22 Aug 2014
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Letter to the Editor:

Clare Elton, who works at Catholic Charities in Cranford, shares her personal experience with Alzheimer's disease.

Letter to the Editor:

Before Alzheimer’s mom always wore eyeglasses. After Alzheimer’s she didn’t wear any glasses until one day when she didn’t want to take off her sunglasses in the house, at night, or even when we went to Church. “They help me see better.”

Another day she told me she wore the sunglasses because she didn’t want people to see all her wrinkles. She looks in the mirror and sees that she now looks like her mother. “People tell me I’m in my 80’s now.” On hard days she argues that she can’t be my mother because she’s only 40 and I said I was 61. That leads back into that conversation in which she asks me, “who are you?” It’s not just the question that upsets me, but the look in her eyes. It’s not suspicion but fear I see and a degree of fear that pushes itself almost over the line into paranoia for her. She’s really and truly afraid…of me? Did I really just write that? My mother is afraid of me. She doesn’t know who I am at that moment or why I insist on telling her these stories.

Like, you’re living in Connecticut and not Virginia.

Like Dad is John and not Frank but both are dead now.

Like she doesn’t have to rush home and feed her kids or get them ready for bed
because they are all grown up now and living with their own families. That’s a hard one and she cries every time.

Try telling any mom that she doesn’t have to feed her young children. She imagines they are waiting for her and I won’t let her get to them. The fear turns into anger. It’s a true blessing at this point that mom can’t walk because I believe I wouldn’t be able to separate her from her waiting, hungry children. Her inability to walk however only increases her anger and it is directed at me. She gets agitated and begins to yell, refusing food (and the hidden meds in her ice cream) because she can’t trust what we are feeding her anymore. My sister has become a pro at getting one-fourth of a “happy” pill in mom’s cup of tea. It’s the only way to help her get thru these hours of the deep, real anger any mom would have when denied access to her children.

I don’t really care anymore about what stage of the disease she is in. When I wash her hair and feel her skull I wonder what is going on inside there. Wrapping my full palms around her brain I pray…for the disease to be gone? No. For the return of “Before Alzheimer’s” mom? Oddly, no. All I want and beg for is her peace. PEACE. If she’s going to be 40 mentally then so be it. If she’s going to be compliant and hospitable, OK. Even if she never again for even one moment remembers who I am, I would accept that. But I can’t accept her roller coasters of emotional pain and fear. I can’t look into her eyes when they’re filled with suspicion and staring at me. When that happens I immediately soften every muscle in my face and show her a gentle smile with my mouth and eyes. Without words and with her head in my hands I’m saying, “You’re safe. Rest. Relax. You’re protected and being taken care of. Trust me.”

My sister is mom’s primary caregiver and I feel confident about the loving care she gives mom so I can genuinely say that. Mom’s unaware of my prayer and just wants me to hurry up and finish washing her hair, of course. But God heard it. He heard my desperate begging for mom’s peace. I believe God will answer my prayer one day…..

Clare Elton

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