Stranger Things

My mother was once a social butterfly: artist, writer, a celebrity in her community. Her days were filled with book signings and art exhibits. Then Alzheimer’s, the uninvited guest, snuck in through her mind’s door. Suddenly, she didn’t want to socialize, attend church, go to lunch. Acting as if she were her old self summoned every drop of strength, replacing courage with doubt.

She was a stranger in her own life.

It got worse when she moved to the city where I’ve lived for twenty-five years. This world is filled with stranger things: the care home’s multiethnic staff. Cacti gardens. Javelina.

Like the gradual metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, her old self is emerging. She’s found a group of ladies to lunch and take walks with. She’s more confident. Engaged.

The actress fades away. Strangers become friends. Today, we’re okay.

Learn more about the vital role of socializing in dementia


Back Off

“We suggest you back off for two weeks,” the Memory Care Director advised, when I dropped my mom at her new apartment. “She needs time to settle into her new routine.”

It’s been a week since I’ve seen her. I get daily updates. Meet with the staff frequently. Their reassurance that she’s doing well and has new friends helps.

But I waver between freedom and fear. It’s the closest I’ve been to regaining my life, the furthest from the mother-daughter bond that encircles us like the flourishing vines of bougainvillea in my backyard.

“She keeps talking about the bank owning the house,” said yesterday’s text from the Memory Care director. “I told her not to worry. She thinks that since I’m the attorney, I’ll make sure everything is taken care of.”

I may be distant, but the worries aren’t.

Prognosis: Positive

After an agonizing weekend at the hospital48 hours of scans, images, tests; meetings with oncologists and GI specialists; and hospice hovering in the wings—mom’s pancreatic cancer results are in.

The tumor, although inoperable, is benign.

Here’s the thing: even if it were cancer, or takes a nasty turn, no further treatment will be pursued.

Harsh? Maybe. But the cold reality of respecting my mother’s faith healing beliefs, in which medicine is not an option, sets in. Subjecting her to the frenzied hospital world of disinfectant and decay, of blood and needles, only added more confusion to her newly-disrupted life.

Mercifully, she has no recollection of last weekend, which began with hallucinations, evolved into an escape attempt and combative behavior, and ended in a sterile hospital room. She’s safe and comfortable now in her new memory care apartment. As suggested, I’m staying away for a few days to allow her to settle in to yet another new routine.

My prognosis: cautiously optimistic.