreciation to you for your wonderful gifts at
Christmas. Best, first, and most important is your gift of love. It was great
that we could all go to candlelight communion on Christmas Eve. It
meant so much to Grandpa and me.
are no more wonderful children and grandchildren than we have. You have grown
up to be special in every way.
as though one day God sat beside his gigantic computer and said I will choose
four babies who will grow up to be fine young people. I will send a boy and a
girl to both of your daughters and their husbands. They will be taught to honor
My name and they will respect all human life. They will know that the person
they choose for their life’s partner will help raise their children, and they
will choose wisely. Marriage is a sacred commitment.
Always seek to
do good, and you will be richly rewarded just by knowing in your own soul that
you did what was right.
Our hope and
prayer for each of you is that you will be as happy as Grandpa and me.
Much Love and Many Prayers
After I read the last words, I called Annette from the
kitchen saying, “You’re not going to believe what I’ve found.” She read
the note, equally amazed at its beauty. We couldn’t help but contrast Mom’s
coherence just a few years ago, to how lost she was now. We felt touched by
this reminder of who Mom really was––rather than the lost soul she’d become.
Annette and I were
physically and emotionally spent as we left Lakeview Reserve on Christmas Eve.
Annette’s family was flying in that night and our nearby relatives were coming on
Christmas Day for dinner.
Annette and I stopped at the grocery late on
Christmas Eve, intending to buy a special ham for the next day. As we
approached the meat section––the hams were sold out! We were spent, dirty, and
exhausted––and now we were beaten by a ham. Standing at the meat case, shaking
our heads, working on overload, we could have cried or laughed. Had I been
alone, I would have cried––but Annette and I looked at each other and burst out
laughing. Oh well, we bought something else––I don’t even remember what––and
still had plenty of food.
It was a Christmas
when being together was much more important than an elaborate dinner. Our
family gathered together around Mom’s table for dinner, as Ann and I teetered
on the edge of emotion because of the painful realization that Mom and Dad were
snowballed over the past weeks, but consecutively, I was preparing for joy. Our
son’s wedding was to take place on New Years Eve. The girl I’d first met on the
weekend of our daughter’s wedding, two and a half years before, was to become
my daughter-in-law. My son had proposed one year before on New Year’s Eve of
2007. The couple had been planning all year for a wedding on New Years Eve
2008, in less than one week.
The reality that
Mom and Dad were in no shape to attend felt bittersweet. Our son was the
youngest grandchild––the last to be married. Mom and Dad had attended the
other weddings of their grandchildren, but with the location being three hours
away, and their move just days ago, there was no way Ed and Ibby could be
I left my sadness
and my parents locked behind the metal security doors of the dementia unit as
our family traveled to the wedding. The events of that day rejuvenated my
sapped spirit. My hands trembled as I tied the ivory sash on my daughter-in-law’s
wedding dress, knowing that she and my son had an enduring, deep love, which
could last well past six decades, like Ed and Ibby’s. After the wedding
ceremony, we brought in the New Year by celebrating new love and a new
A picture of my
son wearing goofy 2009 eye-glasses, and his wife wearing a ‘Happy New Year’
crown, tooting a noise maker, with the crowd circling around tossing confetti
and streamers, made me realize––life goes on. Generations birth generations.
The old raise the young. The young are packed with not only the chromosomes,
but the spirits of those who came before. It gave me peace to know that my parents were in attendance through all of us.
Since Mom and Dad couldn’t attend the wedding, the bride and groom devised a plan to bring part
of the wedding to them. Our pastor agreed to have our son and his wife
repeat their vows in our home church. So, two days after their wedding, the
newlyweds dressed again as bride and groom and drove three hours north, to say
their vows in our home church with Mom and Dad present. The sanctuary was
sunlit on what could have been a very gloomy January 3, 2009. Only thirteen of
us were in attendance.
In addition to the
new couple’s wedding vows, our pastor crafted a service celebrating marriage
and family by acknowledging Ed and Ibby’s sixty-fifth wedding
anniversary––which would be in just two weeks––and gave a blessing to new life,
through the upcoming birth of my niece and her husband’s first child due in
April (my parents’ second great-grandchild).
provided an emotional outlet for feelings we’d all squelched. Liquid emotion
ran down every cheek. We sobbed––the groom included. Throughout the service Mom
and Dad seemed happy and content. I’m not sure how much of the service they
understood. I’m not sure they knew their grandchildren, but they did understand
their own marriage was being celebrated. I believe they felt our gratitude for
the faith they’d given our family. Many pictures were taken, but the most
important was of the bride and groom with their grandparents.
Thoughts about the ways families grow
and change with intense happiness and deep sadness floated through all our
minds. On that day, we pondered birth, life, and the end of life.
We shed many tears
during that holiday season––tears of sadness, pain, loss, and joy. A dear friend reminded me, we don’t have the ability to schedule our times of deep sadness
separately from our times of great joy, nor should we. These powerful moments
weave together to form the people we become. We can’t separate these positive
and negative events into distinct timeframes––we must fully embrace each
emotion. It may be the joy we allow ourselves to experience that gives us the
strength to endure the sadness.