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 8- The Cleanout

* * *
February 12, 1944
My Dearest Ed,
Darling, I am as anxious as a child to live together. I pray you can find an apartment. Just these past few days I have thought of it almost constantly. It’s so hard being apart.
Golly, we were so busy at the store today. Keith and Henry came in to buy clothes for their wives for Valentines Day and they said, “You know the size.”
(Honey, will you learn my sizes, just in case you ever want to buy me anything to wear?)
People think we are information bureaus. They say, “She’s 5’2”, weighs 115 pounds. What size will fit her?”
Some compare their wives with the plump girl (meaning me).
Honey, I weighed myself tonight and I’m 123 pounds. I’m thinner with all this rushing around.
Golly, Sweetheart, when you write about getting shaved and taking a shower, I wish I were near so you could come to see me. I get a big lump in my throat. How much longer can we stand it to wait to be together?
This is bad for you when I write like this. Forgive me, dearest.
It just seems as if I could thoroughly enjoy cooking, washing, mending, cleaning, baking and doing all the other things a devoted wife does for a prince of a man like you. You’re swell, darling.
I’m so proud to be your wife.
All my love.
Yours forever.
* * *
About 20 years ago, as empty nesters, Ed and Ibby took up the hobby of bargain shopping with friends, after church on Sunday afternoons. They were thrilled when Dad could find a sport coat for $10 and Mom could buy shoes for $2.
Mom shopped for friends and family as well as herself. When she saw something she knew someone else could use, she didn’t hesitate to buy it for a good deal. She’d appear at the door of friends with these gifts, or tuck the items away for another time.
My family and I were often recipients. She’d ring my doorbell on a Monday morning, greeting me with a grin on her face and a bag of clothing for my little ones, a blouse or sweater for me, or a tie for Tim. Our finances were tight. I wasn’t working, and my college tuition was a drain. These small surprises supplemented our Kmart budget.
Now, the blessings of the shopping hobby––the mass of things accumulated––became a curse as I struggled to shovel out the house with the hopes of getting it sold before spring­, so lawn care––trimming, mulching, and mowing––didn’t put me over the edge.
Mom had always stockpiled goods, but gradually lost the ability to assess what she needed. She’d wander the aisles of a grocery, putting familiar products in her cart––items she thought she’d use. When she returned home, she’d stash her wares away to cohabitate with the Depression-Era clutter. Things like dozens of unopened boxes of Band-aids and thirty-four rolls of Reynolds Wrap lurked in closets and cupboards, and hid in piles in the hallway and spare bedrooms. I found things I didn’t want to touch in the bathroom and kitchen cupboards––things that gagged me and made my stomach wretch––things so old that the containers had burst and leaked, adhering everything else in its sticky path. I emptied drawer after drawer filled with milk jug caps, bits of string, twist ties, loose change, used nail files, and melted gum. Heaps of cardboard boxes so moist from mildew that they seemed to melt when I tried to lift them, were stacked like giant building blocks about to topple in the dank basement. The hundreds of used glass jars inside these boxes once held anything from Welch’s jelly to Ragu spaghetti sauce. White, kitchen-sized trash bags, the size of Casper the Friendly Ghost, were full of nested plastic Parkay, Cool Whip, and gallon ice cream containers, their random lids rattling alongside.
On nights I didn’t have dinner with Mom and Dad at Lakeview Reserve, I’d quickly put things in order for the next school day, then drive directly to the vacant house alone. The three years of my parents’ illness had forced me to reprioritize my time at school. I’d begun getting up at 5:00 a.m. in order to arrive at least one hour early, using every moment of that time to grade papers and work on lesson plans. I’d eat my own lunch while opening cartons of milk and ketchup packets for students during lunch duty. Sometimes I’d finish my lunch on the playground during recess duty. Every moment of my workday was spent trying to teach, nurture, and stay ahead of twenty-some eight and nine year olds. And now––in my second job of cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house––there seemed to be no end to the sorting and pitching. I’d work for two to three hours every evening, unearthing things buried for decades, cleaning about three to five feet of area, down a hallway, or against walls––closets taking multiple days. The same task awaited me every night.
It was winter, so I arrived at dusk and worked well into darkness, but I experienced a dark side of myself, which spilled from me as surely as junk spilled from the cupboards and closets. I struggled with anger––feelings I’d never expected to have about my parents...