It was my mom’s birthday yesterday.
It was my mom’s birthday yesterday. She didn’t know it of course, and if you were to ask her about it today she (probably) wouldn’t remember. She turned 67 and like last year her remaining siblings- she’s had two pass away- called to wish her happy birthday. My aunt called and sang happy birthday to her, just like she does for me on my birthday. I think last year she probably took my mom out to lunch in addition to singing. Just like last year my dad took her to Market Street Grill because they get a buy one get one free, and they made a special effort to get seated before 6 so they could get the special-usually prime rib or halibut.
Otherwise, like last year, her birthday passed with no fanfare or party, and August 4th, 2016 looked a lot like August 4th, 2015. My mom spent the day sitting in her red La-z Boy recliner watching T.V and napping. That chair has to be at least 20 years old. Her and my dad each have one. Most of my childhood was spent watching T.V or movies after dinner with mom and dad in their great big red La-z Boy recliners.
In fact, her day yesterday, aside from the few phone calls and early bird special at Market Street, looked exactly like any other day. Dad gets her up- this is harder than it sounds because she is such a sound sleeper and won’t wake up for anything- and helps her get dressed for the day. Then he makes her her favorite breakfast: Cheerios or oatmeal. Everyday for as long as I can remember, whether we are on vacation or a cruise or anywhere in the world, she is eating her Cheerios or oatmeal for breakfast.
While she is eating he gets out her pills. I swear there are more pills every year. I bet she takes at least 7 in the morning and 7 at night.
Then he will turn on the T.V for her since she doesn’t know how to use the remote. It is more background noise. She isn’t really paying too much attention, but once in awhile she will latch onto some fact that surprised her or some story that really caught her attention. You know when something has made an impact on her because she will bring it up every day for at least a week. She still periodically will ask me if I heard the tragic news of the alligator killing that poor child and I will patiently respond, “Yes I have heard, wasn’t that just terrible.” Because it was terrible and she can’t bear to hear of a child being killed because she loves kids so fucking much.
And this is where I start to lose my composure and get emotional because sitting in her oversized red La-z Boy recliner is all she does with her day. She naps in that chair (sometimes she will get up and after a struggle will find the bedroom and nap in bed). Her day is spent in that chair as life moves on around her. She watches T.V. People come and go-my dad has had to hire a girl from his church to help clean and keep my mom company while he is at work. He can’t keep up with it by himself and sometimes he just has to leave the house because he needs to be a human and a real person and exist beyond the role of caretaker once in awhile.
Sometimes women from the neighborhood or church will come pick her up to take her to lunch and she always looks forward to that and for a few hours gets off her chair and away from the T.V and interacts with other people. Twice a week my dad drives her to the senior center where she sits and talks with people much much older than she is and does calisthenics or chair exercises, has lunch, enjoys a few hours with people.
But ultimately she is back in her chair. When there is no one to watch her my dad will leave because he has to work and she will stay home alone, lost inside this house, with little capacity to do anything besides walk herself to the bathroom and back (this is becoming harder and harder because she forgets where the bathroom is and needs someone to show her).
My mom has Alzheimer’s. Well, early onset to be specific. It has been years since she could work or drive a car. Think about that, at 62 (ish, not really sure 100% cause I’m a shit son) she lost her job and shortly thereafter my dad took away her driver’s license. We thought she had had a stroke or something. As her cognitive capacities began to fade more and more visits to doctors and more and more tests revealed Alzheimer’s. Fucking Alzheimer’s man.
I remember when he got the phone call. I happened to be over at his house, I don’t know why and it doesn’t matter, but I remember him answering the phone and bursting into tears. Sobbing. Both of sadness and happiness. He finally had a diagnosis. Finally had a name for this terrible affliction. That was years ago, but I will never forget watching my dad cry as all the pent up stress and tension and anxiety of not knowing finally came to a head. He had a name for it now.
Fast forward, years have gone by. She can no longer read or write. That used to be her favorite escape. She loved to write. She was going to write a book someday. That never happened, but she had so many stories inside her head, I’m sure one of them would have made a best-seller. We tried to do books on tape for her, but she can’t work the CD player and forgot how to use the iPod my dad bought her.
So she sits. She sleeps. She watches a lot of T.V. She fades away.
I have had the privilege of spending most of my summer over there. So I see her now nearly every day. I watch the beautiful woman fade away. Her spark, her wit, her personality, her ability to communicate. All fading.
I watch my dad, exhausted, struggle to take care of her while still trying to keep his job. He can’t afford to lose it and he can’t afford full time care for her because the ungodly rates for dementia wards. I ask her to tell me stories of her life and her family and her childhood.
I lose patience because she asks the same. Goddamn. Questions. All. Goddamn. Day.
I wonder how my dad has done this for so long because I’m pulling my hair out as she offers to make me a sandwich for the 10th time. No, mom, you can’t make me a sandwich. Why? Because you literally can’t do it.
I watch my dad. I see the pain and frustration in his eyes. I see this great big man, powerless to do anything for his wife of almost 40 years. I watch him cry when he doesn’t know I am watching because my mom isn’t my mom any more. I watch their plans and goals for retirement and hopes for adventure fade away because he can’t do it by himself. He is so alone.
Fucking Alzheimer’s man.