Alzheimer's Disease is extremely insidious. First it takes away the person, then it cannibalizes the body. And the worst part is, it can take a decade or more to play out. That is why Alzheimer's is often referred to as "The Long Goodbye."
My mother lasted ten years. Her sister lasted eighteen years. Not one of those years was pleasant because the victim never improves. It's a constant slow erosion of someone you love and you are completely helpless as far as staving the course.
Along the way, you have to find moments to pluck a little joy from a situation. With a sense of humor and the right timing, you can create a lasting memory. I had just that opportunity with my mother.
My mother had reached the stage where she didn't know anyone anymore. She would ask me about my father, saying, "Who's that guy? He's always here."
That is truly one of the hardest steps in the process, when your loved one looks at you and says, "Who are you?"
It's crushing because you know they're gone and you'll never have that person back.
Even though my mother looked as me as the friendly man that came to visit, we still had conversations. She was rather lucid and would ask hilarious questions that were totally out of her character.
On day, we were playing a game where I would recount the stages of her life, trying to see if I could connect with some murky memory. I started, "Mom, in 1938 you graduated from Notre Dame Academy and went to the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1943 you went to work in an advertising agency." Then I dramatically picked up the tone and pitch of my voice and shouted at her, "And in 1948 you played shortstop for the Cleveland Indians and you won the World Series!" She shrieked, "I DID!" And I added, "Yeah, and you had two home runs,"
She was so excited. I hadn't seen her that happy in months. For a brief moment, I was able to make my mother a World Series Champion and it meant the world to her.
As she continued to beam, my father walked in the room and she announced, "I WON THE WORLD SERIES." My dad, befuddled as to the nature of our game, simply shook his head and kept walking.
Alzheimer's is horrible and it takes a toll on the caregivers. But for a few precious minutes, my mother was world champion and I'll never forget her smile. Alzheimer's took my mother, but you can never take that memory from me, unless I befall the same fate.
Alzheimer's is hard. With a little ingenuity, you might be able to give your loved one a moment that only the two of you will share for a little while, but you will keep for a lifetime.