As I’ve mentioned previously, my Mom went through a season of dementia before she graduated Home to be with the Lord.
I think the thing that was hardest about it – well – like there could be ONE thing – was the fact that we really didn’t know what was going on at first.
For about four or five years before any of the dementia stuff happened we’d be walking from the house to the car – heading out on some errand or something, and she’d laughingly say, “I know – I can’t believe I did that! So – just so you know, some day when I have Alzheimer’s, remember that I want you to…” and she’d then rattle off the instructions I was to follow.
I’d always laugh, shrug it off, and then say, “Mother – hello! You’re doing 500 bazillion things a day – you’re the supervisor of a large PBX in a major hospital in a metropolitan city, you’re raising grandchildren, and living life – you’re not going to have Alzheimer’s. You’re just a normal person!”
We’d laugh, and then go on. But regularly – to the point that it was never a surprise when she gave me her “advance directives” on stuff – that I’d never be surprised she was given them. And I’d file those little tidbits away for the day I’d never need to use them.
There was a call one day that made me stop cold in my tracks and question what the heck was going on. My Mom was meticulous about details. I mean the woman kept a prayer journal – every single day – for 30 years – without fail. (I know – I’ve got them!) She did everything on time – if not early. She always had perfectly coifed hair and perfect make-up. She wouldn’t even go out to get the newspaper until her hair and make-up were done and she was appropriately attired. That call was a call when she said; “I can’t remember if I’ve done…” and then she started making a list. She’d written it down. It was basic stuff. Stuff she’d never not done before. Stuff she’d never NOT know if she’d done.
And that’s kind of when it began.
They say stress accelerates dementia.
Mom had more than her fair share of stress in her life. Let’s just leave it at that.
There were a couple of specific events that we saw marked declines in her “condition” – extraordinarily stressful events.
But here’s the thing – we didn’t know what the condition was – we just knew Mom was slipping away a little bit more each and every day – without fail.
I was angry, confused, afraid – no, really – terrified.
There was the day when she called me and she said she couldn’t remember how to take a bath.
There was the day when she called to tell me she couldn’t remember how to get dressed.
There was the day when she called and asked why there was fire coming out of her toaster oven.
I moved in that day.
Then came the days when she stopped being able to figure out how to call.
And the days when she stopped being able to articulate.
Things started going downhill in January. In October we had a diagnosis.
That’s a long time to go without knowing what is going on.
In April I moved in to care for her (and Grammy).
In June, after Grammy went Home to be with the Lord, Mom moved in with us.
Dementia does crazy things to the thought processes. It can make a person think that they’re at the WRONG home. You can put them in the car, drive around the block, come back to the same home, and then they’ll settle down and be so relieved to be at the REAL home.
Dementia has moments when the person looks at you – knows you, loves you, is happy to be with you; and milliseconds later will look at you with a complete blank – ZERO recognition – and the flight reflex will kick in.
In September, shortly after the kids had returned to school, Mom and I were tooling around the house. I’d gotten her bathed, dressed, got her hair done. I’d gotten her fed. And she was having SUCH a great day. She smiled brightly at me and said, “Let’s go to the grocery store! That would be so much fun!” She seemed SO like her old self. How could I say no?!
So, I grabbed my shopping list – I really did need to go to the grocery store! We got our sweaters, and got in the car. We drove to WinCo – our local discount grocery store. We got a cart, Mom agreed that holding onto the cart with one hand, and my other hand with the other was the best thing to do.
It was going so well!
We went through the produce department. She saw a few things she thought she’d like to have. We put them in the cart – and she was delighted!
About half way through the store she started being a little bit fidgety.
I thought to myself, “We ought to wrap this up. I just need one more thing, and we’re out of here!” So I steered the cart toward the dairy department and Mom came along – a little less enthusiastically.
That’s when it happened.
A woman with – I kid you not – five – not crying – but SCREAMING – children in her cart came around the corner.
It was all kind of like it happened in slow motion.
Mom turned – scanning the scene around her – and a look of utter and complete BLANK hit her face. She didn’t know who she was. She didn’t know who I was. She didn’t know where she was. And she panicked.
And then she ran.
Right out of the store.
Really, really fast.
I looked on in disbelief. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
I snatched my purse out of the cart and took off in hot pursuit.
When I hit the front of the store I grabbed the Customer Service Manager and gave her a quick rundown, a description of Mom, and asked her of she’d call 911 for me.
She said, “Let’s not panic. Let’s go see if she went to your car.”
It was too late for me to not panic, of course, but we did go to the car.
Nowhere in sight.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911. I was quickly connected to the 911 operator and gave them the rundown and her description. They said they’d have an officer there as soon as possible – and I should stay with my car.
I needed to go look for her!
But they assured me that staying put was best – she might come back to the car looking for me.
The Customer Service Manager rounded up a couple of employees and they set out – combing the adjoining stores in the vicinity.
I was seriously having a heart attack here, people! My heart must have been beating 2000 beats a second. I had tears in my eyes. I was what if-ing every single possible scenario. I was thinking through the potential news headlines… “Daughter loses Mother in grocery store… Film at 11.”
It was probably 20 minutes before the Sheriff showed up. He asked me a lot of questions. I told him my concerns – and conviction that Mom wouldn’t know her own name – and she had no identification on her – she wouldn’t know my name on about a 50% basis, and she wouldn’t know her phone number, or my cell phone number, or the address where she lived.
“Alzheimer’s?” He asked.
“No – I don’t think so. We don’t know. But she’s – well, she’s not the same as she used to be.”
He assured me that we’d find her and he drove off – instructing me to stay put.
I hated staying put.
My kids call me “Paranoid Mom.”
I deserve it.
I have an uncanny ability to project the worst possible outcomes on any given scenario. And I then make my decision as to what they are or aren’t allowed to do – okay, some of the time – I am mellowing out some in my old age – based on those potential outcomes.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking it through – but I’m pretty sure I’ve never lost a kid anywhere. You know – the horror scenarios that every mother prays to God will never happen to her or her child. You’ve heard them – the overhead pages, “Will the parents of Billy Jones please come to the Customer Service Desk.” You know what’s happened. Billy Jones has wandered off, Mom and/or Dad didn’t see it happening, and now Billy has found the nearest store employee and asked for help.
I have a confession to make. We used to do that to our Mom when we were growing up just to bug her. She’d get so flustered! And then she’d come running to the Customer Service desk – totally upset – and we’d be cracking up. We were bad children. Bad, bad children.
I think it’s just by the grace of God that I’ve never misplaced a child. He knew what it would do to my blood pressure.
So imagine my HORROR at losing my MOTHER.
My MOTHER, people!
It took about 30 minutes more, but the Sheriff found her wandering – unsure of where she was or where she should go – about half a mile down the street. She was headed back in the right direction, at least.
The kind Sheriff gave me a firm handshake, a squeeze on the shoulder, and whispered under his breath, “I’ll keep you in my prayers.” And then with a smile, “I think this was your last outing with her.”
Yeah – no joke!
I went straight home.
Mom, exhausted went straight to her bed and took a nice long nap.
I got online and ordered her Medic Alert bracelet and had it expressed to me. You better believe it never got taken off!
I wish I could say it was the last time I lost her.
But I’ll save that story for another time!
Moral to the story? Yeah – if you come up with one, let me know, okay?