For the past twelve years my mother has not recognized me. I think this is a puzzling concept to grasp unless you have personally experienced it. There is a detachment that occurs when someone you love so dearly doesn’t remember you. I believe the brain may forget but the heart never does. I chose to write about this today as an inspiration for those of you dealing with challenges in your life surrounding family and illness.
When my mother was fifty years old she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that eradicates memory and cognitive function. In its later stages symptoms include disorientation, hallucinations, mood swings, language and motor impairment. My mother experienced a precipitous decline and lost cognitive function and the ability to reason very early on. I remember having to familiarize her with the alphabet as an adult. She had completely forgotten it and could not remember learning it. She felt ashamed and frustrated that she struggled with such an easy task. It was difficult for her to accept the changes that were happening. As a family, we all felt the burden.
Alzheimer’s is a very unpredictable disease that requires creativity on the part of a caregiver. You will experience hostility, confusion and erratic behavior from the patient but it is your responsibility as a caregiver to remain calm and resourceful. My mother went through a period where she had hallucinations. These experiences were very real to her. I could not convince her otherwise. One day, I decided to let her take me on her journey. I wanted to see what she was seeing. To my surprise, she was envisioning a memory of my childhood. It was a bonding experience for us at a time when she did not recognize me. She could sense that I was special to her and conveyed it through her vision.
It is important to remember that human beings respond to energy. If you are frenetic and anxious, the patient will sense this energy and reciprocate it. I noticed this with my mother on many occasions. When she was diagnosed, I was young and did not have an understanding of how to cope. She was intuitive and still is. Even in the late stages of the disease she responds to her hair being caressed and the sound of my voice. When I hold her hand, she squeezes it back and never wants to let go. I have come to appreciate these subtle displays of affection as our language. It’s how we communicate because she can no longer speak.
The bond between a mother and daughter is indestructible. I have learned how to love my mother in many different ways. This disease has taught me compassion, patience, resilience, courage and empathy. She has taught me to be grateful and live in the present moment. She has taught me to be of service and be kind. I am reminded of this daily when I speak to her. She cannot verbally respond but I know a part of her hears me and recognizes that we are connected for eternity.