When my Mom’s second husband passed away, I rushed to be at her side. She was in her late 70’s and I wasn’t sure how well she would cope with this tragedy. Her husband had been in good health, a slight asthmatic problem, but nothing more serious. When he suddenly collapsed after surgery, it was learned that he’d contracted an infection that held it’s own against all antibiotics. He was gone a few short days later.
Since their marriage 15 years earlier, she had depended on him heavily. Her marriage to my father had not been a happy one, so this last marriage had been a blessing. Her hubby was a take-charge guy and Mom’s lifestyle became just shy of blissful. She quit driving with pleasure and allowed him to become their manager for finances, healthcare, insurance, and even doctor’s appointments. This husband handled everything except travel plans. Mom planned their numerous trips.
They traveled throughout the East and Midwestern states, where he had 10 children of his own. Three of his daughters flew in during his final days in the hospital and stayed to accompany me to the funeral home to make the arrangements.
Mom was sad, but did not appear to be as devastated as I had assumed she would be. When my father passed away years earlier, she had been uncontrollably anguished. Their marriage had not been a good one, yet it had lasted 40 years. For this trip to the Funeral Home, she was dressed and ready to accompany us early the next morning. She handed me her checkbook with instructions to “pay it all, what ever it costs.” She did not want his children to know the cost or be responsible for any portion of the bill. Mom had adequate finances, and this was to be her burden alone.
Somberly we filed into the outer office, the odor of roses hung in the air, soft, dark sofas sat in a semi-circle and organ music brought memories of funerals past. A younger woman greeted us in a soft whisper and invited us to enter another smaller room with a circular table surrounded by cushioned chairs. We each sat down with a blue ring binder in front of us.
A door to the side opened and another woman came forward, dressed in navy blue her hand was outstretched to Mom as she entered. “I thought it was you. How are you?” she leaned down to speak to Mom. “I was so sorry to learn the news.” She took Mom’s hand and patted it softly. She was consoling Mom as tears welled in her own eyes. Then she dabbed a tissue as she pulled away and stood, asking Mom, ”Are you allright?”
Mom turned to me, clearly puzzled by this woman’s bereaved condolences. I didn’t recognize her either, so I was uncertain how to handle Mom’s questioning frown. Who was she? I wondered silently.
Then I stood, introduced myself and thanked her for the kindness as she began an explanation.
“It’s just the saddest thing. I can hardly believe it was only a year ago.” She shook her head.
I’m watching Mom to see if there is any small glint of recognition. Nothing. She sees this woman as much a stranger as I do.
“Last year?” I prod her for more…
“Oh yes,” she’s nodding her head, then shaking it back and forth as she lowers her chin. “He was such a nice man. We just had the best time. Very comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. It doesn’t come easy for most of us. Making funeral arrangements is not something we want to do. It’s something we should do, but most people don’t. They leave it for their children.” She shrugged, and continued. “If you could give me a minute, I’ll find all the paper work. It’s a fairly recent pre-plan, so it won’t take long. The really old ones are the ones that are difficult to locate but as I said, they were in last year so… ” she offered a half smile and closed the door quietly behind her.
From what she was saying, I assumed that Mom and her husband had already visited the Funeral Home the year before. The woman was searching paperwork, so I wondered how much of their final arrangements had already been made and paid for.
“Mom,” I said, “she says you were in here last year. Don’t you remember her? She seems to know you.”
“No,” Mom was adamant. “I’ve never seen her before. I’m sure she’s mistaken. Maybe I look like someone else, mistaken identity or something. I don’t know her, and I certainly wasn’t in a funeral home last year.” Mom was clearly agitated now and had a strange, fearful look in her eye.
“Okay, okay. It will be fine.” I comforted her with an arm around her shoulder. “She’ll realize her mistake when she can’t find a file for you. I’m sure she has you confused with someone else.”
We sat around the table and flipped pages in a binder, viewing floral arrangements in various color, size and price range. It was only minutes before the woman in blue returned. This time she shifted the weight of much smaller black leather books.
“These are the arrangements you pre-approved,” she said as she slid a folder in front of each of us. I glanced at Mom first, before flipping the cover on the binder in front of me. Her face was pinched in a grimace.
The front cover opened and introduced the arrangements made by Mom and her husband. All of the arrangements. The only thing missing was the date of his death. I watched Mom as she squinted and frowned at the photo of their tombstone, the flowers with trailing stems, the sweet verse, their names and birth dates, all chosen more than a year ago.
The navy blue suit said, “Remember how we pined over the correct verse to use. I really like it now. It does seem so appropriate.”
Mom looked frightened, shifted in her chair, then looked at the woman and said, “Oh yes, that’s right. I do remember that.”
I wanted to shout! I could tell by the look in her eye, she remembered no such thing!
But I waited. When we got home I questioned and questioned her. My Mom and Her husband had pre-planned their entire funerals and pre-paid the entire bill only a year before. Yet, she hadn’t remembered a thing about it.
As I think back, I believe this was my first missed symptom of Alzheimer’s. This was the first incident that had me so confused I could hardly speak as Mom denied ever being in the funeral home, then agreed that she had simply forgotten it. There would be many many more confusing circumstances before I finally told the doctor of my mom’s memory problems.