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 16- Mom's Journey to Heaven

* * *
April 20, 1944
My Dearest Ed,
I have been so happy ever since I received your letter. Darling, it was such a wonderful letter. I’ve read it at least fifteen times. It seems as if there could never be two people happier than we are together.
Soldier, You’re the brave one in our family. What you say goes. I’m praying for your safety and world peace. These two things are essential to our complete happiness. My hopes and prayers are constant. Your safety means everything to me. Darling, may God bless you and keep us for each other.
Honey, everyday I love you more. This being apart is terrible. No matter how much we love each other, there would certainly be a lot of consolation in knowing we could spend at least a small amount of time together. Somehow when a girl finds the man whom she knows for certain she could spend the rest of her life with; she naturally wants to be with him––but if she’s worth anything she will wait proudly until the time is right. Now I’m saying to myself, “Sister, don’t dream yet. The time isn’t quite right, but there’ll come a day. Your dreams can wait.”
 Ed, will trying to be the best wife any man ever had, and loving you forever, help to make you realize how much I appreciate everything you do?
 If you are sent out and we don’t get mail as rapidly, it will be consolation knowing we have written often until then. We are destined to be together, safe, and happy soon. I’m sure.
God bless you, darling. I love you.
Yours forever,
* * *
Annette had plans to come again on March 5th, but I received a phone call mid-morning at school on Monday, March 1st from one of Mom’s favorite nurses, calling me to say she thought Mom had between 24 and 48 hours to live. My students were in music class, and I was talking through my lesson plans for the week with a student teacher.
I called Annette immediately. She worked quickly to obtain a flight home that night.  I ran to the office to tell my principal I must leave. My student teacher knew what needed to be done. My lesson plans were on my desk. As I hurried out the building I smiled––as though everything was normal––to friends and coworkers who were having a typical day, masking the knowledge that mine would not be typical. I was acutely aware that today was pivotal.
While I drove, I called Tim and filled him in on details, telling him Annette was trying to book a flight for that night and asking if he could pick her up at the airport. As I drove, I played a CD my sister had given me just a couple of short weekends before––Susan Boyle’s first CD. On it were two of Mom’s favorite hymns, “How Great Thou Art,” and “Amazing Grace.” Susan Boyle bolstered me and kept me calm while I drove.
I felt alone and uneasy as I contemplated going into this situation. I’d never seen anyone die. Whom do you ask to be with you as your mother is dying? My husband was at work and would pick up my sister from the airport when she arrived. My daughter was at home with a two-year-old. I had to “chin up” and go into this alone. I prayed for God to go with me––to ease my mother’s transition out of her earthly life and into life beyond.
When I arrived around 11:00 a.m., I went into Mom and Dad’s room. Dad acted as if it was an ordinary day––he must have thought Mom was napping. He had no way of understanding she was dying. I approached Mom’s bed. She lay unconscious, in a fetal position. I sat on the edge of the bed and greeted her by saying, “The angels are calling you, Mom. Do you hear them?”
As I removed my coat and settled into a chair by the bed, I thought about the many times Mom had sat by my bedside when I was young. I knew I’d never see her open her eyes again or hear even an attempt at words. I understood Mom’s death was absolutely logical––it was time. She’d lived a life of eighty-nine years, rich with love. 
Throughout the afternoon and evening, I sat on her bed, held her hand, stroked her skin, and sang “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “I Come to the Garden Alone.”  I opened the family Bible, which laid on the end table, and read the 23rd Psalm. When I came to the verse, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” I knew Mom was making her way through that valley as she lay before me. She’d continue until she came out the other side with her last breath. Perhaps Mom and Dad’s entire journey through Alzheimer’s disease had been a journey through the valley of the shadow of death that had just become darker and darker. 
I stroked Mom’s shoulders, face, and arms. I smoothed her hair, and massaged her hands––curled up in fists like a baby’s. I talked to her. I prayed aloud for her. Dad and I prayed some together, but he was confused by everything that was happening. The aides tried to keep him in his routine of meals and activities so he’d be out of the room during these hours.
It was another three to four hours until Tim brought Annette at around 10:00 p.m. She and I spent a couple of hours together by Mom’s bedside. We talked some with Dad about Mom getting ready to go to heaven. Dad participated in the conversation, but we weren’t sure he could absorb what was happening. We encouraged him to go to bed and rest. He got into his bed, next to Mom, and slept soundly.
As Annette and I took turns sleeping in the chair that night, Mom and Dad slept together in the same room for the last time.
By morning, Mom’s condition was somewhat more deteriorated. She was moved to the Hospice wing of The Lodge––away from Dad, so he could rest without having to witness what would soon happen. 
We didn’t know how he’d react to Mom’s move. Staff rolled Mom’s bed down the two hallways, and the three of us followed––seeing her gently settled in. We surrounded her bed, talking to her, and Annette and I offered Dad one of the comfortable chairs in the room––but Dad said he needed to go back to his own room.
Annette walked him back to the locked unit. I stayed with Mom. She’d become very agitated––shaking uncontrollably. The nurses had to sedate her repeatedly, saying they’d rarely had administer such heavy doses to calm a patient. 
I believe Mom sensed she was being moved away from Dad and had words with God, telling Him, in no uncertain terms, she wasn’t ready to leave the man she’d loved for nearly seventy years...