Every now and then I read or hear of somebody else's parent being struck by Alzheimer's. Imagine forgetting more and more until your body forgets how to function and then you die. My mom died of Alzheimer's. Her body forgot how to swallow and she, having demanded that she not be on tubes and machines, died in a comforting blanket of morphine haze with my wife and me by her side, holding her hands.
I look back on those years of caring for her, almost from the time Dad died in 1999 until she passed in 2010, and wonder what I might learn or have learned from that experience. For one thing, I firmly believe that there is some sort of plan (but if you don't like that, accept perhaps the term "synchronicity") as I retired just as she needed me more and more. I was fortunate to have the time to give to her care and tried to make it just enough, not too much and never demeaning. Sometimes that was a hard balance to strike. I learned that not all the people that we think of as care-givers are and that those who we think are not such might surprise us, including ourselves. I learned that the memories must still be "in there" as sometimes they came out right, but more and more rarely and more and more briefly as time passed. I learned that the sufferers of this disease know that they aren't right and they have a period in which they chafe at those limitations. I learned that one of the things that they forget are the niceties that society teaches us but that, for a time at least, they don't forget the hurtful words that society has also passed on to us. AND, I learned that they don't remember how hurtful those words are but they do remember that they don't want to be hurtful. I learned that they still know death and when it is their time.
The day before she passed we were in the hospital emergency room and I had gotten the news that the end was near. I'd been asked if there were to be feeding tubes and, as Mom and demanded, I said, "No." The doctor left, I turned to Mom and asked if she understood what was happening. I could see the sudden onset of clarity and my mother's response, her last words to me were, "I love you very much." She napped a bit and then awakening to see my wife with us told her, "you are a good person," and then, finally, she slipped into what I hope was a blissful sleep right to the end.
I wonder if I will be struck with this disease. We talked about it this evening at dinner. Nana said it would be awful to forget all the neat things we had done and the places we'd been and the people we'd met and I was reminded that Mom didn't ever forget the most important thing.