My father died more than twelve years ago. He had cancer and Alzheimer’s. I remember having a hard time understanding Alzheimer’s because he seemed to function quite well most of the time. Dad spent some time in the nursing home and later hospice care and I went back to SD to visit him. He used a cane but could still get around on his own so my mom and I often took him out. Once he asked, “Mary Ann, what are we doing for dinner tonight?” I said, “We’re going to the Dairy Queen!”
Five minutes later Dad asked, “What are we doing for dinner tonight, Mary Ann?” I responded with the same answer I had given him moments before. It was a turning point for me, which sounds stupid but because I LOVE the Dairy Queen and still consider it a treat it seemed impossible that Dad could forget we were going there (we always went there when I visited). Somehow I'll forever think of that conversation as my acceptance/confirmation of Dad having Alzheimer’s.
So…fast forward to this weekend with my mom.
As I mentioned she looked better than she has in the past year. She’s put some of her weight back on and her hair had grown back enough that I took her for a haircut. On Friday she had a doctor’s appointment. She couldn’t find her lipstick but after looking in her purse and her room we decided to go to the appointment and look for it later. Lipstick--or lack of--was the topic of conversation on the way to the appointment, in the waiting room and when we left the doctor’s office. After the appointment we were going to go for a short drive and she asked if we could stop somewhere to buy a lipstick.
I parked the car at a store, discussed what color she would like and off I went to the store (she wanted to stay in the store). I was back in about five minutes. As I opened the door I said, “It’s tricky to pick out lipstick for someone else’s lips…” when I noticed my mom holding a ten-dollar bill. She interrupted me and said, “I hate to ask you to do this but could you go get me a lipstick somewhere.”
It broke my heart and then I felt terrible because I wondered if she felt abandoned in the car while I was in the store. If she had no memory of why I was in the store, had she also forgotten where she was or who she was with? She wouldn’t have wandered away because she needs a wheelchair to move but what if she had tried to walk on her own and fallen? Needless to say, I didn’t leave the car again unless she was with me.
The next morning I called to let her know when I would pick her up and she said, “Oh, and when are you arriving in town?” She had no idea that we had spent the past two days together.
Oh, and for the record, when I put Mom’s new lipstick in her purse, the lipstick she had been looking for was there in plain view practically taunting me. It must have been in her pocket because we both looked through her purse a few times.