It’s Monday so of course I’m visiting my mom. I have my routine… sort of. It almost always includes lunch out on Mondays. This is where I spend my one-on-one, no distractions, few interruptions, extended visit every week to look my mom in the eyes and just listen. She doesn’t tell many people but she still likes to engage in conversation. The difficulty lies in the fact that she has nearly lost the ability to do so by now.
Alzheimer’s, why do you not show physical attributes so I can kick you in the gut where it hurts? Because you are killing me. And you are killing my mom.
It’s a typical day. By now I’m playing this weird guessing game with myself. Does she know who I am? Does she know that I am her daughter? Am I just some blonde chicka that shows up, takes lots of pictures of her, takes her out for meals and Sonic slushies? She rarely calls me by name but speaks kindly towards me. She feels safe around me.
Children, grandchildren, most people’s names and faces fade in and out of recall like clouds passing by on a sunny day.
She seems upbeat as she comments on the red wool coat I am wearing so I twirl around for her as the dress coat floats in the air. ‘Mom, do you recognize this coat?’ I ask excitedly. This is a ‘safe’ question to ask. Normally I would never ask her anything that would test her memory but I knew she had admired it based on some distant memory.
‘Yes, it does look familiar. Where did you get it’?
‘This was your mother’s red wool coat!’.
My grandmother’s signature color was red. Me, not so much. But the coat was given to me many years ago and now it seemed it was a great opportunity to talk about someone we both dearly loved.
Her mood changes rapidly as she speaks with such an angry tone that I’ve not heard in years. ‘Well, I have to tell you that I’m not very happy with my mom right now. In fact, I’m pretty upset with her!’, she stated emphatically.
One slow, long deep breath in can give you plenty of time to pray for the right way to respond if you get enough practice, I’ve found.
‘Is there something you want to talk about?’
‘Yes! Do you know that my mom has not come to see me one time since I’ve been here? I feel abandoned. Has my mom completely forgotten about me? I feel like a complete orphan!!’
For a few family details, my mom was an only child. Her mother, who also had Alzheimer’s, passed away many years.
I don’t do this journey alone, I don’t dare make up my own suggestions on how to handle hallucinations. This was not her first but it was one of the more painful for her. I had already discussed how to handle these situations with her doctor and his social worker. I have reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association. My recommendation for anyone dealing with this disease is to run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy of The 36-Hour Day. You will save yourself and your family much frustration, anger, and heartache with its explanations and recommendations for every stage of the disease.
With that in mind, I did not tell my mom that her mother was deceased. I suggested a fabricated explanation instead. I explained that my husband and I had stopped by on Sunday to visit but had found she was in church service. This was true so I was able to say it quite convincingly. I proceeded to suggest that just as we had slipped in and out without her realizing that we were there, perhaps this is why she was also missing her mother’s visits.
She looked at me quizzically, then asked if I didn’t agree that it was rude that her mom hadn’t stopped by to visit her? I agreed that she should expect to hear from her family and that hopefully she will hear something soon. And you know what? That satisfied her because she felt heard and she received the empathy she was needing.
I said goodbye, and promptly contacted the head nurse at her facility. Hallucinations can indicate a change in a condition or it may simply be an infection.