Losing My Mom — One Memory At a Time

Alzheimer’s is cruel. Slow motion time travel into the past—with no return tickets on sale.

“The disease has not yet robbed us of her personality. We joke about people, or the TV, or the weather, and the same wry, dry northern wit emerges. But I know that it is likely to come. When it has finished shredding all the memories it can, it will turn on her patience, her dignity, her warmth, her love—and leave us mourning for her loss while she still breathes.”

 

Visits to my mom follow a predictable path. She recognizes me as I walk in. I sit with her and hold her hand. She asks me how everyone is; her eyes betraying the internal struggle to remember who the people are I am talking about. They are her grandchildren, her daughter-in-law. The conversation is punctuated by repeated questions. My answers are honed sharp by repetition.

“I’m ready to go home whenever you are”
“No mom, you live here now—you’ve got your own lovely room over there.”

“Are you staying at my mom’s house?”
“No mom, I live close by with Kathy and the children.” [I can’t bear to tell her that her parents and sister have been dead for over 25 years.]

“You must have travelled a long way to get here.”
“No mom, I just live round the corner.”

Alzheimer’s is cruel. Slow motion time travel into the past—with no return tickets on sale.

It confuses her that she is old and hardly able to walk. Deep down she thinks she should be going to work in the factory making Lancaster bombers for the British army—the date being 1943. She talks warmly of that time and remembers some incredible detail. When she was fitter we visited the Imperial War Museum where they have a cockpit from a Lancaster. She stood and explained specifics of the controls to us, and how she worked at wiring the panels. She talked about the deep pity they felt when a group of horrifically burn-scarred airmen visited the factory. She talked of dances and friends long gone. And then looks at me, her son—now nearing 60—and her own frail body, and she cannot compute.

The disease has not yet robbed us of her personality. We joke about people, or the TV, or the weather, and the same wry, dry northern wit emerges. But I know that it is likely to come. When it has finished shredding all the memories it can, it will turn on her patience, her dignity, her warmth, her love—and leave us mourning for her loss while she still breathes.

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