Mom suffered another stroke in May, although we didn’t know it was a stroke until she began to recover. To be honest, I thought the end had come. I visited her twice a day for awhile, making email reports to family and close friends. I made the mental, emotional and spiritual switch to knowing my mother was going to die soon. Not only was I comfortable with her impending death, but I quietly prayed she go – or, as I told her quietly, it is time for her to be with God and with her husband.
There was nobody more surprised than me to see her sitting in a wheelchair one day. I have no idea how her thin frail body survived – she had eaten very very little and drunk even less. I was convinced her body had been shutting down. But, after a couple of weeks, she was sitting up and trying to grasp the world around her.
But the stroke is evident in her continued decline. Before, she would light up with recognition when I came in the room, but now she struggles to know who I am. Before, she would laugh readily, but now she needs something unusual to spark a laugh. Before, she talked even if most of her words were babble, but now she talks very little. Before, I seldom found her in bed, but now she is in bed except when the staff puts her in a wheelchair for an hour or so. Her walker stays in the corner, folded up and unused.
Immediately after her stroke I tried to feed her a little pudding or other easy-to-swallow food, but ½ cup of snack-pack pudding doesn’t provide much nourishment. The nurses said she ate only a mouthful or two of food and she drank little or nothing. There is an emotional toll to feeding your own mother – a knowledge that you are doing for her what she did for you as a child. I didn’t resort to “playing airplane” or other childhood subterfuges to get her to open her mouth, but I remembered to put very small amounts of food in the spoon and not be in a hurry.
Alzheimer’s is a hard teacher. It has taught me I should not predict the disease. Only hindsight is accurate, and I believe it is accurate to say Mom has moved on to another stage of dementia. I cannot be specific in what lies ahead for her – I only know she has moved closer to the inevitable conclusion of the disease.
It was hard watching my brother. Spending a part of my daily life with Mom as I do, I have had the chance to adjust slowly. While I am sometimes hit with an occasional bout of depression, for the most part, I just throw an emotional switch when I visit her, then turn the switch back on as I leave. My brother has had no such luxury – he gets the full jolt of seeing Mom’s decline.
Once upon a time, I was a soldier. I learned the deep importance of duty – not in a way that implies negativity, but in the positive way of knowing that obedience has its own rewards. As an old man now, I take great pride in knowing I did my duty as a soldier. Some day, I hope to take equal pride in having done my loving duty – to honor my mother and my father.