She’s losing her ability to write. She’s losing her ability to read. She’s losing words and lipsticks and jackets and purses.
And I’m losing it.
“They’re stealing clothes from my room,” my mother laments. “And they throw out my magazine when I’m not looking.”
I wanted to believe her, but I know this is just another way Alzheimer’s robs my mother of rational thinking. “Let me take a look,” I say, and give her a hug. Over the years, I’ve become a stand-in for Saint Anthony in finding mom’s lost objects. The religious magazine she’s talking about is stashed at the back of her nightstand. Again.
At a workshop I attended last week, dementia expert Teepa Snow told us this: “If the same thing is missing three times in a row, it’s usually because it’s causing fear.”
Suddenly, I realized mom was hiding that magazine because the words had become terrifying.
I made copies of the articles she likes, and now, while she holds her magazine, I read it aloud. She may not comprehend the words, but reading still brings her comfort. And together, it’s not so scary.
Yesterday, we went for a walk, my mother and I. We had just finished lunch in the main dining room of the senior home, one of her favorite things to do.
“This is a horrible place,” my mother says, the chocolate cake from moments ago long forgotten. “You can’t imagine what happens here.”
I’ve heard this almost as many times as I’ve heard what a wonderful place it is. And I’ve learned over the years to nod, smile and redirect when she experiences the extreme emotions of Alzheimer’s.
“Look at the beautiful marigold bush!” I point to the purple sage on the xeriscaped lawn. These days, we call most flowers “marigolds,” regardless of hue. The familiar memory erases her distress as swiftly as she shifts between reality and dementia.
Today, when I visit, the residents are listing famous heroes on the white board. We take a walk, my mother and I. She picks a few pink oleanders.
“What beautiful marigolds!” she says. “I love this place!”
When we return, we begin a new white board game with her friends, listing all the things they love about living here.
“Chocolate cake!” my mother yells out. “We haven’t had that in years!”
Home. More than a place, it’s the state of living in blissful gratitude—a luxury after decades as a road warrior, where home was an airport, hotel room, rental car.
And even as life later pulled me along its bungee cord of obligation, caring for my mother in the island house of my childhood never felt like home.
Now, having moved her near me, I’ve found my home. I have a routine. I’ve said this before, but it’s been a lie. This time I’m different.
I write at dawn. Run the dogs. Take mom shopping. Spend time with my husband. Volunteer. Hike with friends. On evening strolls, I breathe in muted cheers of a softball game in the park, the thick mesquite of a neighbor’s firepit.
The rhythm of routine seeps into my soul. My soundtrack: the breath of home.