Today was a great day, not just a good day, but a great day with my mom. There were no spectacular activities that we attended. It was just a day full of life's simple moments - a song remembered, a good meal, hearing a sweet voice, belly laughs, and great company.
It was Valentine's Day, and my mom had an appointment to go to the dentist. I arrived at the locked down unit and pulled her away from watching “The Price is Right.” I delivered her cards, flowers, and treats from the family. She was happy, but didn't understand why she was getting these things. Holidays mean nothing to her these days. She doesn't understand the concept. To her a holiday is just another day.
We bundled up and headed to the car. I helped her in and buckled her seat belt. Again, these simple tasks that we don't give another thought to are trials for her. With an Alzheimer's patient you learn patience, lots of patience. You can never be in a hurry because everything takes longer. You have to help with everything. A simple task like getting into the car turns into figuring out where they place their foot, what they can grab onto, and simply how to get in the vehicle and sit. You must buckle their seat belt because the concept of safety and even the fact that there is a seatbelt is lost. This time mom thought that it was really “fancy” when I buckled her in. She was a queen in her carriage.
As we were driving to the dentist, I had intentionally put in some music that I thought she might enjoy or recognize. This time I chose Lionel Ritchie's Tuskegee album. In between her incessant talking, she was hearing the songs. It wasn't long before she started singing along. No matter what my mom forgets, somehow music has always been something that has stayed with her. As she started to sing along with me, I gradually stopped singing and just listened. Holding back tears as I drove and just listened to her sweet voice singing along to “Deep River Woman.” At one point I said, “Mom, I love hearing you sing.” She responded, “Really? I didn't even realize that I was singing.” Well, I sure did and I loved it.
The dentist went well. You never know how things like this are going to go. She could be calm and cooperative or she could be scared and rebellious. You simply have to go with the flow and have no expectations. Lucky for us, this time it was event free. At first she didn’t understand basic requests such as, “You can close your mouth and swallow now.” After awhile she understood and obliged.
After the dentist, she was hungry, and I had to think where to get her some food. I try not to go to big restaurants anymore. There is a lot of stimulation that can be overwhelming for her. Also, my mom is “young” to be in such a severe stage of Alzheimer's. At 72, she is 20 years younger than most of the other residents that she shares the locked down unit with. This makes it harder for people in public to understand that she has Alzheimer's, even when I tell them. They often comment that they would have never known just looking at her - whatever that means. How is an Alzheimer's patient supposed to look?
On the drive, I called my sister, Morgan. I knew that in the past it had been hard for my mom to talk on the phone, and now this is a foreign concept to her. I thought that I would at least try. Morgan lives far away and doesn't get to see or talk to our mom very often anymore. I knew this might be the perfect day to try it out. I put my mom on the phone and said, “Say hi, Mom.” She responded right into the phone, “Hi Mom!” Morgan is her daughter, not her mother, but that didn't matter. Morgan got to hear her sweet voice. She got to hear our mom tell her that she loves her. That is priceless.
As we continued to drive, I decided to take her to Chik-Fil-A. The last time I got her some chicken from there she loved it, so I thought it might be a safe bet. We headed there and sat down to eat. She was so impressed by her $4.00 worth of chicken. She loved it and kept commenting, “This is the best food I have had in a long time!” In between pointing and talking about the “people” (hallucinations of people) that she was seeing, she ate every bit of her food and we were ready to head home.
When we got back to the nursing home, I decided to sit with her. She still had a cookie that she wanted to eat, and the other residents were at lunch. We sat down and were talking. Then another lady at our table, Sue*, was really mad. She was talking to “someone” and she blurted out, “You think that's scary, you ought to meet my Momma!” For some reason, this tickled our funny bones, and mom and I were laughing. This made Sue start laughing too. She continued to talk to us, like we had been part of her conversation, continuing to make us laugh. Mom and I were laughing so hard we were crying. All of the residents were turning around looking at us. I don't think anyone had laughed like that in there in a very long time. I know I hadn't and neither had mom.
After we wiped away the tears of joy, we settled down and mom finished her cookie and coffee. I had to leave. She walked me to the door, and we exchanged hugs. She told me how strong I was as I touched her soft cheek and gave her a kiss. Our day had ended, but my love had only grown stronger. Today I got a glimpse of the woman I once knew. The woman who is still there, buried deep within confusion and that disease-ridden brain. And it made me realize again that really the simple things in life are what matter.
*Not her real name.