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 15- Happy 90th Birthdays

* * *
April 13, 1944
My Dearest Wife,
Glad to hear you had Mrs. Herman down for supper. The “War Widows” get together, is that what you call it? I shouldn’t write like that, but it seems so wrong that you should be there and me be here, with you worrying and fretting about me.
About this summer, I definitely want you to come up here. I haven’t changed my mind a bit. I might have two days off in May. Would you want to meet me in Chicago or shall I come home? I want to be with you, but sometimes I’m afraid to come home. So many guys have gone overseas and I’m still here. It makes me feel like a heel.
Darling, I love you with all my heart, and dear, our living together will be the most wonderful thing in the world.
Good night my darling.
Your husband forever and ever,
* * *
Dad’s 90th birthday approached in early December of 2009. Ann and I decided to have a 90th birthday celebration for both of them, even though Mom’s 90th birthday wouldn’t have been until June. Most of our family was able to be in town for the Thanksgiving weekend, so we had the party on that Saturday afternoon, and invited a few of Ed and Ibby’s life-long friends. Leading up to this party, had been a busy holiday weekend. Ann and I had cooked a turkey, hosted a Thanksgiving meal, entertained company, had houseguests, traveled here and there, and tended to Mom and Dad’s needs.
So, we tried to make this party as no-fuss as possible. We flew through the grocery to pick up the food, drinks, cake, and paper products just a couple of hours before people were to arrive.
As I hurried around setting up food, drinks, and a computer slideshow, guests and family began to arrive. Ann brought Mom in her reclining wheelchair and Dad with his walker as we all cheered and sang “Happy Birthday.” They reacted like surprised children.
Dad sat at a table with his friend Johnny, my father-in-law, and a former coworker. I could tell Dad felt like a man, just to be sitting with these peers. He sat up straight, smiled, and chuckled in the right places during the conversation. However, the conversation took place around him. He couldn’t think, or form words fast enough to contribute, but he sure enjoyed the company.
The women gathered around Mom since she was immobile and couldn’t speak. They clucked and fussed over her. Maggie, Mom’s dear friend from Rivertown, had made fudge. Mom let a tiny tidbit roll around in her mouth.
The computer slideshow of pictures of Ed and Ibby ended up to be a great diversion from the reality of the situation. Looking at the pictures kept laughter and conversations going. Guests were gracious, but uncomfortable because Ibby and Ed were no longer the people they’d known just a few short years before. One couple honestly said they needed to leave because it was too hard to see Ed and Ibby in their current state.
Mom and Dad were happy to have people around celebrating, even if they weren’t quite sure what they were celebrating. It was kind of like a party for young children, maybe even toddlers, who didn’t have the ability to understand what all the fuss was about. A picture of our parents taken that day shows their hands held high over their heads cheering about having birthdays. For some of the grandchildren, this was the last time they saw their grandma alive.

During January and February, Mom became progressively weaker, her physical body waning. Dad was unaware Mom was slowly dying; he was just happy to be with her. Annette came again in mid-January for their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. Ed and Ibby remained smiling and grateful. However, Ann and I knew death would come to Mom soon.

During a weekend visit at the end of February, I noticed Mom was not able to eat the little pieces of candy I’d used to entice her for the past few months, instead she’d roll the candy in her mouth, but use her tongue to push it out of her mouth without swallowing. Things were grim.
 On Friday of that week, we had a snow day from school because of a near blizzard the night before. I received a phone call in the late afternoon from The Lodge informing me Mom had lost her swallowing reflex and could not take in food or fluid.
I couldn’t get out of the driveway until a neighbor came with a tractor to plow. By coincidence, Tim called, and I told him what was happening. He came home, and we forged through the snow to see Mom and Dad that evening. As we walked into the unit, I could tell aides were very worried about Mom. A couple of favorite aides were clustered around patting her, and quipping little jokes to make her smile. They were bringing happiness, comfort, and peace as they knew her life was ending. She was snuggled under a fleecy blanket in the reclining wheelchair. Dad was sitting at her side patting her hand. Mom smiled at me and tried to talk with a raspy voice. She gave me sweet, faint kisses. I still remember how wispy they felt on my cheek. Dad enjoyed the laughing and sweetness. He leaned over the arm of her wheelchair and kissed Mom as though they were honeymooners. I took video of that last tender kiss. I haven’t been able to watch it since.

Two days later on Sunday, my daughter and I went to see Mom. Mom was joyful to see her granddaughter. She tried to whisper. My daughter leaned close. I don’t know if she understood what Mom was trying to say. I’ve never asked. My daughter received Mom’s last conscious kiss...