Ann McDonald, mother living with Alzheimer’s

Finding the Blessings

I often try to find the blessings in having a mother with Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease with no dignity, with no heroes, so finding something positive to hold on to is a challenge. My mom, the true essence of who she was, was taken away from us too young. At age 67 my mother was diagnosed, and around the age of 70 she was in the full throes of the horrible disease.

Alzheimer’s is often described as the long goodbye and I really couldn’t explain it any better. It’s been a long progression, and now eight years later, my mom doesn’t really talk and can’t feed herself or walk. They say the disease is harder on those around the person than it is for them, which I really hope is true. If so, that is one blessing to find among the many tragedies of this disease.

To take a completely selfish perspective about it, I often tell myself that this disease is her way of slowing fading out, giving us all time to deal with not having her around, while still having her around. My mom and I were always close and there were times that the thought of losing her was too much for me to handle. This long grieving process has given me time, as I lose her piece by piece, to come to terms with the day she will no longer be here. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to grieve someone slowly or to lose them quickly. The pain of losing someone you love deeply will never be easy no matter what the circumstances. I only know that I’ve had time to see what life is like without her, to not be able to call her on the phone when I have news or get a funny card from her on special occasions, while still being able to go hold her hand and see her face.

Although I grieve the relationship I had, being able to see her has softened the blow of losing such an important presence in my life. I know when I can no longer see her, I will face another level of grief, but for now this is the only comfort I can find in losing someone so slowly.

I also find blessings in seeing what parts of her personality still shine through the disease. Even though the disease has taken away so much — her ability to read and to sing funny songs like she used to — some part of my mother is still there. People often ask me if she still knows who I am and I always tell them I really think she does. She has never once made me feel like a stranger or made me feel like she didn’t care to have me around. Even when she was in the phase of the disease where mood swings or lashing out in confusion were common, she could never really be mean and her outburst would never last long before she was immediately apologizing.

Although it gets harder and harder to see the funny and lively person she was as the disease takes away everything, I try very hard to hold on to who she was and see it in her today. My mom didn’t have an enemy in the world and everyone who met her loved her. She made everyone she knew feel special, always remembering details about their life and showing a genuine interest in what was going on in their lives. She cared for her family and friends deeply. I still see this in her today. It’s so clear that she doesn’t want to upset us. Ever the talker, I can sometimes see the annoyance in her face that she can’t communicate her thoughts.

Even when I can’t get a word from her, I can sometimes get a smile and once, not too long ago, I got both. The last two sentences I heard from her, many months ago, were “Oh I know you, I forgot” and “I love you.” Even when she can’t say much, she can still say that. And that’s really all you need from your Mom isn’t it?