My mom and Kenneth are already at the dinner table when I arrive for a visit at 4 PM on a Saturday. They’re not saying much, just waiting for their food, which will be served at 5 if they’re lucky, but more likely at 5:30 or even 6 PM.
I get the feeling they’re moving out of the honeymoon phase, when couples seem to relish being together. These days, he sometimes acts annoyed by her clinginess, and she gets increasingly frustrated by his endless circuitous business strategy talk.
“The bottom line is we really basically, basically know we have different, various areas. Okay? Because I’m game.”
“What?!” she asks.
“I’m just trying to get a sense,” he says.
“Well, who are you trying to get it from?” she asks, perplexed.
“Exactly,” he says. “So are you going to buy in?”
And she shakes her head, not understanding a word.
I watch this perpetual miscommunication and wonder if they ever understand anything the other is saying. And then I think, what do they mean to each other?
He seems to think she’s his business partner. Sometimes he’ll point to her and say, “This gentleman over here … is doing great things.”
“I’m not a gentleman!” my mom will respond, usually with laughter. He’ll look confused, because she must be a gentleman, and they must be colleagues because why else would they spend so much time together?
“He’s not my boyfriend,” my mom will say when he doesn’t want to join us for a walk around the unit and she feels dejected. But other times she’ll refer to him as her husband and say she met him long before she ever entered the Hebrew Home.
But there are also times when she forgets he even exists. Like when Kathy called and asked about Kenneth.
“Who’s Kenneth?” my mom responded.
“You know — your friend,” she said. “Isn’t his name Kenneth?”
“I think there are a lot of Kenneths here,” my mom answered, maybe trying to work out why the name sounded so familiar when she couldn’t attach a person to it. Even if he is the person she spends most of her time with (and clearly wants to).
When I accompanied my mom on a Hebrew Home trip to a local museum, Kenneth wasn’t authorized to go. I had to practically pry them apart to get her off the unit.
“I want him to come, too!” she said.
“Come where?” he asked, looking down. “Wait a minute. So you’re going?”
“We’ll see you later, Ken,” I said, leading my mom quickly down the hall to her room so she could get her coat.
My mom wasn’t happy, at least not at first. She didn’t want to be apart from him. But within half an hour, he receded from her mind. She got caught up in the sights from the bus window (“Boy, that’s a tall building; I’d be afraid to live there because I might fall out of the window!”), and then she enjoyed the exhibits.
“We should do this more often,” she said to the docent, a smile on her face.
When we got back to the home a couple of hours later, she was a little confused but not distressed. Then she saw Kenneth.
“There he is!” she said, her gait quickening to meet him.
He threw his arms up in the air, and when they met, they embraced and kissed.
“Your wife is back,” said the aide Kenneth was sitting with.
They smiled and held onto each other’s hands. And they looked happy and comfortable and at home with each other.
And then I realized, it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand each other or even remember each other. It’s the senses that matter — they see each other and feel happy, and when they touch, they communicate. And through touch, they remember.
To witness even a moment of happiness must make your heart smile. My hearts smiled when I read about your mom’s return “home”……touching.
Thanks so much, Ms. Rung! It’s so nice that you’re reading this!
Hello! I’ve just read through your entire blog from start to finish.
My mother, 84, has Alzheimer’s and we are lucky she is now living in a beautiful private nursing home in our small country town. We know she is safe and has expert care.
So much of your story is our story (I have 4 older sisters). Mum still knows us but is declining, losing more of her memories and skills each day.
She no longer reads, barely can watch tv because she can’t understand what is going on and she constantly hides items because she thinks a thief is taking her belongings (but it’s her, misplacing/hiding items, rolled up in nighties, shoved under the mattress or inside a box inside a suitcase). She puts packets of biscuits in the bathroom cupboard and teabags in the freezer.
Reading your blog, so much of what your Mum has gone through, so has mine. She has been in the nursing home since June 2013 and only last weekend asked “did you know that I am in here permanently”? She was quite angry and I had to explain that she had agreed to go into care because she couldn’t handle all her medications any more or cook or clean for herself. She thinks two of my sisters are ‘up to no good and have put me in here, out of the way’. That is not the case at all.
Anyway, it was great to read your experience and may I say, you have the patience of a saint!
Cheers – Joolz xx (South Australia)
Thanks, Joolz! It’s great to read your story. It sounds like your mom and mine have had very similar experiences. It’s so hard to have to take over the life of someone you love, against their wishes, and then have to explain to them repeatedly why it was necessary. Thankfully, my mom seems disinclined at this point to protest (probably because she’s relatively happy and also because she doesn’t remember much of what her life was like before). I wish the best for you and your family and wish you as many moments of pleasure and happiness with your mum as you can find. Best, Beth (p.s. what city/area do you live in? I have a friend who lived her whole life in Sydney and is now in Alice Springs)
Hi Beth, our mum also suffers depression and this (and the medications) fights against the Alzheimer’s. I think if she only had AD, she’d be quite happy but the depression makes her sad and angry so its a constant battle to have her in a ‘happy place’. As I said, at the moment she still knows us but is losing all sense of time, morning feels like night time and vice versa and her short term memory is shot. Half an hour after lunch, she cannot remember what she had. She has a paranoia about her bowels – she says she’s constipated but that’s because she doesn’t remember using her bowels. Then she is given something to help her so she goes from constipation to diarrhea then back again. Oh, dear!
Mum was widowed 25 years ago when Dad had a heart attack at 61 so she’s had to cope with living alone all that time but she has had 4 or her 5 daughters close by in the same town. She has 10 grandchildren and 18 great grand children. She is lucky to have all 3 of her siblings still living at the ages of 81, 88 and 90 – can you believe it? Still she says she’s lonely. Not a lot was known about her depression as she was a proud woman who kept to herself and tended to sweep things under the rug!
This depression has surfaced in recent years and as she was diagnosed with AD, her moods and demeanor have gotten worse. We never knew how we’d find her when we visited. Happy or morose. Sad, lonely and miserable. Happy as a clam…. And its still like that now in the nursing home. We dread visiting basically. Nothing is ever right – food, staff, bowels, weather…its just mysery. It makes it very hard to like the person she has become.
Anyway, we are dealing with it the best we can. All we know is that she is safe and secure where she is.
I’m right down in the very south of South Australia (400kms south of Adelaide) whereas Alice Springs is in the very middle of Australia. Its been quite a few years since I’ve been there. My hubby and I were lucky to visit the US last year taking in LA, SanFran, New York, Washington then we flew to Detroit (where went through the Ford factory) then we hired a car (Mustang convertable), drove on to Chicago and then drove Route 66 for 10 days, finishing in Las Vegas. What a fantastic way to see small town
America. We loved it and the people and will return one day soon.
Enough of my blabbing on but its been great to hear about someone else with the same experience in AD as me.
Cheers – Joolz xx
I meant to respond to this comment when I first got it but somehow things got away from me! It sounds like you and your family are having a really difficult time with the Alzheimer’s. Does your mum take anti-depressants and if not do you think that might help? My mom has had lots of sadness through the last few years, and it’s been so hard to see her that way. I hope things get better for you.
I think you have seen far more of the US than I have! I live in New York and haven’t really been off the East Coast.
Take good care,