We sat there in the neurologist's office waiting to hear the results of mom's tests. He started to ask her several questions:
"What month is it?"
"How do you pay your bills?"
My mom didn't answer his questions, instead answered with a lot of babbling and talking about her childhood. She continued to ramble and the doctor looked at me and smiled with a comforting, yet very concerned look. He confirmed what I already knew and had been holding inside: that mom needs real help. Tears welled up in my eyes and I started to cry. My cry turned into an all out sob which caught my mom's attention.
"Awe, what's wrong with my baby girl?" she asked.
I tried to gain composure and looked at my mom through the tears in my eyes. She had been answering those questions like she was someone else. She has no clue that I have been the one paying her bills for the past three years! But, her rambling stopped when she saw that I was the one hurting, that I was the one who needed her.
Her heart remembers.
I thought to myself. Her mind may forget, but her heart remembers.
"I'm okay mama, this is just hard, really hard." I responded
My mother was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago. My brother and I have watched our mom go from an outgoing, fun-loving, amazing woman into a very introverted person who hides in her home, hoards food in her bedroom and forgets many things. Some things aren't so bad, heck we all forget details from time to time. But her memory now lives more in the past while the present seems to be on auto-repeat. We have learned to stop debating the facts as it doesn't help her and it definitely doesn't help us. Mom's reality is her reality and we try to help her live in it as safely and healthy as possible. It's not easy. Her good days can be heart-breaking and her bad days can be unbearable. But, through it all, we lean on each other and try to find a reason to laugh. Laughter is good medicine and heals our hurting hearts and messed-up minds.
I have come to the realization that this journey with mom and her dementia is going to be a long one. I am grateful for the time we have with her while she is healthy and can still remember our names. Still remember us. I have begun to do more research and reach out to local organizations like Alzheimer's Disease Association of Kern County, following Alzheimer's Disease and Hilarity for Charity (thank God for organizations who can raise awareness and much-needed funds through humor!). I am reassured that I am not alone in this journey with my mom and together with my brother and our families, we will get through this difficult time. I have also learned that it is easy to recognize and understand the limitations of a broken arm, but it's not so easy to see or understand the limitations of a broken brain. For me, it is also just the beginning of more publicly sharing and talking about this devastating disease. Learning from others who have already walked this walk, encouraging others to do just that... get involved with A Walk to End Alzheimer's or other local fundraising events and leaning on others when I need it most.
As I wiped away my tears and looked back at my mom, I could see that she was concerned. She was smiling back at me with a look as if to say, "now what do we do?" I grabbed her hand and reassured her that we would get through this, together. And, in my heart and in my mind, I know we will.