Mom doesn't yet know her children are driving in from various states to celebrate her birthday again tomorrow! She will be so excited when everyone gathers for her party. Those blue eyes will sparkle and a few happy tears may slip and fall, but that's okay.
We want to celebrate her life, her can-do attitude, her appreciation for the kindness of those who assist her, her gentle spirit with other residents who are feeling poorly, and even her desire to still keep her room in good order. (Bless her heart, she double checks the staff's bed-making skills and will "fix" things that aren't lined up just so. If her mattress shifts a few inches, she wants it straightened, please. Gotta love my Mom's eye for detail!)
I am so very grateful to still have her in my life and want to love and appreciate her every day. We all miss Daddy, who died 24 years ago with a massive heart attack. He was 68 at the time and looked to be in fine health, but atherosclerosis was taking over his blood vessels and, eventually, he had a massive heart attack. Mom still thinks of him and will sometimes ask where he is. At other times, she doesn't recognize him in photos of them together.
To Alzheimer patients, reality is sometimes unreal. Some dreams take Mom far away back to childhood or her young adult life and that's where she is upon waking. This means she sometimes looks around the room and tries to remember where she really is and why she isn't "back home." I am never sure what she is experiencing until I spend some time listening and observing. The Alzheimer journey means you make the effort to step into your loved one's world and let them talk about what they are thinking, experiencing, feeling, etc. That's what our parents need most - to know they are not traveling this journey alone. I've found that with Mom, holding hands, singing softly, stroking her hair or patting her back can help. When she is ready to interact, she'll smile or speak.
At other times, Mom naps while I read in a chair at the foot of her bed. When she wakes up, she will usually remember me being there and smile. At other times, she will be in a dreamlike-state and say things like, "Johnnie (my father) was sitting in that very chair last night reading his Bible." I'm sure she is comforted by the thought, and I don't correct her. Sometimes she will ask if Dad is already gone, and when I see that look in her eyes - that faint remembrance of his being absent for a very long period of time - I answer her question honestly. "Yes, he is in heaven and at perfect peace." This doesn't happen very often, but when it does, she grieves his death all over again.
Though Mom's mental and physical abilities have been declining steadily, she is very aware of other things -- like a rose blossom in a vase that is needing more water ... or a fellow resident feeling poorly or upset. On many occasions, she has paddled her wheel chair over to them, patted their arm and proceeded to pray with them!
As we continue on this journey ... it's like waving goodbye to a loved one who goes toward the horizon on their travels to a strange land, a loved one you will miss while they are gone. When communication is infrequent or absent, your eyes will sometimes leak and your heart will get heavy because you know they are farther away with each passing day. But you pull up your courage and smile and wave anyhow and remind them that you're praying for them.
While this journey has been trying and tiresome for Mom, it is an opportunity for me to grow in things that matter: Patience, courage, love, kindness, wisdom and faith. The end of the Alzheimer journey will not be the end for my Mom. When she slips from here to there, she will wake up in heaven totally healed of all disease, confusion and loneliness! Perfect peace awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ as their substitute - the perfect, sacrificial "Lamb of God." John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-10