My husband’s mom is a petite little lady, barely five feet tall, with big hands and wide feet. He looks a lot like his mother, except that he towers over her. He’s 6′ 3″. Over the years she must have reminded him of the fact that he was still her child, no matter how tall. When they hug each other, you can tell they are used to the height difference because their arms know just where to land to make the perfect connection. They fit perfectly in each other’s arms.
My husband resembles his mother mostly around his mouth, the shape of his face, and he has her nose for sure. He has a lot of his mother’s personality, too. She used to be sweet and funny. She was always so happy, jovial in somewhat of a playful, childlike way. Her husband — my husband’s dad — passed away many years ago. My mother-in-law would often kid around about getting herself a boyfriend! It was SO funny. If her husband was still alive, they would have been married for almost 60 years. She’s been quite some time without a beau. Maybe she’s been without a lover, but my husband has been her protector. He’s looked after his precious mom for the greater part of the 15 years since his dad passed away. He promised his dad that he would take care of his mother, when that was his father’s greatest concern before passing away.
My husband did his job and he did a good job — until now. Now, my husband watches helplessly as his mother is being taken away from us by something he can’t protect her from. He can wrap his long limbs around her small frame and cover her in a loving embrace, but he can’t shield her from the memory-robbing disorder she suffers with. He is powerless to the awful effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t make her remember — anything. That’s just how powerful the disease is.
At first, it was just casual absent-mindedness, typical for her age. Then it progressed to serious forgetfulness and repeating things over and over, and was labeled as Dementia. As she became more confused, disoriented and afraid, it was undeniably and professionally confirmed to be Alzheimer’s Disease. There are only short glimpses of the sweet, funny little lady now. She toggles between being calm and combative. She’s irritated and often mean. It must be awfully confusing to not recognize the house that you’ve lived in for decades as your own. She always wants “to go home” even though there’s no place more home than where she lives. Surrounded with family photos and her own personal effects, my mother-in-law holds no emotional attachment to any of it. How cruel a disease to take away the ability to recognize your own kin, and your favorite things.
Just when I think of how hard this experience is on the family, I think of her, and realize I can’t fully understand the torment she must feel. I can hardly imagine how fast her heart must beat and the fear that grips her when she is in a place that’s completely foreign to her, and she has no recollection of how she got there. What are the thoughts that are in her mind when she is “lost in thought”? What does she think when she has no idea of the day, or month or season? Does she miss the festivities of the holidays? What must it feel like to never long for Christmas, or your birthday; to wake up to everyday being the same?
I’m afraid, I must admit, of what lies ahead for us. How bad will this get? How dark is the bottom of this pain? In my research, I’ve learned that eventually, she may become non-communicative. Will that be better or worse than her antagonistic behavior now? Will it be more tolerable when she’s quiet and unable to talk? Or, is it better now in this argumentative phase since she can at least express herself?
She’s not always sure of exactly who I am, but she seems to acccept that I am her daughter-in-law at every re-introduction. It bites every time when she smiles at me politely, and kindly says “hello”, with no realization that we’ve met many times before. At least she’s cordial. I know I can never really brace myself for the heartbreak that will come if she ever looks into my husband’s face with no recognition of who he is. Alzheimer’s is that cold-blooded — to erase a mother’s memory and cause her firstborn to be unknown to her. There is no way to prepare for that.
There is no way to guard my husband’s heart against something that painful. A heart that’s already fragile, slowly shattering at every new symptom. No way to fend it off. If it happens, I’ll be ready. I’ll be standing by with my arms open wide to wrap my husband in my loving, perfect embrace. ♥