November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month
This is my story that I will share to help someone else.
My late Mother Rev. Betty L. Saunders was an ordained minister. She was always at church preaching, at bible study, and attending all activities. Her children were her life especially after the passing of my father. Majority of my siblings lived out of state and our contact with her was through phone calls, letters and her annual visits to us on the West Coast and Maryland. We didn’t pay any attention to her repeating her stories to us because she had six children so our excuse was that she didn’t know which she had told the story too. We ignored the beginning signs.
There were things she mentioned like ordering food through the drive through at McDonald’s and then driving off without her food, a choir member not wanting to sit next to her because they said she smelled, and that she had gotten hit in a car accident by another elderly person. It wasn’t until June 2004 when she came to visit me. She was different and I could tell immediately something was wrong when she came off the plane. I called my siblings and thought that she was over medicating and taking her medicine too frequently so I approached it very carefully. She went to stay with my brother during this visit and at two in the morning she proceeded to get dressed and told him she was taking a bus somewhere. Calls were made to my two siblings living on the East Coast to have another sister meet her when she got off the plane coming back. When she got back my sister was staying with her, my Mother had a cup of coffee and was pouring sugar on the table and not the cup. She was rushed to the hospital where we learned that when my Mother was involved in the car accident she hit her head and there was fluid on the brain. While preparing for the surgery the doctor had also ordered a MRI. Surgery was scheduled to place a shunt in her head, she would be in the hospital for two months, and the news was given to us. The results from the MRI came back. She had Dementia!
The news was a blow to us when they said she would never be able to live by herself again. We made arrangements and had my Mother to live with four of her six children in California. I was the Power of Attorney and made doctor appointments, tried to coordinate between siblings, and tried to figure out our next steps. She lived with my eldest sibling for a month until the day my sister came home early to find that the caregiver left a ½ hour early and my Mother was going to attempt to get the mail where she could have fallen. It scared my sister and we decided it was best to find a group home for her that had 24 hour care and specialized in Dementia.
For two years we took her to church, activities, had family gatherings and we were still in denial. We knew she would never be the same as she was, we were going to still let her have her dignity, but we didn't understand the disease. We found adult day care for her to still be active, a facility that she was seen three times a week if they noticed anything we were alerted. Changes we noticed she never wore fingernail polish in the forty plus years she was my Mother. I picked her up one day and she had bright red polish on her nails and she loved it. Her new routine was she wanted her nails and toes polished and we adapted because it made her happy. She had a phone in her room to talk to us, her friends and family on East Coast and that brighten her days. She knew something was different and wondered why she had to live there, why she didn't have access to her checkbook or was able to drive any longer. I surprised her and took her back to Connecticut to visit our church home and they escorted her to the pulpit. My stomach was in knots because what if they asked her to speak, what if she had an episode, and what if she didn’t remember. Being protective I didn’t want her visit to be an embarrassment and I only wanted to make her happy. She got on the microphone and when she spoke the person I remembered from my childhood was back! We were standing on our feet. I was in amazement, tears streaming down my face, and family members hugging me because she was going to be alright. While on this visit she demanded to see her stepchildren and two out of three came and she held their hands. She told them she loved them, she seemed childlike and again I was puzzled because she hadn’t had contact with either before she became sick so again I thought it’s the Dementia. I still to this day felt that she knew it was her last visit.
It was at a family meeting with her primary doctor that explained to the family that she had Alzheimer’s. She explained the expectation of decline, if she wanted cheesecake (her favorite) to let her have cheesecake, and I didn’t hear anything else. My sister heard that it’s normally not the disease that the person dies from but complications from i.e. the body shutting down. It was as if someone said it but again it didn’t register because I just remember nodding my head. She had long term memory loss, when she stumbled with the words we would help her, and we didn’t understand what that would mean in stages.
She was declining and we were so focused on her other health issues that it slipped pass us. When she had a stroke in September of 2006, was moved to a convalescent home, and her breathing became labored we concentrated on her being healthy. Early in December we rushed her to the hospital because she needed oxygen to walk from her bed to the restroom. Tests were run for the flu, then they tested for pneumonia, and they called in a specialist because she was getting worse. We were told she was coming home and then the results came back and the news hit us like a brick wall. She had lung disease and was going to die within days. Spending Christmas in the hospital she said it was the best Christmas she ever had. Moved to another room where they administered comfort care we gathered. Family members coming to say goodbye, singing spiritual hymns, and reading the bible to her as we held a vigil around her bed. She was so happy and we had to put on a mask that we were happy too.
Saturday December 30, 2006 she took her last breath and she was free.
Award Winning Author Patricia A. Saunders
Blogger for Blessed and Curvy