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.

Chapter 18- Anniversary of Mom's Death

* * *
May 19, 1944
My Dearest Wife,
Honey, I received the nut bread and the cheese today. Thanks, dear. It was very good. Sweetheart you’re wonderful and I catch myself dreaming of you all the time. Especially as to how happy we were at our wedding. Oh honey, you mean the world and all to me, and without you I wouldn’t even exist. I catch myself talking about you all the time and the fellows have mentioned several times how I used to say “Ibby,” but now I say, “my wife.”
I can’t wait to be together forever.
Goodnight, dearest!!
Your loving husband forever and ever,
* * *

When Mom died, I’d felt peace that her suffering had ended. I’m ashamed to say, selfishly, I thought the situation would improve because now there was only Dad needing care. I’d no longer have to divide and conquer when something happened to one, while still tending to the other. But in reality, during the year that had passed since her death, I’d been in turmoil because Dad was suffering alone.
These years of worry about Mom and Dad had taken a physical toll on me. In the past five years, I’d lost twenty pounds without trying, and I now weighed less than ever in my adult life. I ate, but I worried the calories off. Often, my mind was so occupied, I forgot to eat––or I couldn’t eat enough because the feeling of being full was stomach-turning. My blood pressure had been on the rise and my doctor had put me on medication. My sleep was fitful. My body had become a panic chamber. Occasionally my heart would pound when I tried to sleep.
My professional life became the place I felt productive and normal. I knew how to do my job well. Positive results were always within my own control. True, I might have slept less than a handful of hours, and I received calls at school about situations beyond my control with Dad’s illness, but I was so busy teaching that I could temporarily block out my fatigue and worry.
I remember a day that I had the jitters at work and almost felt as though I could be having a panic attack. At lunch, I stopped by the school nurse. She took my blood pressure, and told me I needed a substitute for the afternoon, sending me to my doctor, who doubled my blood pressure medication. My life had never felt out of control before. Emotionally, I’d always been an even keel, positive attitude person, blessed to have more than my share of happy juices.

So, I was in a bad place, emotionally and physically on the one-year anniversary of Mom’s death in March of 2011. Cold wind stung and dreary rainy pelted as I visited her grave after school that day.
One year before, around the time of Mom’s funeral, spring began to bloom with daffodils, crocuses, and tulips. But this year, spring refused to come. Northern Ohio had suffered so much flooding from rain and melting snow, that even after exceeding our quota for snow days at school, we had to take a day off for flooding!
Needless to say, I didn’t want to go to Mom’s grave on that blustery day, but I knew I must stop to honor her memory on the anniversary of her passing. I got out of my car in the rain and saw the faded roses I’d left about a month prior on what would have been Mom and Dad’s sixty-seventh wedding anniversary in contrast to the fresh, single, vibrant red rose my daughter and granddaughter had left earlier that day. I stood at Mom’s grave in the cemetery next to the churchyard, trying to conjure up the peace I’d felt at her passing. I spoke out loud, thanking her for being a wonderful mom. 
I’ve never been one to think I could find peace standing at a grave, because I don’t think of Mom in a grave––she’s with me all the time. However, as I stood there, an epiphany, like a jolt of electricity, recharging dead batteries, came upon me. She spoke to me saying, “Get over it! Move on, Jean.” She told me she’d lived a joy-filled life––now she lived through me, so I must go on and live a joy-filled life. I needed to show joy to my husband, my children, and my granddaughter. To live without happiness would not honor her memory.
She reassured me Dad would join her in time and there was nothing I could do to stop it. In the meantime, she hovered––loving and protecting him. A life ending event would happen for Dad and it wouldn’t matter how fast I responded to the call, because he wouldn’t know if I was there or not. She’d be with him as these events unfolded. She released me from guilt and gave me a cheerleader pep talk filled with courage to face what lie ahead. I took a deep, clear breath, and almost skipped to my car. As I drove home, my dread turned to peace again...