I first began to notice odd behavior in the year before Mom’s husband passed away. It was nothing outrageous or ominous that pointed to Alzheimers, just behavior that was unusual for Mom. I took note, assessed it as a sign of aging and allowed the moment to pass. I wouldn’t be reminded of those moments again until years later.
For now, Mom and her hubby lived in an adult community kept busy by a flurry of activities. A coffee cliché every Tuesday, a pot-luck dinner on Friday nights, plenty of swim parties and other recreations as the population flourished through the winter months. During the summer, many of the homes sat empty, awaiting the arrival of the “snowbirds.”
Snowbirds are a flock of Easterners who migrate to the Western states in the fall and stay till spring, abandoning winter months in their home-state for the sunshine of the West. Mom’s small community had many “regulars,” some had returned for a decade of winters. The regular residents could hardly wait for the snowbirds arrival each spring, when the enthusiasm of the community was back in full swing. Most had been friends for many years.
I arrived at mom’s one morning to find Mom and Dottie sunning on the front deck. Dottie was a widow about the same age as mom and a snowbird who lived in Wisconsin and wintered in Arizona for as long as mom had lived there. Dottie’s home was next door to Mom’s, and mom took pleasure in tending Dottie’s yard and garden while Dottie was back East in the fall. Mom would miss Dottie dearly every spring when Dottie flew home to her family.
“What are you pretty ladies doing this morning?” I asked as I sat down between them. “Are you glad to be back, Dottie?” Dottie had only arrived the day before. “Mom sure misses you when you leave every year,” I told her.
Dottie smiled and Mom looked at me like my hair was on fire. I frowned.
“I miss your mom too,” Dottie reached over and squeezed Mom’s arm as she stood and excused herself. “I still have to unpack. I’ll see you gals later.” She smiled, waved and headed next door.
“What was that about?” I asked Mom.
“What?” she pretended to misunderstand.
“That “look” you gave me when I told Dottie you missed her every year. You do miss her, Mom.”
“M.o…” I was so astounded at what she’d said, I didn’t know how to answer. It was as though all that I knew of Mom and Dottie’s relationship was false, I’d imagined it, it had never been.
I was haunted by this little, insignificant incident long after I went home and for weeks to come. I never truly understood what happened that day until many years later when Mom was finally diagnosed with Alzheimers.
Then I understood that the many months Dottie had been away had darkened Mom’s memory of her. And as the lights went out for many of Mom’s immediate family members, there was a direct correlation between her memory and how recently she had spent time with each of them.