Alzheimer's: My Mother's Approval

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    People in the middle stages of Alzheimer's undergo significant changes in personality and behavior. That's not all bad.

    I was one of those little girls whose mother didn’t like her. She liked my sister just fine -- thought she was perfect in every way. Me -- not so much. For most of my life, there was nothing I could ever do that was good enough for her, nothing I said, did or was pleased her. I graduated with honors from high school (despite having two jobs) and I should have been valedictorian and why hadn’t I been a cheerleader or homecoming queen? I was an honor student in college despite having been self supporting since the day after my high school graduation and that wasn’t good enough. Worse, there was the constant comparison to my sister. Why wasn’t I as social as my sister? As pretty? As popular? As confident? (Well that one seems rather self-explanatory: if your mother constantly compares you to someone else and finds you lacking in every way, it tends to erode any confidence you might have had or have hoped to have had.) My husband wasn’t as good looking or successful as my sister’s husband (according to Mom), my job wasn’t as prestigious and my home wasn’t as beautiful.

    But when Mom’s Alzheimer’s entered the middle stages, things changed. When I called my mother, she was delighted to hear from me. She never criticized my choices, my job, my husband or my parenting skills. When I visited her, she had only nice things to say. Suddenly, she liked my hair. She found that my shirt color complemented my complexion and that I had beautiful eyes. There weren’t any comments about how my sister really knew how to wear an outfit (and I didn’t even know how to put one together) or my sister’s house was bigger or nicer; she liked my house, my outfits and she liked me. I was in my fifties, and for the first time in my life, my mother liked me. She even told me she loved me. Often.

    Not surprisingly, I spoke to my mother more during the middle years of her Alzheimer’s than I did in the fifty-odd years that came before. At first, I called her out of a sense of obligation. Her husband of sixty years was gone, and she was alone for the first time in her life. Worse, she couldn’t enjoy any of the benefits of being alone -- and there are many -- she was in assisted living very much against her will. But a funny thing happened. When my mother didn’t use every interaction as an excuse to list my deficiencies as a person and as a daughter, I noticed her wonderful sense of humor. When she stopped comparing me to my sister, I found myself enjoying the phone calls. Soon, I was calling her every day and looking forward to talking to her.

    For two and a half years (minus twenty-some days) I had a mother who approved of me, and I basked in that approval. It couldn’t last, though, and I knew it from the start. That’s what made every loving phone call so bitter sweet. She’s progressed beyond the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s now. The lovely assisted living is a thing of the past; she’s in a secured Alzheimer’s unit now. She can’t converse coherently even when she does figure out how to hold the phone. She cannot eat, dress, bathe or toilet herself. Her gait is unsteady and she wanders. My mother’s shell is still with us, but my mother has fled. I wonder if she’ll still recognize me when I see her. I wonder if it matters.

    I’m at the computer writing this while searching for the cheapest air fare between my home and my mother’s nursing home, a thousand miles from here. Each time I visit, it costs nearly a thousand dollars between air fare, rental car, motel and meals, so I can’t visit as often as I’d like. I’ve enjoyed the visits I’ve had with Mom for the past two and a half years, but I know this one will be different. When I see her, I just hope I can remember her voice saying “I love you, Ruby. I’ve loved you since before you were born. I wanted to make sure I told you that while I still can because I know the time is coming when I won’t be able to.” I waited a long time for my mother to tell me she loved me. I’ll never hear it again.
    Last edit by Joe V on Sep 29, '11 : Reason: formatting for easier reading

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  2. About Ruby Vee

    Ruby has been a nurse for more than three decades and a daughter for over five. She sincerely hopes that there are significant advances in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease in the next twenty years or so.

    Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. From 'the Midwest'; Joined Jun '02; Posts: 8,615; Likes: 31,142.

    Read more articles from Ruby Vee

    5 Comments so far...

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    Ruby, you surely do know how to touch the human heart with your tender words.

    I'm so sorry your mother was blind to your goodness all those years. And I'm so glad you had two and a half years of her loving you for who you are.

    I wish you could see her more often, but maybe that would just tear you up more.

    I do have one question. How do you and your sister get along now? Did she revel in being the "special" one, or did she feel bad that you were the black sheep.

    Gosh, the things that parents do to their kids . . .

    The love and forgiveness you developed toward your mother have set you free.

    Thanks for sharing this.
  4. 2
    Quote from rn/writer
    ruby, you surely do know how to touch the human heart with your tender words.

    i'm so sorry your mother was blind to your goodness all those years. and i'm so glad you had two and a half years of her loving you for who you are.

    i wish you could see her more often, but maybe that would just tear you up more.

    i do have one question. how do you and your sister get along now? did she revel in being the "special" one, or did she feel bad that you were the black sheep.

    gosh, the things that parents do to their kids . . .

    the love and forgiveness you developed toward your mother have set you free.

    thanks for sharing this.
    my sister believes her own press. she's spent most of our lives criticizing my looks, my friends, my job, my boyfriends, my home, my car, my furnishings, etc. i tried for years to be closer to her, but then i finally did one thing she approved of. she likes my husband. she likes him so much that when i first introduced them, she invited him to go on a cruise with her and her husband and told him that he could bring a date (other than me) if he liked. since then, i've stopped trying and tolerate her when i have to.

    i guess i should feel sorry for her now, though. i cannot imagine what it must be like to have had an unflagging cheerleader your entire life and then to suddenly lose that.


    sharpeimom and rn/writer like this.
  5. 2
    Just reading this made me feel like a held breath and a heart-beat. I guess what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I think that though our experiences weren't alike they evoked similar responses internally. I can appreciate how far you've come, but I FEEL where you once were.
    sharpeimom and Ruby Vee like this.
  6. 0
    This broke my heart. My mom is also in the middle-stages of AD. She used to be pretty critical (but always loving) but is now pretty oblivious to all the things that bothered her (for better or worse). The lack of awareness is both oddly comforting and deeply saddening to witness. She just moved with my dad into an independent living place which has assisted and memory care attached. My sisters and I are praying that she stays in this stage for a while, because she can still enjoy life day to day. She of course has no short-term memory or sense of orientation, and has signs everywhere reminding her how to do everything. I'm so afraid of the day when she won't know who I am, and hope it's a long way off. This started when Mom was 65; she's now 71. People always expect that AD patients are in their 80s - it does affect younger seniors, too.
  7. 0
    That was really touching and sad at the same time. I understand where you are coming from. Mom is the same with us. Even though I'm the one who has stayed and excelled I was always being compared to my older sister and younger sister because they are more social, dress better, etc than me. Its gotten better since my little sister has gotten married but sometimes she can still be really hurtful. Those scars may fade but never really go away I think but at least you got to enjoy your mothers' unconditional love for a short period.
    Thanks for sharing!


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