My mother is angry about her diagnosis. More than anything it’s that she’s caught something my father has not. “Don’t come into my MRI appointment with me,” she sneers in my dad’s direction. “They may figure out that you have it too.”
My father has never been a patient man. He ignores her and heads towards the garage.
“I may outlive all of you,” she says as he closes the back door. She flips through a pamphlet on dementia from her doctor. She says to me, “Sometimes it’s better for old people not to know all this stuff.” She recently turned 73. After a year of mom’s absent mindedness, my dad made an appointment for her with their family doctor.
Now I look over her shoulder at the description of ’cognitive decline’. She pronounces the words slowly: cog-NITE-ive. I read moderate dementia, a label I suspect may anger her the most. Like saying ‘half pregnant’—you know what’s coming.
After a week on Alzheimer’s medication, her disposition seems to improve. “Dad even cuddled me,” she tells me one day. “And I get two kisses: morning and night.”
One day I show up at my parents’ house when they’re in the middle of an argument. I take a spot at the dining room table. Lately my mom is angry at my dad much of the time. “You shut up,” she yells at him. “You don’t know.”
When we were kids none of us was allowed to say “shut up.” I’m still shocked every time I hear it come out of my mother’s mouth. Until recently, I’d never heard her yell.
My dad clears his throat the way he does before he cries.
She says to me, “People keep saying I have something, but I don’t. What is it called again?” Part of me wants to burst out laughing: the Alzheimer’s patient can’t remember the name of her disease. “Mom,” I say gently. “You have Alzheimer’s.” It’s the first time I’ve used that word with her.
“No, I don’t,” she says. “My doctor said I have memory loss. Not Alzheimer’s. Dad forgets things too, you know.” How happy she’d be if he was also afflicted, and she wasn’t alone.
“He does forget some things, but you’re the one on Alzheimer’s medication.” I’m not sure where this is going. My mother has never been reasonable.
“For memory loss,” she says. “And I’m going to start to take more pills.”
“And why do you want to take more?” “To stop the memory loss.”
“Because it’s getting worse?” I ask. I want her to admit what she’s said to my sisters and forgotten: that she thinks she can actually feel the blood vessels in her head bursting and she can’t remember anything anymore.
I know she uses 20 dollar bills for book marks and that my dad doesn’t leave her alone when they go to a grocery store or the casino. I know her arms are often covered in burns from the oven. I suspect that by tonight she’ll forget I was here today.
She says, “Because if I take one pill, then two would be much better.”
This was first published in the July 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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