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As always, Mom got the last word, this time in her battle with Alzheimer’s

My mother, Margaret, was a stubborn woman who got the last word in most family discussions.

She had always told my sister that she didn’t want to end her days in a nursing home, nor did she ever want to move in with her kids.

She again got the last word earlier this month, dying peacefully at her home, seated on a love seat in the family room of her Wisconsin home.

Her death came as blended family members were gathering to move her into “a memory care” facility, a nursing home. Her husband of more than three decades, Clem, my stepfather and my mother’s extraordinary caretaker, was to make a move into an apartment in the same retirement complex.

Family members didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about Mom’s last, last word. So, we did both.

That’s the way it is with Alzheimer’s. There’s a relief that it is finally over. There’s grieving over the loss.  

The disease is cruel. It slowly erases the person we knew. It first takes rational thought. Then, memories. Then, dignity.

The person who expressed love with cooking no longer can follow recipes. The person who dressed immaculately no longer cares about appearance. The person who gave life no longer knows the names of her kids or grandkids.

Still a glimmer of that whole person we once knew remains. The soul, perhaps? 

For example, up until a year or two ago, my mother still loved to dance to big-band tunes that she and my father surely had danced to back in the 1940s. Her sense of rhythm remained after most everything else was gone.

And until a few years ago, she still could sing old hymns. On Sunday mornings, my stepfather and my mother would sit on the love seat in front of the television set and sing along during hymns on televised church services.

She still enjoyed shopping with my sister, sometimes uttering the word “pretty” when something caught her eye in a department store.  She loved the color pink. She thought her nails were “pretty” after a visit to the manicurist.

“Pretty,” she would say, looking at her nails.

“Very pretty,” I would respond.

“Pretty,” she would say, looking at her nails.

“Yes they are,” my wife would say.

“Pretty,” she would say.

And on and on.

Most importantly, there was an innocent, deep love and trust of  her husband. They had married, in 1972, following the deaths of their first spouses. It turned out she was two for two in selecting wonderful husbands.

None of us knows for sure when the fog first started creeping over Mom. It was at least 12 years ago. But in recent years, she needed her husband’s constant care. He refused to consider placing her in a home.

“We’re doing fine,” he would always say.

Until the very end, they would sit on the love seat in the family room. She would lean her head on his shoulder, and they would hold hands. They looked sweet, comfortable, at peace, like old lovers.

But this wonderful man was 84 and exhausted. He understood that he no longer could keep up with the ever-increasing demands of my 87-year-old mother. He had reluctantly agreed to move from their home to separate places in the same complex. We had gathered to help with the move.

Deep down, she must have understood a profound change was coming. She obviously didn’t want to go.

Long ago, my mother and stepfather had agreed they would be buried next to their first spouses. And so a few days ago, we took Mom back to South Dakota, where she had lived the first half of her life, back to her surviving siblings and old friends. We buried her next to my father. It also feels as if we buried the Alzheimer’s and got her back.

Merry Christmas, Mom.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 12/23/2008 - 04:34 pm.

    Thank you for that very touching post. May you cherish those memories and know that many of are thinking of you and your extended family during this time.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 12/24/2008 - 11:56 am.

    That’s lovely, Doug. A wonderful Christmas treat to read this touching yet inspiring piece.

  3. Submitted by Annette Peterson on 12/29/2008 - 11:57 am.

    Doug: What a beautiful tribute to your mom and her husband. Thank you for putting into words what so many families are experiencing. My condolences for your great loss. I understand your experience because of my work with families using the services of the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota.

    Our mission at the Alzheimer’s Association is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our Information Helpline is available 24/7 to provide information, resources and support and we encourage anyone affected by dementia to call. 1-800-272-3900.

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