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 1- Ordinary, Extraordinary Day

A nippy dawn woke eighty-six-year-old Ed, my father, on November 14, 2006. He turned to nuzzle his chin into Mom’s warm neck, but Ibby was already up and dressed. He heard her rattling around the kitchen laying out a breakfast of graham crackers and hot tea at the century-old dining table. Ed pulled on yesterday’s clothes that laid on the bedside chair overnight, splashed water on his face, and ran a dry toothbrush across his teeth.
After they ate, Ibby brushed crumbs from Ed’s lips, and held his jacket from behind as he slowly slipped in one arm at a time. Ed helped Ibby snuggle into the blue, fuzzy cardigan she’d knitted thirty years ago, waiting as she fastened each white pearl button with her arthritic fingers.
Ed smooched Ibby saying, “I love you––see you for lunch.”
Fingertips against the wall to steady himself, he staggered down two cement steps to the attached garage, then pushed the control to open the overhead door. Ibby tottered along to his red Cadillac handing him his cane, reminding, “Don’t forget to use this.”
Ibby stood in the driveway of the small 1950’s brick, ranch home where they’d lived for forty years, waving while Ed backed out of the driveway without looking, and drove two blocks to work. His Caddy rolled through one stop sign, then through a red light before he parked crooked across two spaces. Ed entered his business of sixty years, smiling so brightly his eyes squinted, gave an enthusiastic, salute-like wave to his co-workers who were already busily working, bubbling, “Hello, everybody. Great day, isn’t it?” He continued polite niceties, but couldn’t remember names. Then he settled in behind his walnut desk, opening The Wall Street Journal. He appeared to be busy, but glanced up frequently hoping to see familiar customers.
Back at home Ibby waved to her neighbors as they drove to work. Everyone knew everyone on Orchard Lane, their dead-end street. She struggled straightening her stooped spine to pour cracked corn and sunflower seeds into her bird feeder, and slowly hobbled to survey her bleak fall yard. She lingered, marveling at the glistening, frozen-dew encapsulating late-fall rosebuds. Frost soaked Ibby’s cloth shoes.
Shivers hastened her back into the warm house. She passed through the cluttered kitchen looking for a snack, peeking in the refrigerator packed with leftovers. Some were edible, others spoiled––but Ibby couldn’t tell the difference.
She looked forward to the lunch and dinner she and Ed would eat at the local restaurant as they had nearly every day for the past six months. Before Ibby settled in on the couch to wait for Ed, she heated a cup of tea in the microwave. The stovetop was piled too high with pots and pans, as well as canned and boxed food, to use the teapot. She idled time away watching cardinals, blue jays, and yellow finches flitting on the feeder outside the picture window, whistling to mimic their chirps. From across the street a retired neighbor stopped by, as she did every morning, to say hello. Ibby gave her a hug and a friendly greeting, but couldn’t remember her name.
Before Ibby realized, hours dissolved. She heard the church bells toll twelve at noon, and was whistling along with “Amazing Grace,” ringing out from the church carillon, when she saw Ed pull in the driveway.
Finding a comb and a tube of lipstick midst the clutter on the dining room table, she drew a shaky wine-colored line on her lips, and pulled the comb once through her fine, snow-white hair. Bundled in her sweater again, Ibby left the house unlocked and gimped to the car. Ed had beeped the horn twice. She knew he was hungry and anxious to eat at Farmers Restaurant, the only restaurant in town.
When they arrived, Ed parked the car with the rear edging out into the main intersection beneath the single stoplight in Rivertown. Most residents recognized the red Caddy and knew to avoid the car and its driver.
A balding farmer tipped his John Deere cap and smiled, as the warmth of coffee and frying burgers drifted through the door he held open for the elderly couple.
Ibby with her bent posture said, “Thank you, sir”
The farmer replied, "Now, you two enjoy your meal.”
Dad paused at the door, waiting as Mom shuffled across the threshold, followed her, and took her hand. Both of them smiled and nodded at familiar faces while making their way to their favorite booth by the window.
The waitress read, and reread the specials, then reminded Ed and Ibby of their favorite meal, a fish dinner to split with extra tartar sauce and two pink lemonades.
Patrons stole glances at Ed and Ibby, winked and whispered to their lunch partners, while Mom and Dad with shoulders touching, shared one meal, having no idea on the next day, their lives and mine would change completely and forever.