I know that as time goes on, my kids are growing older. They need me less and less. My role has changed and is changing with each new phase that they move through. The time staring at a nursing newborn, changes into reading stories with a toddler, which changes into helping with homework and packing lunches. The string of games and plays and proms and concerts to be attended, seems to be neverending. Until it does. You pack up your car and drop them off at college and wait for a text or an email or maybe even a phone call. You watch them live a life of adventure, going on trips to other countries, buying their own car, starting a “real” job. Eventually, you don’t get to see your kids everyday. They don’t come to you for each and every problem. The center of their world has expanded and shifted. You are no longer at the center. They have become the adults that you have always hoped and prayed that they would become. It is the way that it is supposed to be.
The thing is that as they grow up and move out, time slows down. You have time to think back and you realize how special the chaos of having littles truly was. But that time has come to an end and all that you have are the memories. Those memories are what we, as mothers, cherish. You can close your eyes and think back and for just a minute you remember how soft their little cheeks were. You can see the look of victory when they master addition or a tricky spelling word. You can see the tears trail down your daughter’s face after she has suffered her first heartache. The memories give you a sense of peace. The remembering gives you joy.
But what happens when your mind starts to fail you, when these memories slip away? What happens when you look into your children’s faces, but you don’t recognize them? You can almost place them…but not quite. You can sense that you should know them…but you just don’t. The concern on the strangers’ faces is disconcerting to you, but still the confusion remains. You get angry at yourself for not knowing, for not remembering. Why can’t you just recall the thoughts that are so close, but still so very far away? You get scared. You are living somehwere that is unfamiliar with people that you don’t know. Fear and anger is normal, but it doesn’t make you feel any better.
I can only imagine that is what it feels like to suffer from dementia or Ahlzheimers. I have watched this in people that I have loved. My great-grandma Bowser was one of those ladies that was always, just so. As a little girl, I remember taking her mail to her. She would always welcome me with a big smile and a glass of iced tea. Her hair was always perfect, her home was always immaculate. Even at a young age, I could recognize that she was very put together. But then it changed. We were at my grandparent’s house and my Poppy, her son, had brought her to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family. She just sat in the corner looking around. She didn’t look at all like the woman that I remembered. She looked terrified. It was because she had no idea where she was. In a room surrounded by people that loved her, she was entirely alone.
My grandma Gaggini was a simple and kind woman. She placed her family above all things, second only to God. Her family was her world. As she grew older, she started to forget things. She would ask me repeatedly how many children I had. She would then start to tell me stories about my dad when he was a baby. She could recall those things that had happened some 50 years ago, but she had no idea what or even if she had eaten breakfast that day. I remember when her sister had passed away. She just kept asking what had happened and if she had died. And each time that she was told yes, it was as if she was losing her sister all over again. It was heartbreaking.
Brian’s Grandma Hughan was a lady that always had her hair perfectly coiffed. She was always dressed perfectly. She knew each one of her great-grandchildren and loved to sit with them on her lap as she would sneak them candy. She would bake pies and make peirogi. She was the quintessential Polish grandma. But then she couldn’t quite remember the recipes that had always come so easily to her. She started to forget to comb her hair. And while she used to sit back and laugh as the kids ran around laughing and playing, she would get nervous and agitated by the noise. We could see her slowly start to slip away and then it just snowballed.
We have all lost someone that we love to this wretched disease. It is frustrating. It is heartbreaking. Because this disease touches so many people, a couple of my friends and I have decided to walk in the Walk to End Alzheimers in Clarion County on October 7. Please take a minute and consider making a donation. Help us find an end to this horrible diesease.