3.12.16 My Mother’s Diagnosis with Mary Yamin-Garone
Hi everyone. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess, Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is how my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis changed my life.
“Your mother has Alzheimer’s.”
Nothing prepares you for those words. As I sat across from my father, I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty and I became nauseated. Alzheimer’s? What is that? Something to do with your memory? An old person’s disease? Little did I know.
I tried to speak but words failed me. I just stared blankly at my father. “It’s depression,” he said. “It started after her brother died,” he said. I believed him. He was my father. He wouldn’t lie. It wasn’t until a year or two later that he came clean. Truth be told, he hadn’t been lying. He was protecting his children for as long as he could.
When I first learned of her diagnosis I was angry. Angry at God for what was happening to my mother. It wasn’t fair. She didn’t deserve this. Nobody does. That’s when a wise woman said, “You have to give your mother over to God. He will take care of her.” I struggled with that for a while. I was still blaming Him for my mother’s illness. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize my anger was getting in the way of helping my mother and father. So I took my friend’s advice and never looked back.
In the months that followed, I learned everything I could about this devastating disease. It wasn’t just about losing your memory. If that’s all it was it would be a walk in the park compared to the reality of Alzheimer’s. Instead, I watched as the parent became the child. Now my mother needed help with eating, dressing and personal hygiene.
She also had problems coming up with the right word or name; difficulty performing tasks at home or in social settings; and trouble recalling her address or telephone number. She would get confused about where she was (even in her own kitchen) or what day it was. She needed help choosing the proper clothing.
Then there was trouble controlling her bladder and bowels, the changes in her personality and behavior, the physical changes, including being able to walk, sit and swallow, the increased difficulty communicating and becoming vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.
I hate this disease. I hate it with a passion. I hate what it was doing to my mother. Make no mistake. No one fights alone. This is a family disease.
I saw how difficult and heartbreaking it was for my father. He tried hard to be strong but over time I saw signs of emotional and physical fatigue. His eyes would fill up and his voice would crack. He looked so sad. He was losing the love of his life to this disease. The fact is Alzheimer’s caregivers ride the world’s biggest, fastest, emotional rollercoaster every day.
I’d often sit and watch her. Sometimes I couldn’t believe the person I was looking at was my mother. I knew her heart and soul were the same as they’d always been. Perhaps that was what was important; that’s what mattered. Or maybe it was my way of rationalizing something I had no control over. The truth is I wanted my mother back so desperately. Instead, this heartbreaking disease was pulling her further and further away.
When do you reach a level of acceptance when someone you love is being destroyed by Alzheimer’s? Do you ever accept it? I thought I’d made peace with the situation until I would see my mother. I was nowhere near making peace—not when I would walk into the house and I could hear her talking to herself in gibberish. Not when I would say something and she’d look at me, confused and frightened. Not when she couldn’t remember something I told her only minutes before.
Once in a while I’d catch a glimpse of the mom I knew and for a moment I hoped she was back, only to have my hopes shattered—again. I can’t do this, I thought. I’m not strong enough. How I long to hear her speak in complete, coherent sentences again. My eyes would well with tears when she would tell me she loved me. God, how I love her. Making this hurt more, hurt deeper, hurt longer. And my mother can’t take my hurt away. She can’t make me feel better. Not this time!
Now, 18 years later, my mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. One thing I’ve learned throughout this journey is that God still has a loving purpose for her and her life. More than once my mother was knocking on Heaven’s door. She had a grand mal seizure, blood clots in her leg, multiple urinary tract infections and aspirated pneumonia. One time in particular, she was given last rites but each time she came back stronger than before.
I also realize that God was growing my love and patience to take care of her. He was developing my tenderness and mercy. God had given me the opportunity to show love to a mother who loved me unconditionally when she was able and strong. He’s challenging me to love faithfully through the painful and difficult times.
I visit my mother every Sunday. Not because I have to. Because I want to. She wouldn’t know the difference but I would. This woman I call Mom gave me life. I owe her that and so much more.
My mother is so full of joy and life. I am her child and that is better than being the child of anyone else in the world.
Thanks for listening.
Tune in next time to learn the truth about Alzheimer’s.